This is a reprint from the September 3, 2014 Mongoose newsletter. Lawyers are stealing tax payer dollars and the system in place at Harris County allows it. Here are the problems:
1. A paper based system from the 1950’s is still in use. Lawyers fill out the pay vouchers by hand, the judges sign the vouchers and then they go to the County Auditor, who pays the amounts approved by the judges, no questions asked.
2. A judge, who may approve dozens of pay vouchers a week, cannot see what an attorney is billing in other cases in that same court or in other courts.
3. No one until me ever took a mass of vouchers from one single attorney and extracted the fees charged on all cases for a particular day to see what the attorney is billing the county for on that day. This is how Alicia Franklin got busted billing 23.5 hours in one day. If I can “audit” vouchers, why can’t the County Auditor?
4. The real problem is that no one has any incentive to closely monitor the CPS pay system. The judges are picking their pals for the appointments and therefore obviously want them to make money. The attorneys do not want their vouchers audited either. They have figured out that they can make a lot of money by submitting almost any hours they can make up and no one is ever going to care or catch them.
The simple solution is to go to an all electronic reporting system, like the State makes candidates use for reporting campaign contributions. Candidates must enter their information into a database program that automatically uploads the data to the State database that we can all search. Click here to see just how searchable the Texas Ethics Commission campaign finance database is.
The county should make ALL billing and pay information for appointed attorneys viewable on line by everyone, including judges and reporters. Our family and juvenile judges should demand that all court appointments and all fees for appointed attorneys be reported. Simple transparency will eliminate a lot of the abuses.
It would also help if our County Auditor actually audited some attorney vouchers on a random basis to keep everyone honest. However, the County Auditor is hired, fired and managed by the district judges of Harris County. How gung ho will the auditor be to audit the CPS invoices her bosses have already approved?
Lastly, we need to replace every single judge involved in this dirty CPS court appointment business, which is about three judges in the family courts and at least two of the three juvenile courts.
The children and tax payers of Harris County deserve better!