Fact Check: Erroneous and Misleading News Reports

Two misleading reports aired in San Diego and Sacramento on Thursday, November 17, 2011. 10News—ABC San Diego KGTV accuses former Administrative Director William C. Vickrey and Interim Administrative Director Ronald G. Overholt of misusing taxpayer dollars. And 3KCRA in Sacramento contained inaccuracies about proposed maintenance funding.

The KGTV report claims that Mr. Overholt and Mr. Vickrey have been spending tax dollars on “rooms, flights, drinks, and dinners.” No taxpayer dollars were spent on alcohol; all travel was business-related and required for their jobs; and all meal expenses were reimbursed only at the state’s travel and business meal rates. The news station was provided with all the appropriate records. It did not ask for explanations about the specific items showcased in its story. Nor did it post the relevant records that would have explained this information.

Here’s an example of some glaring errors. The story claims that Mr. Overholt “spent $720 for two dinners at a French restaurant and took colleagues out for a $1,215 dinner at a steakhouse on San Francisco Bay.”

The truth is that the dinner at L’Olivier was for 40 attendees at the state’s travel meal rate of $18 per person. As a convenience to the attendees, Mr. Overholt paid for the meal with his personal credit card and was reimbursed, but only at the meal rate. This fact is clearly reflected in the records provided to 10News in August.

Also, the $1,215 meal was for 27 attendees of a Judicial Council dinner. Again, attendees paid Mr. Vickrey who paid the bill with his personal credit card. Mr. Vickrey filed an expense claim for just $486, which was the total cost for 27 attendees at $18 per person. The record was also provided to 10News in August.

Mr. Overholt filed an expense claim for a hotel stay in San Francisco. Contrary to the 10News story, Mr. Overholt does not live in San Francisco—he lives more than 30 miles way. His stay at a hotel was related to a three-day Judicial Council meeting, in which meetings were held late and started early. Members of the Judicial Council stayed at the hotel for the state rate. Mr. Overholt is taxed on the amount he is reimbursed for that stay.

The trips that Mr. Overholt and Mr. Vickrey took were done on behalf of the public and the courts. One trip to Washington, D.C. was part of an effort to obtain federal stimulus funds. The other trips were to the California Judges Association annual and mid-year meetings, the Conference of Chief Justices and the National Center for State Courts – all parts of their regular duties as heads of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

In Sacramento, half the projects mentioned in the KCRA report were proposed for entirely different courthouses in the Sacramento area, and none have been funded. The kitchenette remodel was entered as part of a building-wide assessment, and was for all kitchenettes in the building. The job has not been done, has not been funded, and is considered a low priority. The planning list itself is required by the Judicial Council. The list has been maintained for the past five years as a part of our stewardship of courthouses statewide. After a 40 percent cut in funding, only $30 million is available in the fund this year to maintain more than 500 court facilities. This has resulted in safety and security issues, and many building systems will necessarily “run to fail.” Ongoing cuts to the judicial branch budget threaten everyone's access to justice.

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