Zurik: Questionable expenses in court clerk’s final days in office

One check was written for cabinets that were never installed in the First City Court Clerk’s Office

Zurik: Questionable expenses in court clerk’s final days in office

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Questions are surfacing over purchases made by a now-former First City Court Clerk in his final days in office.

Timothy David Ray was appointed to First City Court Clerk after Ellen Hazeur won a judgeship in March 2018. In November 2018, Ray lost the election for that office to Austin Badon. In Ray’s last days in office, he wrote two questionable checks, totaling nearly $10,000.

Three days before he left office, Ray wrote one check for $5,150 to a Morgan Jones. The purpose was to move 52 seafood-type boxes which the department uses to store documents. The boxes were to be moved from the clerk’s office on the East Bank to a storage facility on the West Bank.

“It’s easy to do the math. One hundred dollars a box just to transport. Sounds like a lot per box,” Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said.

The storage facility says 52 boxes were delivered on November 14, but Ray wrote the check one day prior on November 13.

“Who personally privately pays for services before they are provided?” Friedman questioned. “And you’re telling me the check was written before they moved? What kind of process is that?”

The First City Court Clerk has a contract with the West Bank storage facility that stipulates the storage company will pick up containers of records and transport them at no charge.

“Why would the clerk pay $5,000 to somebody that is not in the transportation business that we know of for work that would have been done for free. Why?" Friedman said.

Morgan Jones submitted an invoice to the clerk’s office for $5.000, the total amount of moving the boxes. The check he received was written for $150 more than the invoice.

“Interesting that all of this was done after he lost his bid for re-election and before his term officially ended and he was replaced by the person who won the election,” Friedman said.

Four days before Ray lost his election, he paid a Plaquemines Parish pastor nearly $5,000 for “new shelves.” Pastor Merlin Flores submitted an invoice charging $1,500 for an initial consultation and another $3,100 for the refitting of existing shelving.

Flores talked to Lee Zurik on the phone but did not explain in detail about the cabinet work.

Zurik: “What kind of cabinet work did you do for him?”

Flores: “His office.”

Zurik: “What did you do?”

Flores: “Give him some estimates.”

Zurik: “Anything else other than estimates?”

Flores: “No.”

Zurik: “So just estimates?”

Flores: “Yeah.”

While the check notes Flores installed new shelves and the invoice said he refitted existing shelving, Flores told FOX 8 he only gave an estimate.

“You shouldn’t be paying $1,500 for an estimate," Friedman said. “Estimates should be virtually nothing or nothing. I’ve never heard of paying $1,500 for an estimate.”

FOX 8 asked Flores what the $4,700 check was for, and he said he could not remember. Bank records indicate Flores did not deposit the check, but instead, received the full amount in cash.

When asked what he did with the check, Flores said he did not have it and told FOX 8, “I don’t even remember what you’re talking about.”

According to the current clerk of First City Court, the office has no new or refitted shelves. It’s a fact that left Joel Friedman at a loss for words about the lack of information being provided by Ray, who spent public money, before leaving the office.

Timothy David Ray declined our request for an on-camera interview. He’s ignored our text messages since last week but hours before this story aired issued the following statement:

“During my term, each vendor disbursement was made pursuant to applicable law, written policies or longstanding practices. It is unfortunate that, after the election, my successor declined my offer to meet and become informed regarding the state of the Clerk’s Office. Yet, I have hope that our leaders will begin to put politics aside and work together for the betterment of our great city.”
Timothy David Ray, Former First City Court Clerk

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