Audit Shows Additional Improvements Still Needed
BOSTON, MA — State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump this past week released an audit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which is responsible for providing legal services to low income people entitled by law to representation by legal counsel. The Office of the Commissioner of Probation (OCP) determines if individuals seeking state-sponsored legal representation meet the financial requirements and maintains documentation of these determinations.
The audit found significant improvements from a 2011 audit to the process for determining whether an individual seeking state-sponsored legal representation meets the requirements. The 2011 audit found 98 percent of courts reviewed at that time were not in compliance with verification requirements, amounting to a total of $47.9 million in unverified public counsel expenditures. The audit released today found standard policies and procedures have been established to determine and document the requirement; however, the audit did recommend that CPCS take additional steps to improve its documentation in this area.
“The right to effective legal representation is a core tenet of our state’s criminal justice system. Public defenders in the Bay State work long hours and face significant case-loads. It is critically important that the Probation Office has a process in place that will help keep CPCS caseloads manageable by ensuring that these lawyers are only representing clients who could not afford legal representation otherwise,” Bump said of the audit. “I commend the efforts that have been made to ensure that individuals receiving state-sponsored legal representation qualify for the services, and I encourage continued progress in this realm.”
Additionally, the audit recommends steps CPCS can take to improve its bill review and vendor payment processes. Bump calls on the agency to ensure vendors know the proper procedure for requesting payments, and require all supporting documentation be provided before it processes a payment. Bump also encouraged CPCS to take a risk-based approach to reviewing payments to private attorneys to identify outlier payments, rather than using the process of randomly selecting payments for review.
The audit examined the period of July 1, 2014 through December 31, 2016.
The audit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services is attached and will be available online here.