All funds accounted for

Wilson continues process of getting money to those owed.
Andy Ouriel
Feb 9, 2014

 

Erie County clerk of courts Luvada Wilson has unraveled a mystery decades in the making.

“We know where everything is,” said Wilson, after recently balancing all the bank accounts in the clerk’s name. “We finally reconciled, and that has not been done prior to me coming here”

Final tally: About $4.4 million in clerk of courts funds spread across more than 20 bank accounts.

Upon becoming clerk of courts in fall 2011, Wilson inherited an office riddled with inefficiencies and problems — mishandled money, botched bookkeeping and faulty case logs, among other problems.

A Register analysis in fall 2011 spotlighted the negligence of former clerk of courts Barb Johnson, whose 20-plus-year tenure ended around this same time, after she retired and then later died.

During her time as an elected official, Johnson failed to properly track finances in the clerk of courts office. Specifically, she did not pay people back after they or their lawyers overpaid for various office services.

Of the $4.4 million, about $3 million derives from people overpaying for services, such as filing fees, and never receiving a refund. This $3 million sits in one of the many bank accounts Wilson recently balanced.

The $3 million first began to accumulate in the late 1980s, coinciding with Johnson becoming clerk.

When each case closed, Johnson was supposed to figure out the final cost and, in many cases, issue a refund based on the remaining balance of a deposit.

For example: If a client or attorney deposited $100 and the clerk’s fees totaled $75, that person should have received a $25 refund.    Johnson, however, consistently failed to dole out refunds. Instead, she or her employees would place the refund money into an interest-bearing bank account — where it sits to this day.

The refund amounts greatly ranged, the least being about $10. But $10 here and $25 there added up, until eventually the interest-bearing bank account totaled $3 million.

Johnson never explained why she did this.

When Wilson took office, she had to sort out the mess.

Wilson, who places no blame on Johnson, said she still feels 100 percent accountable to taxpayers. Her staff continues to review the books — Johnson didn’t compute data into digital format — to determine who is owed exactly what.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people can lay claim to a portion of the $3 million.

The process of figuring out who’s owed what could take several more years, said Wilson, who is digitizing the records with other staff members. But Wilson reiterated this: It will get done, as long as she’s in charge. “There is an ongoing effort to try and figure out where all of your money is,” Wilson said. She also ensured the community her staff members are now keeping accurate financial records, tracking all money coming in and out of the office. “This is very important to me,” Wilson said. “We need to run the clerk’s office like a business, and you want to be able to know where all your finances are."

Improvements

Erie County clerk of courts Luvada Wilson has made enhancements to her office for the sake of convenience and efficiency.

Among the most notable improvements since she started in fall 2011:

•Introducing an online court records systems, accessible to anyone with Internet access.

•Seeking direction from the Ohio Auditor of State’s office in returning funds, up to $3 million owed to court patrons.

•Partnering with the Ohio Attorney General’s office to recoup funds from delinquent accounts owed to the clerk’s office.

•Sorting through disorganized records scattered throughout the office.

•Upgrading computers and other technology.

•Allowing patrons to pay with debit and credit cards.

•Creating a training manual.

•Cross-training certain employees so they can cover multiple jobs.

•Streamlining mail services.

Comments

Babo

How did the County Auditor, the Auditor of State, or the Supreme Court of Ohio not catch the fact that the Office of the Clerk was not reconciling the books for the Courts in Erie County?

mikeylikesit

corruption

Northstar

Hopefully the people will get interest on their money since it accumulated interest while sitting there.

Northstar

Hopefully the people will get interest on their money since it accumulated interest while sitting there.

deertracker

Hats off to Ms. Wilson. Keep up the good work.

Julie R.

Oh my, now we're hearing that it's $4.4 million instead of $3 million and it was spread over 20 different accounts? If that's true, what financial institutions were the other 19 accounts held in because it sure wasn't Citizens Bank. I know that because when the Erie County courts sat on the monies for four years from that scam sheriff sale of my deceased mother & stepfather's Huron property, they claimed the monies were in a non-interest bearing account, yet when I contacted Citizens Bank and asked if the Clerk of Court's had two separate accounts ~ one interest-bearing & one non-interest bearing ~ they said no, they only had ONE Clerk of Court's account and it was interest-bearing.

So instead of saying now there were 20 different accounts, let's see the proof. What financial institutions were the other 19 accounts at?

Free Speaker

Great job Luvada. You have accomplished all the tasks that Stephen Schaeffer, the Republican candidate for Clerk of Court in the 2008 race against Barb Johnson, said needed to get done because the incumbant, Barb Johnson could not. I guess that Schaeffer did not get the message out that well. Well, better late than never. I just wish that voters would pay more attention to the issues and candidates rather than just vote on party affiliation.

Julie R.

You sheep would believe anything.

Ralph J.

I paid $200 to file a lawsuit for injury which was dismissed about 10 years ago. How do I get my $200 back? I still have my $200 receipt somewhere in a box of old paper records. I can't wait years due to my advanced age.

JMOP's picture
JMOP

Do you think the people that are owed will get to collect on the interest?

Julie R.

The county public officials sure are making a big deal out of this $3 million ~ now up to $4.4 million ~ of monies that were owed to people in court cases that were never told by their stupid attorneys they might be entitled to after the conclusion of their cases. The Cuyahoga County Clerk of Court's found $23 million but they aren't making a big deal out of it and blaming the former clerk, Gerald Fuerst. Nobody even started a "removefuerst" blog like somebody started about Johnson before her death. (somebody you can bet was from the Eeerie County courthouse)

Methinks the lady doth protest too much here. After all, I heard Barb Johnson wasn't even in that office very much in the last 10 years of her life. First, she took a family leave to take care of her elderly mother and after her mother died she started battling a serious illness of her own ..... was even in a nursing home for awhile. Considering how the employee in the Treasurer's office stole $150K right under the nose of Jo Dee Fantozz, one might have to wonder what went on in the Clerk of Court's office during Barb Johnson's many absences.

Julie R.

Remember all those clerk of court records we got to see pictures of stored in a building? Somebody forgot to mention that Johnson wasn't even there when her office on the 3rd floor was moved to the small office on the 1st floor so Tygh Tone could have the 3rd floor .... yet the county public officials ~ after saying they needed another judge (Binette) so badly ~ said that Tone & Binette were going to share the same court on the 2nd floor.

So who stored all those clerk of court records in that building? Sure couldn't have been Barb Johnson!