Audit Finds Land Court Department Did Not Properly Administer Abandoned Escrow Funds or Properly Maintain its Partition Commissioner List

BOSTON – In an audit released today, the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump (OSA) found that the Land Court Department (LCD), one of seven departments of the Massachusetts Trial Court, did not properly administer funds held in abandoned escrow accounts in accordance with state law and did not maintain an accurate publicly available master list of

its partition commissioners in accordance with the Rules and Orders of the Supreme Judicial Court. The audit, which reviewed the period of July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2021, took into consideration emergency orders issued during the period of the coronavirus pandemic that may have impacted the authoritative guidance governing these activities.

“The Land Court Department serves a very important purpose in resolving civil matters disputes involving property and land, and our audit points to areas that can be strengthened to help the department be more successful towards that mission,” Bump said of the audit. “I am pleased to see that action is being taken to address all findings identified in the audit.”

Specifically, the audit found that LCD did not maintain an accurate master list of partition commissioners. For example, 38 of 270 partition commissioner appointments during the audit period were not recorded on the master list and the list had incorrect names for six partition commissioners. Partition commissioners are attorneys appointed by a judge to determine how a property should be divided. Without an accurate list, real estate stakeholders cannot make a fully informed selection when choosing a partition commissioner, and the public cannot view an accurate list. In addition, LCD did not retain notarized “Commissioner Oaths” for 11 of the 58 partition commissioners appointed during the audit period, either in digital or hardcopy files, which documents that a partition commission’s appointment is legally binding.

The audit also found that funds totaling $58,018 that were held in seven abandoned escrow accounts were not transferred promptly to the Office of the State Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division (UPD) three years after the cases were closed in accordance with MGL. LCD also did not notify real estate stakeholders 60 days before abandonment of funds, which is a measure to allow enough time for necessary action to be taken to retrieve funds.

The audit recommended that LCD develop and maintain policies to track partition commissioners and ensure that the master list is complete and accurate, establish and implement procedures for abandoned escrow account funds and notifying real estate stakeholders 60 days before transferring property to the UPD, and amend its policies to ensure commissioner oaths are maintained. Based on its response, LCD is taking action on all recommendations.

The LCD is one of seven departments of the Massachusetts Trial Court. Others include: the Boston Municipal Court, the District Court, the Housing Court, the Juvenile Court, the Probate and Family Court, the Superior Court, and LCD. According to its website, LCD’s mission is to provide an accessible forum where specialized expertise is applied to resolve civil matters and disputes involving the ownership, development, and use of real property (i.e. land).
The audit can be viewed HERE.

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