NEW ORLEANS -- The annual audit of the embattled New Orleans Traffic Court revealed a long list of internal problems, including improper dismissal of tickets, hiring violations and a general lack of oversight over its finances.
The required audit listed 27 separate violations, most of which the court acknowledged and agreed to correct.
Several of the violations were the subject of previous stories by Eyewitness Investigations, including the payment of more than $660,000 to accounting contractor Vandale Thomas for chunks of hours that have never been supported by invoices or other documentation.
Several other violations highlighted in the audit were previously exposed by the city’s Office of Inspector General, which has advocated consolidating traffic court and municipal court to avoid duplication and save the city money. The audit by a private accounting firm was posted Monday by the state legislative auditor.
Among the findings:
-- “Traffic charges were dismissed by judges or by judges’ members without the required authority of a city attorney.”
-- “Traffic court hired Violations Bureau employees without regard for civil service requirements.”
-- “Traffic court inappropriately classified employees as Contractors.”
-- “Traffic court did not exercise adequate oversight over its accounting services contractor or require documentation to support hourly billings.”
That last finding refers to Vandale Thomas, who remains the subject of an OIG investigation to determine how he could have been paid the equivalent of a full year’s worth of 20-hour days.
The audit also questioned why Thomas was hired at the same time he was the campaign treasurer for Chief Judge Robert Jones III.
Jones was unavailable for comment Monday, but in “management’s responses” to the audit, the court agreed with most of the findings and stated it either corrected the problem or is working to make necessary changes.
For example, regarding the accounting fees paid to Vandale Thomas, the court responded, “Agreed with findings. Greater oversight from the Judicial Administrator’s Office is mandated. Personnel changes in that office will bring about the necessary change.”
The court severed its relationship with Thomas last year, but the accountant remains under investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General.