Judge weighs overhauling
child support accounting

Plaintiffs says the state is mishandling
a $9 million "slush fund"

By Debra Barayuga

If Ann Kemp had a choice in 1998, she would have preferred her ex-husband send child support checks to her directly, rather than have the money go through the state Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Until recently, money paid by a noncustodial parent was required to pass through the state agency before it was mailed to the custodial parent.

"It would have been one less layer to go through," she said, of obstacles she faced in obtaining $760 per month in child support that was deducted from her ex-husband's paycheck.

Kemp sued the agency in 1998 after it took nearly two months before she began receiving child support checks.

She represents a class of custodial parents and children totaling in the thousands who were entitled to receive child support payments but have not received them within two business days as required by law.

The seven-day jury-waived trial before Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna concluded yesterday. The plaintiffs seek a complete accounting of the money in the CSEA accounts and ask that a common fund be created to make the payments.

Plaintiffs' attorney Francis O'Brien said their expert, accountant Steven Sakamaki, estimated there is about $9 million that the agency cannot account for that was not entered into the agency's automated collection and disbursement system, otherwise known as KEIKI.

"If a public government agency handles public money, clearly the public has the right to know what they're doing with the money," he said.

O'Brien said money has been paid into KEIKI but not paid out and instead is being used by the agency as a "slush fund" to cover up its shoddy accounting and make up the shortfalls in its operating budget.

Deputy Attorney General Charles Fell, who represents CSEA, contends the agency was prepared to submit an accounting of the money in its accounts.

He called the $9 million figure supplied by the plaintiffs' expert as "smoke and mirrors" and that the agency knows what is going in and what is going out because it reconciles its bank accounts every month.

He said the issue the court should focus on is whether the agency has complied with state law requiring payments be mailed within two business days. But he said that requirement only pertains to amounts withheld by employers.

Fell said the problems cited by Kemp and others occurred during a difficult time for the agency when it converted to the KEIKI system in 1998 as mandated by the federal government and that there is no evidence the agency has violated the law now or in the recent past.

McKenna, who presided over the jury-waived trial, announced she would be issuing a written ruling at a later date.

Child Support Enforcement Agency

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