ACJ – After CCMS what’s next?

Posted on April 3, 2012

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April 2, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

In the wake of the Judicial Council vote to abandon CCMS V4, many are asking, “What’s next?”  As to that question we include an excellent article by Cheryl Miller which ran in The Recorder March 30.  We also include yesterday’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Computer System Dropped After 500 Million Spent”.

In the Recorder article, ACJ director Judge Steve White accurately points out that the more than half a billion dollars wasted on CCMS was merely a symptom of the dysfunctional governance structure of our branch. This dysfunction can only be remedied by the passage of AB 1208 and the democratization of the council.

Many will recall that former Chief Justice George proclaimed that any action to democratize the council would be viewed as a “declaration of war.” While we do not yet know how our current Chief Justice will respond to this needed reform, we continue our efforts to educate and inform those who have a stake in our justice system. To that end, we also provide you with a letter that was sent to Ms. Kim Stone, the President of the Civil Justice Association of California, in response to Ms. Stone’s editorial wherein she apparently assumed that the passage of AB 1208 would undo trial court unification and render statewide practices and procedures a nullity.

It is disconcerting when attorneys, especially those in leadership positions, make blatant misstatements about the effects of the bill. It is incumbent on all of us to engage in proactive efforts to rebut the misleading claims made by those who oppose the budget reforms embodied in AB 1208. We encourage all ACJ members to contact their State Senators and urge passage of this important measure.

Again, we thank you for your support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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How the Branch Killed CCMS, and What It Means for Other Woes

Cheryl Miller

SACRAMENTO — In his final State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Ronald George told lawmakers in 2010 that, despite the cost-cutting decision to close courthouses once a month, the branch had to continue pumping money into the Court Case Management System.

Judges were raving about early versions of the software, he said. Curious federal Homeland Security officials were eying the project. And the private sector, he suggested, just might be willing to invest in the one-of-a-kind development.

CCMS and other branchwide endeavors “cannot be shelved when we encounter bad times,” he said. “The welfare and safety of Californians depend upon proper investment in the long-term future of our state.”

Two years later, CCMS sits on the scrap heap. George is long gone and now so is his vision of a statewide file-sharing network symbolic of a unified court system.

CCMS works, branch leaders insist, but the financing in today’s economy doesn’t. Federal law enforcement curiosity never translated into serious dollars. And despite a brief dalliance with tech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, private investment didn’t materialize.
The council’s March 27 decision — essentially, to stop digging the budget hole any deeper — really just buries one bone of contention. Relations with openly skeptical lawmakers and hostile court-employee unions remain at or near all-time lows. This year’s budget offers little hope of restored funding and the very real possibility that courts could lose another $125 million this fall. And critics of the branch’s current governing structure say the death of CCMS hasn’t changed their resolve.

“CCMS was a half-billion-dollar symptom of the problem,” said Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steve White, an Alliance of California Judges director. “It wasn’t the problem itself.”

LESS ‘IRON FIST’

But the path to the March 27 vote offers some clues to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s approach to managing the branch and its troubles.

In the wake of George’s retirement and last year’s scathing state audit report on CCMS, a parade of high-ranking executives left the Administrative Office of the Courts. She replaced George’s long-time executive and planning committee chairman, Justice Richard Huffman, and appointed new judge-driven CCMS oversight panels. AOC administrative director William Vickrey retired, and his interim replacement, Ronald Overholt, announced plans to do the same.

“She’s cleaning house better than Don Corleone,” said one judge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But despite a growing chorus of criticism of CCMS, the chief justice did not put a stop to the project. She continued to tout the system’s potential benefits, only later questioning whether the branch could truly afford it. And when the end was near, she waited for a final consultant’s report and consensus from the Judicial Council.

Under George’s regime, there was little doubt that the chief justice and his close cadre of allies were calling the shots. Debate and dissent at council meetings were rare.

In the spring of 2010, Sacramento County Superior Court judges grew weary of troubles with an early version of CCMS and announced plans to set up a locally controlled server. Huffman, the chair of the council’s executive and planning committee, shot a letter to court leaders, ordering them not to buy any equipment or hire staff for the new server until staff from the AOC could review the problems.

Less than two years later, there’s less iron fist. Two presiding judges openly refused to participate in a branch-financed study of how CCMS might be deployed in their courts. And recently, a group of 16 court executives and presiding and assistant presiding judges wrote a letter to Cantil-Sakauye, urging her to “stop CCMS.” Such open criticism would have been almost unimaginable during George’s tenure.

“The big, bold personalities of Bill Vickrey and Ron George are gone,” said the judge who requested anonymity. Now, he added, council members, presiding judges — particularly from large courts — and judges’ lobbies are maneuvering to fill the resulting power “vacuum.”

MORE DELIBERATION

Sources familiar with Judicial Council workings say in the days leading up to the March 27 CCMS vote, factions within and outside the council focused on two options: freezing the project for a year and then pursuing a multicourt installation — a proposal favored by Bar leaders — or scrapping the original plans altogether and salvaging developed parts.

Cantil-Sakauye was part of those discussions, two participants said, but didn’t attempt to push a particular outcome. When it became increasingly clear that the financial numbers wouldn’t work — and lawmakers weren’t going to rescue the project — some of the chief justice’s supporters thought she should and would take a pre-emptive stand  before the meeting and recommend ending CCMS. She did not, choosing instead to wait for a consultant’s report that put the project’s poor fiscal condition in black and white before putting the question to the council.

The chief justice said little during the marathon council session deciding CCMS’s fate. After the unanimous vote, several council members spoke to reporters about the decision. The chief justice did not. A spokesman said she was too busy.

“What we do best in the judicial branch is to weigh the evidence and make reasoned and deliberate decisions,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a post-vote statement circulated by her press office. “The council’s decision to stop deployment of CCMS was responsible and prudent in view of our budget situation and the facts we gathered on the actual costs of deployment.”

A spokeswoman said the chief justice was unavailable to comment for this article.

Cantil-Sakauye was fully engaged in the CCMS debate, said her newly appointed chair of the executive and planning committee, Justice Douglas Miller. But she has assumed a role as equal member of the Judicial Council, not a director, he said.

“Ever since the chief took over as the new chief justice and leader of the Judicial Council she has given full discretion to the executive and planning committee — any of the internal committees really — to provide whatever advice they feel is appropriate,” Miller said. “She came in with an open mind, concerned about a lot of things that the branch was dealing with. She didn’t say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.’”

With the apparent death of CCMS, branch leaders’ focus has shifted to ongoing budget troubles and the future role of centralized operations. Again, Cantil-Sakauye and the council are waiting for a report, due in April, this time from the council’s strategic evaluation committee, which is expected to recommend changes in the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“I don’t think the CCMS debate and the CCMS vote really address those important questions,” said San Diego County Superior Court Judge David Rubin, the president of the California Judges Association. “I think those very important questions will be addressed when we get the SEC report and we start the conversation about that.”

If anything, Rubin said, perhaps the CCMS vote will “allow the heat in the room [to] come down some.”

But the fight for changes in the form of the Trial Court Rights Act, AB 1208, continues. Although state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has said the bill isn’t going anywhere in his house, its provisions have been on the  table during recent behind-the-scenes branch budget negotiations. Particularly at issue is the Judicial Council’s authority to reallocate state money allotted for trial courts.

AB 1208 supporters say the judiciary will continue to be wracked by other divisive issues until leaders heed critics’ calls to democratize the Judicial Council.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the decision by the Judicial Council [on March 27] takes any wind out of those sails,” Sacramento Judge White said. “The problems do not go away until there really is accountability and that accountability is to the courts.”

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Computer system dropped after $500 million spent

Sunday, April 1, 2012
The plug has been pulled on one of the biggest boondoggles in California history – the effort to build a $2 billion computer system linking the state’s 58 county courts. It never worked, and some say it was doomed from the start.
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The program had run so amok, according to the state auditor, that one of the subcontracts had 102 change orders, pushing that one bill alone from $33 million to $310 million.
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Faced with mounting criticism from judges and legislators, the state Judicial Council finally voted Tuesday to kill the out-of-control program. But not before spending more than $500 million trying to launch it.
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“We are closing courtrooms, we are laying off people we need to run the courts, and at the same time here they were spending this money,” said Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe, head of the 400-strong Alliance of California Judges, a dissident group that waged an all-out campaign to halt the runaway spending.
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The computer system was initiated a decade ago by former Chief Justice Ron George with the idea of allowing courts to get instantly updated information on all cases around the state.
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The estimated costs ballooned from $260 million in 2004 to a current projection of almost $2 billion.
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And that figure doesn’t include the estimated $1 billion it would have taken to install the system nor the $391 million to manage it over the next four years.
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New state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who had been a staunch supporter of the program, did an about-face as the state Legislature was debating a bill that would have required the local courts to be fully funded. Such a move would leave the Judicial Council with no way to pay for pet projects like the computer system.
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But pulling the plug is going to cost another $8.6 million just to end the contracts.__________________________________________________________

April 1, 2012

Dear Ms. Stone,

We read with interest your piece which was published by The Recorder on March 30th. As the sponsors of AB 1208, we were dismayed that your piece evidenced a complete lack of understanding of what this modest budget reform bill does. In that regard, we attach a copy of the bill in its current form and strongly urge you to read it. We suspect that after doing so you will feel compelled to amend, withdraw, or in some form admit that you were completely wrong in your assertions concerning the bill.

As anyone can see from a simple review, AB 1208 does the following:

It requires that all funds appropriated by the Legislature for trial court operations actually be allocated to the trial courts. The intent here is that those funds be delivered without reservation or reserve from the Judicial Council.

It provides each court with an annual minimum baseline allocation, based upon the percentage received in the previous budget year. In this regard, it does not prevent emergency funding or additional appropriation to underfunded courts, provided the baseline funding for other courts is not affected.

It eliminates the AOC’s discretion to reimburse itself from the Trial Court Trust Fund for its own perception of its contributions to “trial court operations.” Current law requires this be done with the “consent of the participating courts,” and this law has regularly been ignored by the AOC. The AOC could still seek reimbursement, but would need to enter into contracts with affected courts. Also, the Legislature could specifically appropriate funds for statewide purposes or the trial courts could agree to use their funds based on a 2/3’s vote.

AB 1208 also allows courts to transfer funds between line items of their operational budget and it eliminates “level of coordination” as a basis for determining a trial court’s budget. (An anachronism from pre-unification days.) And finally, the bill eliminates the Council’s discretion to reward or punish court’s in the budget process based on perceived efficiencies or inefficiencies.

Any fair reading of the bill could not leave anyone with the impression that statewide uniform practices and procedures will in any way, shape, or form be implicated. AB 1208 has nothing to do with jury instructions, expedited jury trials and electronic discovery. Quite frankly, your description of our bill bears no relationship to reality. We suspect that you may have been provided with canned talking points and you trusted the source from which they came. In any event, we hope that as a fair-minded individual with an interest in our judicial system, you will take whatever steps are necessary to clarify your comments with respect to AB 1208.

One final point. The lawyers of this state, who depend upon open courtrooms, would be wise to actively support AB 1208. Had AB 1208 been the law, over a half billion dollars would not have been wasted on CCMS, and courts across this state would not have closed their doors nor reduced hours of service. The sad fact is that the Judicial Council has and continues to misspend Trial Court Trust Fund monies on detours and frolics, including construction and maintenance projects. The judges who drafted AB 1208 understand that scarce trial court monies must be delivered to the local courts so that you and your colleagues have a forum to adjudicate your cases.

The Alliance of California Judges, now over 400 strong, looks forward to your response regarding this matter.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

cc:
The Daily Recorder
Members, Alliance of California Judges
Majority Leader Charles Calderon
Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg
Chairwoman, Senate Judiciary Committee Noreen Evans
Consumer Attorneys of California
California Defense Counsel