Pierce County Superior Court Clerk’s Office lacked financial controls, safeguards for trust accounts, audit finds

Mar 4, 2024

An audit released today by the Office of the Washington State Auditor revealed a significant lack of controls over financial operations in the Pierce County Superior Court Clerk’s Office, including taking no action to pay out several large accounts held in trust.

“Simply put, the results of this audit are a cause for serious concern. The financial operations of the clerk’s office have a direct impact on those who trust in our court system to resolve their legal issues and handle funds attentively,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy.

In 2022, the Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court collected $14.8 million in revenue for fines, fees and restitution payments. One of the clerk’s office’s duties is to collect and hold monies in trust for restitution, such as settlement payments. The clerk’s office is supposed to deposit these funds into separate bank accounts held on behalf of litigants or beneficiaries until their court-ordered maturity date.

The audit found 11 individual trust accounts had matured, but the clerk’s office had not disbursed any of the funds. Those 11 trust fund accounts represented $1.89 million, or 93 percent of the total trust account bank balances held by the clerk’s office. Auditors determined office management did not know how to properly disburse the funds.

After concerns were reported to the State Auditor’s Office through its Citizen Hotline, auditors specifically looked into the clerk’s office’s financial operations and safeguards for trust accounts.

“This report is an example of the importance of public engagement and county leadership in maintaining government accountability,” said McCarthy. “The concerns brought to our Office were serious and ultimately validated by our review. We look forward to verifying the county has restored proper financial safeguards in our next audit.”

Auditors also found the clerk’s office:

  • Does not perform monthly bank balance reconciliations. As a result, the bank balance reported in the clerk’s office’s financial system was $2.5 million less than the bank statement balance as of Jan. 2, 2024.

  • Filed a late unclaimed property report with the Washington State Department of Revenue in 2023

  • Did not print and review monthly financial reports, as required by the state

  • Left a paper check for more than $250,000, dating to August 2023, in the office vault as late as January 2024

The full report is available here: Pierce County Accountability Audit

Media questions: Assistant Director of Communications Adam Wilson, Adam.Wilson@sao.wa.gov, 564-999-0799