TORRINGTON – Due to the sensitive nature of the accounts and files in the Goshen County Clerk of District Court’s office, the office was excluded from the county’s audit process, which inadvertently allowed former court clerk Kathi Rickard to allegedly steal more than $200,000 from the county coffers between July 2014 and Dec. 2018.
Rickard pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony theft in October, but Goshen County is still dealing with the fallout from the alleged theft. Last week, the Goshen County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to include the office in the county’s regular audit as a safeguard to prevent future issues.
Court Clerk Brandi Correa, who initially discovered some of the discrepancies in the office’s accounts when Rickard was serving as clerk, suggested using an outside auditor to periodically examine the court’s records. According to Goshen County Attorney Boyer, an outside auditor had been suggested by Bonnie Petsch, who held the court clerk office before Rickard was elected, when she retired from the position in 2014.
“I would say that from my point of view, historically, when Bonnie Petsch retired as the court clerk, she came in and made this recommendation to the commissioners,” Boyer said. “She said the court is never audited through the state or by the county, and it would be a good idea to prevent the kind of thing which has now happened. Nothing has ever happened with that.”
Auditing court clerk records is a touchy subject, however, due to the nature of the information included. The district court handles custody, child support and divorce cases, along with other sensitive information.
“In the meantime, we had this issue happen and the criminal charges, and our new clerk had a meeting with the other clerks of court and they said that in spite of the fact that the state arguably doesn’t want us to be directly involved in the day-to-day transactions of the state court system – because these are confidential transactions and they don’t want anyone other than Brandi and her employees having direct access to that data – they don’t argue with the counties that are doing that sort of thing,” Boyer said.
Commission Chairman John Ellis suggested that Ron Russell, the county’s Government Accounting Standards Board Consultant, include the clerk’s office in his audits. Boyer agreed that would be the best course of action, and the county voted 3-0 to direct Russell to audit the clerk’s records.
“It seems to me that it is a perfect solution and other counties are doing it,” he said. “It should be done, as Mr. Ellis said. Ron Russell is perfectly willing to do that, and it won’t cost much extra for the county to do that.”
The county suffered another blow last week when its insurers decided that none of the county’s policies covered it in the event an employee embezzled a large sum of money, and that there would be no restitution from insurance.
“We have received an official denial from the county’s insurer over any restitution payments due to the district court clerk situation,” Boyer said. “As a follow-up measure, we provided that measure to the Wyoming Department of Insurance. They reviewed it, and said they agree that there was no insurance coverage.”
After charges were filed in July, Boyer said the county would be seeking restitution if Rickard is found guilty. Rickard is alleged to have stolen $209,000 from the district court clerk’s office, and the county was forced to pay more $100,000 just to keep its accounts current. The county also invoked its $10,000 bond for Rickard.
A trial date has not been set in Rickard’s case, and as of her arraignment in the Eighth Judicial District Court on Oct. 29, there had been no discussions of a plea agreement.
While it’s too late to protect itself from the alleged theft, Boyer advised the Goshen County Commissioners to meet with its insurers and see if it’s something that could be covered in the future.
“My suggestion is that the commissioners consider, and it’s not an emergency thing, but to consider when and how to set up a meeting with Burns Insurance, and possibly other insurers, to possibly add that item in for employee or elected official theft,” Boyer said. “That is something the county is not covered for.”