By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

An audit of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court found “material weakness” and “significant deficiency” in the 2010 books, reporting that the court held on to more than $300,000 that it was supposed to pay out to crime victims.

The court has about $650,000 sitting in a fund ready to be disbursed to crime victims, according to the audit, prepared by Luther Speight & Company for the fiscal year 2010. It was posted on the State Legislative Auditor’s website Sept. 14. The audit does not identify the source of the money, and court officials declined to comment.

An audit of Criminal District Court showed “material weakness” and “significant deficiency” in 2010. Photo by Matt Davis.

In cases accounting for $345,000 of that money, the victims have proved difficult to find in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. However, the victims are known in the rest of the cases, and at least $300,000 set aside for them is just sitting in the court’s account, the audit said.

The report comes as local leaders have been demanding more openness and accountability around criminal-justice spending, and the State Legislative Auditor’s Office appears concerned about the accounting issues at the court.

“A material weakness in controls is never a good thing and should be taken seriously,” wrote Allen Brown, Assistant Legislative Auditor for Local Audit Services, in an emailed statement. “Such findings are not totally uncommon; however, they are always unacceptable.”

Agencies that have repeat findings of a serious nature may be asked to come before the state’s Legislative Audit Advisory Council to explain why they have not addressed the problem, Brown explained. The council is made up of five state senators and five representatives.

Criminal District Court judges declined comment through a spokeswoman but referred The Lens to their response, included in the audit, in which they promised a “case by case review” to resolve the issue and disburse the money, without giving a specific timeframe.

“The court fully expects that this issue will be resolved with improved procedures and for remitting of restitution assessments to victims,” the judges wrote.

The state also criticized the court for failing to meet the June 30 deadline to submit its audit. The judges again referred The Lens to their response, filed with the state, which said the delay happened because the court had to audit federal grant money, and required extra time.

UPDATE. This quote added to the story at 2:30 p.m. on the day of publication: “If the court is responsible for disbursing this money but they are now having to reach out to the clerk of court and the District Attorney’s Office to make this happen, it shows that they did not have a procedure in place to handle this,” said Rafael Goyeneche, with the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission. “This was not identified as a problem before 2010, so let’s see what they can do now to remedy this by the time the 2011 audit comes out.”

Judicial Administrator Robert Kazik and the auditing firm, Luther Speight and Company, did not respond to a request for comment.