By editorial board • 

Legal service discrepancies demand probe

Something seems badly amiss with the financial and administrative workings of the Yamhill County Justice Alliance Center, which provides legal representation to indigent youth and adult defendants in Yamhill County under a contract with the state. And someone in a position of authority — in the Department of Justice, Oregon State Bar or Secretary of State’s Audits Division perhaps? — needs to look into it.

The state is terminating the JAC contract, effective Dec. 31. But more than $2.7 million in tax dollars flowed through JAC last year, and like sums in previous years. So we think the public is due a fuller accounting potentially resulting in a fuller remedy.  

Attorneys accepting cases through the nonprofit consortium, but not serving on its board, accuse chief JAC administrator J. Mark Lawrence of distributing cases inequitably, closing the books and board meetings to them, charging them excessive administrative fees and commingling funds requiring different treatment.

They finally resorted to filing public records requests with the state contracting agency, the Office of Public Defense Services. According to an official there, “They compared records of what we were paying out to what they were receiving, and found big discrepancies.”

Shouldn’t that ring alarm bells?

When the story broke last week, Lawrence, who partners with his wife in both a local law firm and the JAC venture, said, “If there were some kind of mismanagement of funds, I would expect someone would be going to jail.” He seemed to be suggesting the state’s lack of interest in pursuing the matter further served as vindication.

He asserted, “We’ve done a good job on the finances. An IRS audit three years ago showed that.” He went on to say, “We are sure we have handled the money properly.”

Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. A three-year-old audit limited to tax law compliance, and the oral assurance of the alleged chief wrongdoer, don’t begin to answer the questions raised here.

It appears Lawrence’s operation was, perhaps by design, opaque to the point of being impenetrable. The officials charged with overseeing public defender services in Oregon said that even with their specialized expertise, they were unable to make sense of it.

The rub is, Public Defense Services seems content to simply entertain proposals from parties willing to assume the reins from Lawrence and leave it at that. What’s more, it set a Nov. 8 deadline for submission of proposals for a Jan. 1 takeover, which strikes us as impossibly hasty for an operation handling 2.7 million taxpayer dollars annually.

Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability? Where is the due diligence?

We think stewards of our tax money owe us better than that.

 

Comments

Don Dix

From the article -- 'Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability? Where is the due diligence?'

'We think stewards of our tax money owe us better than that.'

I believe those sentiments would begin in DC and end anywhere local (including every tax-funded government in between) -- the perfect example of 'the trickle down theory of________' (fill in the blank)