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Judicial Branch Procurement
Some Superior Courts Generally Followed Requirements but Could Improve Their Procurement Practices

Report Number: 2018-301


For this fourth biennial audit of the contracting and procurement practices of California superior courts, we reviewed the superior courts in Imperial, Los Angeles, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Santa Clara counties. We determined that these five courts adhered to most of the required and recommended contracting and procurement practices for which we tested; however, they could make certain improvements to ensure that they have appropriate controls in place and receive the best value for their procurement dollars. We reviewed the selected courts’ procurement practices related to contracts, payments, and purchase card transactions. This report concludes the following:

All Five Courts Could Improve Their Contracting Practices

We reviewed 12 contracts at each of five courts and found varying levels of noncompliance with appropriate contracting practices: Santa Clara did not have an agreement on file to support a $582,000 services payment that it made, and it lacked appropriate supporting documentation for three additional contracts, including one for $778,000 to procure temporary staff. Although the other four courts generally followed the applicable procurement requirements that we tested, we identified certain issues at each one.

Four Courts Could Improve Their Processes for Handling Payments to Vendors and Recording Receipt of Goods and Services

We found that some courts did not always use proper internal controls when processing payments and could therefore not ensure that they used public funds appropriately: the Monterey court did not always follow the payment authorization limits it established. For seven of the 18 payments we examined, court employees approved payments that exceeded their authorization levels by amounts ranging from $2,000 to more than $107,000. Further, the Santa Clara court did not always fully separate duties so that no one person controlled more than a single key aspect of payment processing. All five courts we examined routinely verified the delivery of goods and services before they paid vendors, but we identified certain limited exceptions.

Three Courts Could Improve Their Purchase Card Practices

Several courts may have put public funds at risk when they violated the procurement policies included in the Judicial Branch Contracting Manual (judicial contracting manual): the Santa Clara court exceeded both single‑transaction and daily limits for purchase card transactions, and the Imperial and Santa Barbara courts each established transaction limits for some users, but did not document those deviations as the judicial contracting manual requires.

Summary of Recommendations

The superior courts we reviewed should ensure that they award their contracts competitively when appropriate and that they assess and document best value and fair and reasonable pricing when warranted. Courts should also ensure that they have all agreements for goods or services documented in the procurement file.

The courts should ensure that payment duties are adequately separated. Courts should also require that staff submit packing slips or receipts to verify delivery before invoices are paid.

Finally, courts should ensure that staff are aware of, and abide by, the judicial contracting manual’s purchase card transaction limits and should document in their local manuals as appropriate any alternative purchase card limits.

Agency Comments

The Monterey and Santa Barbara courts each agreed with our recommendations to them, while the Santa Clara court stated that it will take certain actions in response to our recommendations to it. The Los Angeles court disagreed with our finding pertaining to it. The Imperial court did not submit a written response to our report.

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