Courthouse News Service
Assembly Committee Votes to Pull Plug on Expensive Court IT Project
By MARIA DINZEO
SACRAMENTO (CN) – A California Assembly committee voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend a costly and controversial statewide IT project for California’s courts after the state Auditor revealed serious concerns about the project’s future.
“Basically, using the parent language, we’re taking a little time out here,” said Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), chair of the budget sub-committee on public safety.
Presiding judges from trial courts around California also sent a letter to the chief justice Wednesday, urging the leader of the courts to stop spending any more money on the IT system and send that money instead to struggling trial courts that are laying off staff and closing courtrooms.
The vote came after state Auditor Elaine Howle presented a report revealing that the court bureaucracy in charge of the project had not fully implemented the recommendations made by her office a year ago, failing to give rigorous oversight to the project and the enormous sums it is costing.
“The project is a good example of how not to develop an IT project,” remarked Assembly member Joan Buchanan (D-Contra Costa).
The committee’s vote may be the end of the line for an enormous and often loathed project, caricatured as a sinking Titanic and variously called “misbegotten,” a “boondoggle” and a “fiasco.”
The central court bureaucracy that has ballooned in size and in consumption of public funds, as a result of legislation 15 years ago, has been been pummeled by legislators and trial judges over the ambitious project that has already cost a half-billion dollars and is budgeted to cost another quarter-billion in the next couple years.
The Court Case Management System was intended to unify information from all 58 county trial courts in California. But a blistering report by the state Auditor last year revealed poor management by the bureaucrats, cost overruns, and no financial analysis of the project prior to its auspicious inception in 2003.
The auditor’s report also found that many courts did not want the system, and the Administrative Office of the Courts had failed to report the true cost of the project to the Legislature.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the state auditor said the administrative office had taken steps to meet her recommendations, but those efforts fell short.
“Although we’re beyond the one year date, many have not been fully implemented, and there’s at least one where they’ve taken no action to address our recommendations,” Auditor Howle told the Assembly committee. “There’s a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding the cost of deploying the system and whether or not they really have addressed the concerns we have. We have a lot of outstanding issues.”
The auditor’s technology expert, Payson Hall, testified that while the administrative office had hired a vendor to confirm that the system worked, “The caution is it might be challenging to maintain. Have you ever made a hideous excel spreadsheet and not left breadcrumbs to let you know what you did? Imagine doing that with 6 million lines of code,” he told the legislators.
Recently the administrative office announced its intention to install the final version of the software, CCMS V4, in ten California trial courts. A feasibility study is to be unveiled later this month before the Judicial Council headed by the Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
However, Wednesday’s vote urging “a time out” leaves little room for interpretation concerning the Legislature’s wishes.
The motion to suspend the project was made by Assembly member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), who is the chair of the lower house’s judiciary committee and normally a reliable vote in support of positions taken by the court administrative office.
“The final action of the Legislature is not before us today. It’s a committee action,” said Feuer. “The motion is that CCMS be suspended, except for the seven counties in which CCMS is currently operating, pending further legislative action.”
Assembly member Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) criticized the administrative office for a slow pace of reform. “I was disturbed to hear that in some areas there hasn’t been progress where there should have been a lot more made in the last year,” he said, noting a particular concern about a limited warranty from Deloitte Consulting, the system’s builder.
“A year later, there could have been a decision made by now,” he added. “Why haven’t they come to agreement to address that very serious problem which is only making the project more expensive? The AOC needs to do a much better job reporting back to the Legislature all the necessary steps it’s taken to address the concerns of the State Auditor.”
Judge James Herman of Santa Barbara testified that the Judicial Council will be voting on a number of options at a meeting on March 27th, one of which is suspending the project. But, Herman testified, maintaining the status quo would also be expensive.
“It’s not a laptop computer that you can just shut down,” he told the legislators.
The committee’s vote should not affect the handful of courts that are using early versions of the CCMS software. The system shuts down occasionally and has problems that require continuing work by programmers. Those courts would be left in the lurch, if no funds could be used for fixes.
Buchanan, the Assembly member from Contra Costa, said some courts have no choice. She pointed to San Joaquin Superior Court, which uses an early version of the controversial software for some departments.
“If they did not have CCMS, they would have no system in place,” Buchanan argued.
“I don’t think we should go out and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars implementing when we need to keep courts open,” she added in reference to the extensive cost of trying to put the huge program into the courts. “But we have to think about courts like the one in San Joaquin County.”
That line of argument was contradicted by a court clerk in San Joaquin County Superior Court who attended the hearing.
In an interview afterwards, clerk Monica Jones said legislator Buchanan is mistaken when she says the San Joaquin court has no alternative system.
“I perked up when she said that,” Jones commented. She said her job as a “front-line person with CCMS” has given her a great deal of experience on “the problems it poses.”
As with many courts, an old system is still in place in San Joaquin Superior. It still works, said Jones, and the staff thinks it is much better than the software sent down from the administrative office. The system is called Show Me, said Jones, and is used in the court’s family law, juvenile dependency and elderly dependency departments.
“That system is still in place,” Jones said. “I would like Buchanan to be aware that we do have it. If she could find the time and come over to our family law courthouse, she can see how it functions.”
Jones said that the San Joaquin court uses an earlier version of the CCMS software, called V3, in its civil and probate departments. But system’s sluggishness has done nothing but create more work for clerks. “The work load has doubled,” said Jones. “What would take ten minutes has now tripled to 30 or 40 minutes to open one case. It now takes five to ten minutes just to input one document into CCMS.”
That assessment dovetails with statements from judges experienced with software who have said, in surveys taken over the past year, that the cumbersome data entry requirements of CCMS actually increase labor costs and take a great deal of extra staff time.
In anticipation of Wednesday’s hearing a letter signed by presiding judges and court executive officers in nine courts was sent to the chief justice, urging her to stop spending any more money on the IT project and in particular the version that is called the “finished” version of the CCMS software, V4, that is supposed to allow filing of documents through the internet. No court in the state has adopted it and a group of big courts have specifically rejected it.
Presiding judges from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Riverside, Orange County, Kern County, Mariposa County, Trinity County and San Mateo County wrote, “It is our firm position that we can no longer support further development or deployment of CCMS V4. If statewide deployment of CCMS V4 was ever an attainable goal, that time has passed as the state’s budget crisis has grown and endured.”
“We urge you to vote to immediately cease funding CCMS V4,” the letter added, saying that money should instead go to the trial courts.
“Now is the time,” said the judges, “to honestly identify those programs that are truly essential to our justice system, to abandon outmoded priorities, and to move forward with a realistic vision of the Judicial Branch in these economic times. Now is the time to stop CCMS V4 and to redirect all funding to the trial courts.”
Lawmakers Vote to Stop Work on CCMS
The unexepected action, pushed by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Judicial Council ally, could signal a rough road ahead for the court’s computer project.
2012-03-14 05:25:35 PM
SACRAMENTO — With little debate and no warning, a legislative subcommittee on Thursday voted to suspend deployment of the judiciary’s Court Case Management System pending additional scrutiny of the troubled program by lawmakers.
The action, which was not forecast on the committee’s agenda, appeared to surprise both CCMS supporters and detractors, who had listened to almost two hours of dry historical and technical background before Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, made the unexpected proposal. The committee voted 4-0 to suspend CCMS development except for the seven courts where early versions are already running.
Even more stunning than the vote was the fact that Feuer, a Judicial Council member and ally of the chief justice, was the legislator who proposed icing CCMS. Feuer, a candidate for Los Angeles city attorney, left the meeting immediately after the proposal passed and did not talk with reporters.
Feuer’s office did release a statement from the assemblyman saying that “When it comes to the judicial system, our highest priority must be to keep our courts open. That includes redirecting money from CCMS to assure access to justice throughout the state.”
The vote may have limited immediate effect as any decision to freeze judicial spending on CCMS would have to come from both houses. But it signals that Assembly leaders still intend to pursue judicial governance changes — perhaps through budget negotiations — even after Senate leadership tabled one vehicle to do that: AB 1208, the Trial Court Rights Act.
“I think it’s a recognition that there’s a serious problem in moving forward with CCMS,” said Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe, an Alliance of California Judges director who attended Thursday’s hearing. “It means that CCMS is going to have to be further justified.”
The vote followed a letter sent to the chief justice Thursday by the presiding judges of Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles superior courts, urging the branch leader “to stop CCMS … and to redirect all funding to the trial courts.”
“If statewide deployment of CCMS … was ever an attainable goal, that time has passed as the state’s budget crisis has grown and endured,” Judges Laurie Earl, Katherine Feinstein and Lee Smalley Edmon wrote. The letter was also signed by the executive officers of those trial courts, as well as the assistant presiding judge and executive officer of Riverside County Superior Court.
Branch leaders warned on Thursday that even scrapping CCMS would carry a cost given the aging systems some courts now use. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, agreed, saying San Joaquin County Superior Court in her district “would have no system” without its existing version of CCMS.
“We have to have a balance,” Buchanan said. “We have to think of a court like San Joaquin County because if we abandon it, what do we do?”
Branch leaders also noted that the Judicial Council will consider a number of CCMS deployment options, including suspending installation, at a March 27 meeting. But lawmakers weren’t deterred from voting.
“To use the parent language, we’re taking a little time-out here,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. “It should not be taken as more than that.”
March 14, 2012
Assembly panel blocks expansion of court computer system
An Assembly budget subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to block expansion of a statewide court case management system that has become the focal point of a months-long political war between the state’s judicial leadership and some rebel judges.
The latter — backed by the politically powerful Service Employees International Union — have complained that millions of dollars are being wasted on the computer system while local courts are being compelled to curtail their operations and lay off employees as state financing of courts is reduced.
The budget subcommittee’s action bolsters the Assembly’s position in a conflict with the state Senate over court management. The Assembly has passed legislation, Assembly Bill 1208, that the rebel Alliance of California Judges sponsored to give local judges more power over distribution of operational funds.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the state Judicial Council and heads the Administrative Office of the Courts, has publicly complained that the legislation violates judicial independence, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has declared that the bill will be held in his house without a vote.
Steinberg, however, is under pressure from the SEIU, which represents court employees facing layoffs and is a major source of campaign money for Democrats. Wednesday’s action makes the computer system financing a potential bargaining chip in the inter-Capitol maneuvering over the legislation.
The subcommittee’s action came after the Legislature’s budget analyst and the state auditor delivered reports that strengthened the critics’ positions.
So far, legislators were told, the Administrative Office of the Courts has spent $556.5 million on the system but it’s been deployed in only a few counties. Even so, Auditor Elaine Howle pointed out, the AOC certified that the system is complete, thereby triggering a limited warranty period from the contractor that could leave the state holding the financial bag if problems crop up later.
Judges themselves are divided over the efficacy of the system, some professing that it lightens their workloads, while others saying it is unusable. In recent weeks, the chief justice and her allies have backed off their previous intent to install it in every county and indicated that they’d give local judges more leeway.
State spends $2B to upgrade court computer system
11:10 PM, Mar 14, 2012 | 2 comments
Capitol Television News Service (CTNS)
SACRAMENTO, CA – Judges and their union allies came to the Capitol Wednesday to ask that funding for the state’s new court computer upgrades be stopped immediately.
The state has already spent around $581 million on implementing the new court computer system. Experts estimate the new system will be fully implemented in California’s courts by next year, to the tune of $2 billion, and possibly more.
Opponents call the new court computer system poorly conceived, poorly designed and a drain on local courts. They estimate the project is 800 percent over budget. Opponents said that $2 billion could be better used.
“We don’t have an opposition to updating computers, we are pro-computers,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gialliard said. “What we are not pro is spending $2 billion on a computer system that does not work at the same time that we are closing down courts and laying off court workers.”
Monica Jones has been working at the San Joaquin Superior Court as a clerk for 13 years. She’s seen a lot of changes in the computer systems over the years and now works with the new computer system California is trying to implement across the state. She said she wishes San Joaquin would go back to the old computer system, which she called adequate.
“The work load has doubled,” Jones said. “It has doubled our time for the input and the intense codes that we have to input and some of the codes don’t work.”
Gialliard said the state paid for a Ferrari, but got a Yugo and can’t afford to even tow it away at this point.