52 days to save California’s access to justice

Posted on July 26, 2011

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While we read and are aware of the plight of many other courts, San Francisco Superior Court is our proverbial canary in the coalmine with respect to what happens when the AOC diverts trial court trust funds for years and years for their own pet programs. Based on the 60 day layoff notices, we believe that a legislative solution that either 1) Raises taxes to fund judicial branch operations or 2) Cuts AOC pet programs, ordering deep cuts in AOC’s programs and redirects those funds to trial courts is not only possible but it is essential in the next 52 days. 

As we’ve pointed out, the Judicial Council turned away the public, turned away financially destitute trial courts, turned away judicial branch employees and turned away a strong majority of this states’ judges so that the majority of them that had new courthouses coming their way would get their new courthouses. We’re told that they, in essence, fully funded CCMS as well as they never needed the 125 mil they initially asked for. They only need the 35 or so million dollars to deploy CCMS to San Luis Obispo and Ventura and to continue development, having prepaid about 5 mil on last years budget for 20+ contractors to work deployment. This 35 million being spent could bail out San Francisco, San Joaquin and Napa and restore service to the public. Similarly a diversion of trial court construction funds in a similar amount could also address these problems.

It isn’t rocket science. Either you raise taxes or cut spending. When cutting spending, you look at your mission and choose what parts of spending you can cut that are not mission critical. No matter how we attempt to dissect the decision made by the judicial council and the reasoning behind it, it doesn’t add up. They cannot declare they can get by with less clerks because of CCMS’s inherent efficiencies because by all accounts, the added labor to input and manage cases in CCMS takes more people, not less. Using both San Diego and Sacramento’s CCMS Version 3 case examples, more clerks would be required, not less to input CCMS case data. In Sacramento, this extra labor amounts to an additional million dollars per year. Given San Diego’s size, we would expect that it costs San Diego an extra million dollars plus per year. Ventura, being a smaller county also is probably spending an extra half million a year operating CCMS and San Luis Obispo with its relatively small court size would also experience an increase in costs over whatever they are currently utilizing for Case Management.

This is just one of the problems we have with CCMS. Worthy of mention are the prior release courts on V2 that the AOC is paying SAIC millions to host separately from V3 or V4. If the AOC was actually contemplating trying to save money on this program, shouldn’t be getting the six million in support dollars supporting V2 be used to upgrade and migrate to V4? Wouldn’t that be money saved? Would that improve things for V2 courts and possibly V3 courts to drop the services associated with supporting the other platforms? It’s not just SAIC hosting costs. The AOC maintains service release teams of people so a whole service release team is dedicated to V2 (although they really don’t do anything for V2) and they maintain a dedicated service release team for V3 who also doesn’t do much for V3 courts. 

Nobody in the software industry maintains prior releases of software. They declare prior release software end-of-life and end-of-support. If it is costing over six million a year to maintain V2 and the software was declared end of life in 2004 when they chose a different direction, our experts say that seven years is way too long to declare end of support.  End of support should have happened in 2008 and when you include the all-encompassing costs of supporting V2, the real support costs are probably over seven million a year.

This is all theoretical savings because the AOC still does not have a fully functional V4 product. When  the application was ‘accepted’ in April we heard that it would be the end of July when external pieces were to be delivered. Most recently we’ve heard that it will be the end of August that these ‘external deliverables’ will be ready. The ever slipping timeline. Who is going to be held accountable when the end of August rolls around and they need another 30-60 days? Who is willing to fall on the accountability sword? Who is willing to take ownership? As far as we can tell, 5 committees have taken ownership as to diffuse responsibility. Much like running a shell corporation in the real world, these 5 committees act like shell corporations to diffuse responsibility so no one is accountable. Except for one thing: This program has an executive in charge of it – Mark Moore.

We all heard Mark Moore indicate that external deliverables will be ready at the end of July and in last weeks JC meeting, Bruniers said the end of August. They don’t believe that you will notice discrepancies like this that are foisted without explanation. While all of us demand accountability, they know that no one can hold them accountable except the state legislature. Their money is on the state legislature doing nothing. Their money is on the trial courts dismissing another thirty days as nothing in the grand scheme of a product that is five years late in delivery. And yet seriously reforming this whole program for cost savings would result in a substantial benefit being made available to trial courts. It would be cheaper to take V2 out of SAIC and host it locally for those who run it.  It would save at least 5 million a year, yet it still appears on everyone’s radar as something they would like to do something about but are unwilling to be decisive or take action to make it happen.  The same is true with V3 courts, though to a lesser degree.

This is just one program – CCMS – where significant cost savings continue to be overlooked as wishful thinking.

About court construction: Value engineering in materials and architecture and coming up with a per-square-foot costs of entire projects is paramount in our minds. The AOC tries to mislead people by indicating that federal court costs are only for construction costs. While that is true in those locations it might buy a lot for a dollar from a local government agency, the money that GSA spends on courthouses, even with their legendary cost overruns, is far less money than the AOC spends. In the AOC’s favor is the argument that federal courthouses have more office space than state courthouses. Not in the AOC’s favor is holding and detention systems where the AOC spends more than the federal government does for these systems, trying to accommodate holding for men, women and juveniles rather than some just-in-time management model for incarcerated delivery and court hearings.

Do we really need ballistic materials all over a courtroom or at clerks windows when there is metal detectors and armed guards at the front door? That’s a wildly expensive standard to maintain on the possibility that a gun will go undetected and get into a courthouse. Do we really need fine architectural materials and expensive but pretty hard-cap ceilings instead of hung ceilings? Can we use sheet rock instead of plaster, marble,  laminated woods or fabric covered walls? If the federal government does these things now, if the counties and DGS who built various courthouses before can all get by with these things, can’t the AOC downgrade their facilities standards with an eye on value engineering?

While the Office of Court Construction & Management could likely identify the stage of every project in one day and make a command decision on what to move forward on and what to mothball, we now have another infamous committee being appointed to study the situation and to buy time so that OCCM can continue their spending spree without abatement, moving forward on everything they can move forward on so that they can declare the “too far down the rabbit hole to change directions” scenario that will continue to decimate trial court funding in favor of cronies getting their courthouses.

In our mind, this all amounts to a sad state of affairs that just screams for legislative intervention. Intervention that will never happen unless a strong majority of judges actually comes up with a plan, backs it en masse and takes the issue to the state legislature immediately. We should all know by now that the additional funding request will fall upon deaf ears and yet as so many have pointed out, the money is there. The priorities amount to a conflict of interests that only the state legislature can manage. One way they can manage it is by blocking the bond sales scheduled for this fall. Another way they can block it is subjecting all court maintenance and construction to the public contract code and moving everything over to DGS, while continuing to divert construction money to the trial courts. Yet another way is to order that money diverted to trial court operations.

We have heard that there was movement afoot to address these issues, yet the only concrete plan we’ve seen thus far is the ACJ plan that not everyone is buying into for whatever reason. 

There is 52 days until justice in San Francisco is decimated. So how do we go about preventing that other than discussing the unfairness of it all?

Any other ideas?