RICH JAMES: Judge shouldn't have needed auditors' greeting card

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Judge shouldn't have needed auditors' greeting cardBy Rich James nwitimes.com
January 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When it comes to public corruption, especially up in this neck of the woods, $787 is little more than chump change.

But throw a judge into the mix and the money looms larger.

Some judges are full of themselves. Omnipotent, if you will. Gary City Court Judge Deidre Monroe appears to be one of them.

If you live in Gary, Monroe used $787 of your property taxes to buy 500 imprinted Christmas cards just over a year ago.

Even sadder is that Monroe doesn’t think there is anything wrong with what she did.

I do, and I’m not alone.

The State Board of Accounts — the agency that monitors spending on every level of local government — told Monroe to pay it back. The state auditors said it was an unallowable use of city tax dollars.

Perhaps even worse than Monroe’s brazen pilfering of public funds, is that she told the state auditors that they were wrong and she was right.

“I believe that it is unfair to ask for repayment and that the better course of action would be to advise the governmental unit that this is not allowed,” Monroe said in a letter to the state. “In my opinion, this was not an unreasonable or excessive cost.”

In other words, it is OK to rip off the taxpayers once, but don’t do it again.

Hold on, this folly gets even better.

Besides saying that she sent the cards to tell people she was thinking of them during the holidays, Monroe added, “The court strongly believes that it is important that the citizens of Gary know that the court is accessible and is here to serve and help all citizens of Gary.”

So, 500 of Gary’s 82,000 residents got Christmas cards telling them that if they want to hang out in the courtroom, they are welcome. Just bring your own refreshments.

Come on, judge, you weren’t sending Christmas cards because you were full of the holiday spirit. No, I know politicians well enough to know your Christmas mailing list more than likely was politically charged.

I suspect the cards went to the city’s precinct committeemen and others with political clout. You know, the ones who can help you get re-elected.

If anyone should know it’s wrong to use public money to pay for your Christmas cards, it’s a judge.

Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to know the difference between right and wrong? Aren’t they the ones who impact lives on a daily basis when they render decisions based on what’s right and wrong?

With considerable reluctance, Monroe paid back the money.

But, I suspect several Christmases will come and go before Monroe regains the trust of those she serves.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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