Judges' Group Director Pays DOJ Settlement

Group also settled claims it overcharged DOJ for services relating to grants.

ByABC News
April 29, 2008, 3:07 PM

April 29, 2008— -- The Department of Justice has secretly agreed to settle conflict of interest allegations against the executive director of a group that has received $97 million in federal grants to improve the nation's family courts, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mary Mentaberry, of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), failed to disclose that her husband had received $94,000 in real estate commission for helping the organization secure new office space. Mentaberry agreed to pay $16,500 in the settlement, which has not been previously been made public, to the consternation of some Justice Department officials.

"You would expect a nationwide association of judges to follow the rules," said one official, who called the matter an embarrassment not only to the group but also to the Department of Justice, which has given so many millions of dollars to the group.

Earlier this month, the same group paid $300,000 to settle claims that it overcharged the Justice Department.

In the case involving her husband's real estate commission, the Justice Department's inspector general said Mentaberry had an obligation to inform officials of the potential conflict of interest because of the group's heavy reliance on federal money.

An attorney for Mentaberry said that neither Mentaberry nor her husband violated any laws or regulations and that her husband was first hired by the council seven years before Mentaberry was appointed executive director.

"Mr. Mentaberry helped the Council secure commercial leases at competitive rates for a period of four years. The leases were approved by three subsequent executive directors (not Ms. Mentaberry), and Mr. Mentaberry's fees were paid by the building owner. At no time did Mr. Mentaberry ever receive any funds from the Council," attorney Judith Wheat said in a statement to ABCNews.com.