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Audits: judge’s ‘unallowable’ expenses from court funds include alcohol, guns

A Lauderdale County judge says “sloppy” bookkeeping during the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for two state audits that show more than $146,000 in undocumented or unallowable expenses from two court-fee funded accounts he oversees. Some of that money was spent on travel, handguns, ammunition and alcohol.

Circuit Judge Gil Self also hired his son as a law clerk and paid him from the two funds without proper documentation, according to the Examiners of Public Accounts, which regularly audits state and county offices.

During the audits, both covering July 2019 to July 2023, Self and others repaid the money.

“I believe the audit is accurate in that every penny has been accounted for or replaced,” Self told Alabama Daily News during a phone call Saturday, a few hours before he was getting married.

He defended many of the expenses but said accounting errors did happen during the chaos of running courts during COVID.

“I agree the proper bookkeeping during COVID was really virtually non-existent,” Self said. “It was sloppy. We didn’t follow acceptable accounting principles, primarily because there’s no one trained or experienced in those principles here that were in charge of the books during that period of time.

“But the buck stops with me and I accept full responsibility for the mistakes that were made.”

The examiners office referred its findings to the state attorney general. No comment was available from Steve Marshall’s office on Friday. Self said his office is cooperating with all parties.

In the audit of the Presiding Circuit Judge’s Judicial Administration Fund, a total of $123,232 in expenditures in the fund was questioned due to lack of documentation or improper use of the funds, according to the audit.

Questionable expenses included:

  • Checks to Self and others;
  • Personal meals and alcohol;
  • Personal travel, including airfare and hotels for guests;

Personal items, including electronics, eyeglasses, handguns, ammunition, kitty litter, car wash supplies, flowers, framing, golf items; and furniture not located on courthouse property.

About the handguns and ammunition, Self said he bought two pistols for security purposes in the courthouse. 

“They’re here for our protection,” Self said. “The ammunition was for practicing and the guns are here on the fifth floor. We’re kind of on our own on these different floors.” 

Self was appointed to the bench in 2009 and has won reelection three times since. He said he’s been through previous audits and wasn’t trying to hide anything.

“Sometimes, we made a Sam’s (Club) run and there were personal items and office supplies and no one was double checking,” Self said. “We were flying by the seat of our pants (during COVID).”

The administration fund for the 11th Judicial Circuit was created under state law and allows for increased docket fees in certain civil and criminal cases in circuit and district courts. The money is meant to be spent on court operations,  including salaries and benefits of court employees and other expenses determined necessary by the presiding circuit judge.

The other audit was of the Law Library Fund in Lauderdale County. It’s also supported by case fees in district and circuit courts and is controlled by Self. Self paid his son more than $30,000 from that fund without proper documentation or tax forms, according to the audit.

The judicial fund audit also says Self hired his as a law clerk, paid bonuses to a former judicial assistant and paid other contract employees wages totaling nearly $28,000 without supporting documents such as timesheets or contracts. Payroll taxes were not withheld from these payments and a Form W-2 or Form 1099 was not provided for each calendar year, according to the audit.

Self’s son received his undergraduate degree in December 2019 and was applying to law schools. Self said he hired him as a law clerk for $10 an hour for what he said he thought would be a good, short-term experience. 

“I thought he’d be here several months and then go on to law school, then the pandemic hit,” Self said, also admitting the paperwork could have been more orderly.

He also said his son helped keep his office running during COVID.

“For a long time, it was just him and me and my judicial assistant,” Self said.



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