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Audit: Court should solicit bids for services

CARSON CITY – A legislative audit of the state Supreme Court has generated a separation of powers-based disagreement over a recommendation that the court use a competitive bidding process when goods and services are procured.

The audit, reviewed Monday by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee, found that the court did not solicit multiple bids or quotes or document such processes were used in 13 of 20 procurements tested. The value of the procurements totaled over $598,000.

When competitive procedures are not used to select vendors, the Supreme Court does not have assurances that it receives the best product at the best price, the audit said.

But court officials took exception to the recommendation and questioned the audit methodology that led to the recommendation.

In a response letter signed by Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, the court said the Judicial Branch is not required under the state Constitution or state law to conform to the competitive bid process. And while the auditors said such a process is considered best practice, they failed to provide any source for that opinion, he said.

“For all purported deficiencies noted in the discussion of this recommendation, the auditors failed to demonstrate any financial loss or failure of the Supreme Court to receive the best product at the best price,” Gibbons said. “The court will require competitive bids when the estimated price warrants such efforts.”

Robin Sweet, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the court does shop for the best price when purchasing goods and services. But a formal request for proposals process is not an effective use of the court’s time when the cost of a purchase is only a few thousand dollars, she said.

The court accepted five of the six audit recommendations.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, the chairwoman of the subcommittee, asked if the court will follow its current procurement practices if voters approve the creation of an intermediate court of appeals and was told by Sweet that the same court policies would likely be used. Question 1 on the November ballot would create such a court, with annual expenditures estimated at $1.5 million.

“That troubles me,” she said. “The appeals court will want general fund dollars.”

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