The Administrative Office of the Courts has just released an audit that paints a very unflattering picture of the Placer County Superior Court and its former CEO, John Mendes.
In a report issued privately to AOC executives in May, internal auditors said that Mendes collected more than $470,000 in unauthorized compensation between July 2001 and March 2009. Records show that the court’s presiding judge approved of only a handful of the salary and benefits increases Mendes received over the last eight years.
In other instances, court forms recording the new compensation levels were signed by Mendes’ subordinates — whose own salaries were set as a percentage of the CEO’s, the audit found.
The audit made a number of other disturbing findings:
(which will disturb you after the jump)
- Significant enhancements to Mendes’ benefit package appear not to have been “vetted with the PJ or executive committee, and therefore not properly authorized.”
- As CEO, Mendes set his own management incentive pay. That resulted in a low pay-out of $6,745 in 2004 to a high of $27,684 in 2006
- Mendes took a $15,740 “service longevity” bonus in 2006, indicating he was in his 20th year of service with the court. But the audit found that the CEO had only worked 15 years for the court at that point.
- Mendes received $204,104 in “management leave” between 2002 and 2009 based on a calculation methodology that auditors say was apparently never authorized by the presiding judge.
- The CEO sought “educational incentive” reimbursement from the court for a $7,225 check to “Sallie Mae Servicing.” Auditors could find no proof of authorization for the payment or an educational link.
- Mendes received a car allowance but also sought mileage reimbursement to the tune of $6,315.
- A review of 43 travel and expense forms by Mendes “disclosed numerous policy and procedure violations.” Among them: subordinate staff authorizing payments; lack of specificity; and meal expenses over set AOC limits.
The news, first reported this morning by the Sacramento Bee, angered many in the Capitol and put a new wrinkle in late negotiations among legislators, judicial leaders and labor groups over the court’s budget. Union leaders are citing the audit’s findings in demands for greater court spending transparency as part of any deal.
The Bee reported that Mendes left Placer County Superior Court in April for a deputy administrative post in the Yolo County Superior Court. He now reports to Yolo CEO Jim Perry, who was a Mendes subordinate in Placer, according to the Bee.
Mendes’ lawyer, labor and employment specialist Barbara Lawless, has not returned a phone message left with her San Francisco office. She told the Bee that Mendes had oral or written approval for all of the disputed money, and that the problem is poor record keeping by the Placer judges.
— Cheryl Miller
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