An editorial published in the April 10 issue of The Suffolk Times, which seeks to hold people accountable for the recent revelations with bail accounts and the Southold Town Justice Court, fails to consider several facts. Primarily, it is simply impossible to include facts that are not yet known.
The district attorney is still investigating this issue and it is premature to hold any party accountable until all of the facts are known.
The Town Board and I have been assertive in trying to address a problem despite not yet knowing all of the facts.
It is difficult to implement solutions to a problem until the problem is fully identified. However, we have ordered a comprehensive audit of the Justice Court and the report should be received shortly. Furthermore, I have contacted our insurance carrier to recover any lost monies.
The New York State Office of Court Administration and the New York State Comptroller’s Office have substantial oversight of Town Justice courts within New York State. Rules governing the court and Town Justice bank accounts are dictated by state law and rules promulgated by several state agencies.
Each town justice is responsible for maintaining two bank accounts — one for court-imposed fines and one for bail monies. Specific, state-mandated reports for the fines collected by each court are filed monthly with the Office of the State Comptroller. We have no reason to believe that those reports have been inaccurate.
Bail accounts, which are supposed to house monies held “in trust” by the town justices, are controlled by the town justices, not the Town Board.
In addition to the annual Justice Court audit, Southold Town’s financial statements are audited annually by an outside CPA firm.
Southold Town operates with a budget that exceeds $40 million each year. It is difficult to expect that an audit of the town’s financial statements would uncover relatively small amounts of cash taken over many years.
Our annual audit includes observation and recommendations for compliance with internal controls, which the Town Board addresses with appropriate personnel, including the Justice Court, to help the Town Board protect the assets of the town.
I assure you that the Town Board will continue to work with the town justices to implement the necessary changes to help ensure that this type of nefarious activity does not occur in the future. Changes will be based on facts as they are brought to light by our CPA firm and the district attorney.
Keep in mind that even with safeguards in place, we will continue to be diligent to help prevent bad actors from acting badly.
Mr. Russell is the supervisor of Southold Town.
The editorial stated specifically that the DA’s investigation is continuing and an external audit is pending, and called for a likely need for accountability and reform in the future — after all the facts are uncovered.