Judges summarize the contents of the Grant Thornton Report – and question its conclusions

Posted on March 26, 2012

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March 25, 2012
Dear Members and Others,
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On Thursday, March 22, the Judicial Council posted the latest Grant Thornton report concerning CCMS. The Council will discuss this report and make a decision regarding the future of CCMS at a special meeting next Tuesday, March 27. Alliance directors Judge Kent Hamlin of Fresno and Judge Mike Hayes from Orange County will be in attendance.
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Understanding that most of you are probably too busy with actual courtroom work to read this 92-page report, we offer the following summary. These are some of our preliminary observations regarding the Grant Thornton (GT) report:
  • Based on AOC estimates, it would cost over $102 million to deploy CCMS V4 to San Luis Obispo (SLO) if a statewide infrastructure is put in place to facilitate deployment to additional courts (page 27). By subtracting out the costs for maintenance and operation of the system, GT cuts that figure to a little over $56.4 million (page 38). The costs of maintaining and operating the system are real costs that the courts would have to expend if CCMS is deployed, so we question the methodology that discounts those.
  • GT concedes that, given the large cost involved in deploying to SLO, CCMS V4 can only be justified if the judicial branch also intends to deploy the system to multiple additional courts on the statewide CCMS V4 infrastructure (page 40). The cost of creating the foundation for future court deployments is nearly $47 million (id.). The branch has no more money to fund that project — the AOC and Judicial Council have already spent more than a half a billion dollars and they have no idea what it would cost to deploy CCMS statewide. This $200,000 report does not answer that question.
  • Just deploying the system to SLO, without the statewide infrastructure that would permit deployment to other courts, will cost over $11 million, including costs to integrate with justice partners (page 55). That is nearly a million dollars per judge in the county. Does the SLO court have another $11 million laying around to install and operate CCMS V4? Why would SLO want to deploy this system at its own expense, when there are other case management systems that will do the job in SLO that can purchased off the shelf for far less? Will the $11 million come from the AOC and essentially be paid for by all of the courts?
  • Local court costs for Fresno to install and operate V4 approach $18 million (id.). Fresno doesn’t have an extra $18 million, nor is the court likely to lay off employees to get it. Will the AOC (i.e. the other 57 county courts) foot the bill for Fresno to move forward with CCMS V4?
  • The total cost to the ten proposed “Phase 2” courts — and these are in some cases only partial deployments of V4, by the way — is a little over $211 million (id.). The Judicial Council has spent down the Trial Court Trust Fund and Trial Court Improvement Fund to create CCMS as it currently exists, already having paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Deloitte and an army of court programmers and independent contractors. Where will another $211 million come from? Certainly not from the already devastated budgets of those trial courts.
  • The $211 million, however, is just the cost to the local courts. Deployment to those ten courts would require one time statewide costs in excess of $25 million, and another $475 million statewide through FY 2020-2021 in ongoing costs (page 60). This means more than $710 million would be required over the next eight years to get the system operating, and keep it operating, less than all of the calendars in ten additional courts. That’s on top of the $550 million already spent. At this pace, the latest estimate of $1.9 billion to complete CCMS statewide now seems unrealistically low.
  • The plan is for the AOC to provide about $190 million in supplemental funding to those ten courts (page 83). There is, of course, no source identified for any of this additional funding. Perhaps that will come from Legislature? (They seem to be great fans of CCMS of late.) Our view is that this money would have to be specifically appropriated by the Legislature, because this project has cost the trial courts too much already.
  • Total “new funding” to support deployment of V4 to SLO and the other “Phase 2” courts is a little over $342 million through FY 2020-2021 (page 86). The source of these “new funds” is not clear. When the branch has been hit with $650 million in reductions, does anyone really believe these new funds will ever exist?
  • Even if the system “works” and does everything its proponents claim it does, and even if there are no cost overruns or unexpected problems with V4 — an unrealistic expectation in light of past performance — the total return on investment through FY2020-2021 is a negative $67 million (id.). That accepts as an underlying premise that under the “no CCMS” option, each of those ten courts would have to replace their current case management systems in the next eight years with some other product (id.).

The report concludes by setting out several options designed to create an earlier positive return on investment (page 90). Not one of those options is even remotely feasible, given the current and ongoing financial crisis. We challenge the AOC, Judicial Council or anyone else to demonstrate how this project can ever be made anything other than what it is — an abject failure. The official death of CCMS can be delayed no longer. If all 58 courts and their many “justice partners” will ever be joined together by one case management system, it will not be this case management system.

In 2010, ironically on a mandatory court closure day, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee met to discuss an audit of CCMS. At that hearing, Justice Terrence Bruiniers and AOC staff argued against the audit. The AOC believed that former Chief Justice Ron George’s personal meetings with legislators would ensure the audit’s demise. They had not anticipated that the Alliance could persuade legislators to support the audit. The audit was approved and the release of the auditor’s report in February of 2011 revealed what we and many others have been saying for years — this project is a failure, and those who have overseen the expenditure of precious trial court funds on it have failed the court system.

Some observers think that CCMS will die a quiet death next Tuesday. We attach commentary from Bill Girdner of Courthouse News and Cheryl Miller of the Recorder on that subject. Given the audacity with which branch leaders have pushed this project forward over the protests of judges and others, you will understand our skepticism. We not only plan to attend the meeting and address the Council on your behalf, but we plan to draft a motion for the Council’s consideration so we don’t have another “pause” in CCMS that isn’t really a pause, or a vote that leaves the judiciary subject to more costly outbreaks of CCMS.

The Judicial Council needs to move beyond the denial stage and embrace the fact that CCMS must be permanently shelved. After spending over a half billion dollars of trial court funds, subjecting the branch to public ridicule and creating dissent amongst judges, the time has come to end this debacle. We expect a thorough investigation to determine if the taxpayers can be reimbursed for some of the losses incurred. We also expect that those responsible will be held to account for their lack of judgment in bringing this about. And finally, we demand that those decision makers not further compound their previous lack of judgment by spending more of our precious court funds on this failed project.

We trust we speak for all of our members when we express these concerns.

Directors

Alliance of California Judges

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From: Courthouse News service

Reason’s Return By BILL GIRDNER
The ungainly beast that gobbled up the courts’ money seems to be dead.The decision by an Assembly budget subcomittee last week to pull the plug on a case management system that has cost a half-billion dollars ought to be the kibosh. It was foretold in budget documents, saying the Court Case Management System would continue eating up hundreds of thousands every day in the coming years.
The beast was fed even as the tearing of the judicial fabric in California had become almost audible with courts planning layoffs and closing courtrooms.

In her state of the judiciary address earlier this week, the chief justice said, “I want to take a moment to acknowledge the role that the Legislature had in helping inform decisions about CCMS.”
I read that to be a gracious concession. The Legislature has primarily bashed the project and the expenses tied to it. In last week’s budget subcommittee hearing, the legislators were peremptory and paternalistic in addressing the last-ditch defenders of the system.

Relying on the fancy-sounding techno-jargon that has been used successfully in the past to justify the project, Justice Bruiniers quoted from a report saying, “CCMS will perform as designed once it is deployed to the production environment.” He was interrupted by Mike Feuer, who is also head of the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and who normally can be counted to support the initiatives of court administrators. “I appreciate it,” said Feuer, “but I’m prepared to move that we suspend the program with regard to all courts who aren’t currently up and running.”

Bruiniers was followed by Judge James Herman from Santa Barbara who fared no better. “This is not a system like a laptop computer that you can just punch a button on and shut it down,” said Herman.

He was interrupted by the head of the subcomittee, Gilbert Cedillo, who said, as though talking to a child, “We appreciate the magnitude of this. Basically, to use the parent language, we’re taking a little time out here, mmm’kay?” I wondered when I heard that exchange if the committee members had been tipped by the chief justice or an emissary that she was OK with shutting the program down and the Legislature could act as executioner.

So when the chief thanked the Legislature for its help in making decisions about the program, I thought that statement in turn could be interpreted as saying, thanks for taking on that role. Whether that guesswork is right or not, the two events brought the politics around the case management program back down to the ground. When I heard a mere two months ago that the administrators wanted to go ahead with inserting the latest version of the beast into ten trial courts in California, I had the sense that I had fallen down a rabbit hole into a bureaucratic Wonderland.

The notion that they would go ahead with the program, and spend the hundreds of millions that decision entails, while the court budget was being cut to the bone and into the bone, engendered a sense of helplessness, a kind of fatalism in knowing that reason and sense had left the building, never to return. The committee’s decision to pull the plug meant those two characters had thankfully returned. I also had the idea that a sort of grand bargain might be in place, that if the top brass of the courts agreed to give up on the case management project, the state Senate would kill a bill meant to reduce the size and power of the bureaucracy at the top of the courts.

If that were so, or some variation of that deal were in place, it would leave an increasingly desperate battle still to be fought. If no more money is forthcoming from the Legislature, the pressure from the trial courts to take as much as possible out of the bureaucracy will continue. And in their fancy headquarters in San Francisco, the bureaucrats can be counted on to cling to their disintegrating empire for as long as they can. “I can tell you that the judiciary is undergoing a transformation,” the chief justice told the Legislature, “but that is an understatement.”

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Consultant Puts Price Tag on Further Deployment of CCMS

Cheryl Miller

The Recorder

March 22, 2012

SACRAMENTO — Deploying a long-awaited case management system to just 11 of California’s 58 trial courts would cost $1.2 billion over the next 10 years, according to a report released in anticipation of a pivotal Judicial Council meeting on Tuesday.

In comparison, shelving the Court Case Management System and allowing those same 11 courts to independently replace their filing software as needed would cost $1.13 billion — or $67 million less — over that same 10-year period, the analysis from consultant Graham Thornton concluded.

The report cast more doubt on the future of CCMS, the in-development network that branch leaders once promised would link all 58 trial courts while providing easy access to information for litigants and lawyers. Just last week, a state Assembly budget committee voted to freeze additional spending on CCMS until the Legislature can review the troubled program.

The Judicial Council, which is scheduled to review the 92-page report at its Tuesday meeting, will consider three options for CCMS’ future: Deploy the network to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court and later, 10 additional courts through 2021; stop work on CCMS for a year and then deploy the system to the 11 courts; or scrap statewide plans for CCMS and allow individual courts to make piecemeal use of what’s been developed.

Although branch leaders have given no indication as to what their favored option is, the budget Gov. Jerry Brown introduced in January offered no extra money for CCMS, and in fact threatened to ax $125 million from the judiciary’s budget if voters fail to pass his temporary tax hikes.

In an email sent to other court leaders on Wednesday, Yolo County Superior Court Presiding Judge David Rosenberg, who chairs the Judicial Council’s presiding judges’ advisory committee, said he favors terminating CCMS as a statewide project and allowing trial courts to choose their own case management systems, so long as they meet certain standards.

“I have come to the conclusion that we simply cannot put all our eggs into the CCMS basket, and that the original vision of CCMS is just not achievable or realistic in 2012,” Rosenberg wrote.

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Costly state courts high-tech update fate in hands of judicial leaders

By Howard Mintz- Mercury News

A 10-year quest to install a $2 billion computer upgrade across the state’s courts has been dubbed everything from boondoggle to technological “bridge to nowhere.”

And now one of the largest tech projects in recent state history — a plan to burnish California’s 58 trial courts with a Silicon Valley-style electronic makeover — has reached a make or break point because the price may be too high when budget cuts are slamming courthouses everywhere.

The system was meant to speed up the wheels of justice by linking courts to each other and state agencies such as the Department of Justice, replacing paper court files with electronic documents and allowing judges with a click of a mouse to check everything from criminal histories to child support payments around the state.

It also will enable the public to e-file documents, access information, and make payments from the internet.

The state’s Judicial Council, the court system’s policy arm, on Tuesday will consider whether to push forward with the so-called “CCMS” tech overhaul, lambasted by critics in recent years for its mushrooming cost. California taxpayers have sunk $560 million into the project, handing the council members a choice of spending more or cutting their losses.

A state audit last year blasted the project for running amok, singling out the state Administrative Office of the Courts for lack of oversight. Even Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the council’s chairwomanand a longtime CCMS supporter, in recent months suggested it may be time to pull back, comparing the project to having “a Ferrari in the garage but we can’t afford the gas.”

“At the end of the day, the question facing us is: can we afford it?” said Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Herman, a council member who prepared a report on the project.

The council’s vote comes as state lawmakers are growing increasingly skeptical of writing checks for CCMS. An Assembly committee last week voted unanimously to put most of the tech upgrade on hold.

Everyone agrees the project has reached a do-or-die stage, with judges up and down California divided over its worth.

Eight presiding judges, including from trial courts in San Francisco, San Mateo and Los Angeles, last week urged the council to pull the plug. Alameda County would be one of the first Bay Area courts to get the new technology, but Presiding Judge C. Don Clay told this newspaper the project is flawed and should be aborted.

And Richard Loftus, Santa Clara County’s presiding judge and long a CCMS advocate, said it may be time to abandon it.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “I think what happened is that the vision was too ambitious. Realistically, it’s not something we can afford.”

When first approved more than a decade ago, the project was indeed ambitious. The goal was to create one unified supercomputer system for all of California’s trial courts, many of which were equipped with technology that was more jalopy than Ferrari.

The upgrade had widespread support, including from then-Gov. Gray Davis, and the state was flush with cash.

But as the project drew closer to reality, its cost ballooned and it became a lightning rod for judges who were absorbing more than $600 million in budget cuts over the past three years.

Now, there is a drumbeat to cut the judiciary’s losses and find less expensive ways to improve court technology, letting local judges pick their own upgrades without trying to invent a legal system computer superhighway.

“Anyone will tell you, if you’re stuck in a hole, stop digging,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, a leader in the Alliance of California Judges, a CCMS critic. “We’ve spent ten years on this project. It needs to be declared dead.”

Despite the blistering critiques, the scrap heap is not a foregone conclusion. A separate audit released last week suggested three options:

  • Deploy the full CCMS program in one test county, San Luis Obispo, which would cost more than $20 million;
  • Install it in 10 counties, including Alameda, Marin and Santa Cruz, and wait out the recession to go statewide; or
  • End the project now.
  • The audit pointed out that with or without CCMS, many trial courts need technology upgrades that will cost some amount of money. And the audit projects that by 2017 CCMS would save the state about $33 million a year by cutting the cost of everything from collecting fines to fetching court files from one county to another.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, was among those who voted last week to put much of the project on hold for now, but still believes it should go forward in pieces and not abandoned altogether.  “There’s no doubt been some hiccups along the way,” she said. “But if we abandon it, what do we do? We have court (computer) systems that don’t work. Do you start over five years down the road? I think we have to move forward.”