Many A Truth Is Said In Jest

Posted on July 26, 2013

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In the fall of 2011, a video cartoon concerning the disgraced Court Case Management System (CCMS) went viral on the internet. Many wondered who the creative genius was who developed the clip. Whoever that person was, it was clear that he was knowledgeable and prescient in lampooning the half a billion dollar blunder. Well, we now know that the creative genius was Mr. Glen Burris, a respected attorney employed by the San Diego County Superior Court. Mr. Burris is now retired and has come forward.Below is the text of a letter from Mr. Burris which explains his rationale in taking on CCMS. If you have not seen the video clip, you may view it through this link. Also, feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues. Stunningly, our branch leaders continue to extol the “virtues” of CCMS, repeating the shopworn phrase, “It works, we just don’t have the funds to deploy it.” Seriously.The Alliance takes this opportunity to thank Mr. Burris for speaking the truth in jest and we wish him all of the best in retirement.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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On Superbowl weekend, 2011, a cartoon lampooning the California Case Management System (CCMS) was posted on YouTube by a user known only as “Loyal Dragon Slayer”. I created that cartoon (on my own time, and my own system). I am not a cartoonist by trade. I was an attorney in service to the California judiciary. I had developed a reputation for being on the cutting edge when it came to using technology in the cause of justice and perhaps it was for that reason that certain judges asked me for my opinion of CCMS. My opinion of CCMS was the same as the vast majority of end users: it was dysfunctional, adversely affected productivity, did not serve its intended purpose, and, I would add, could not survive a basic cost/benefit analysis.

As I write for a living, the thought was that I might express my views in writing. Instead, I chose to use technology to get the point across. I did so, in part, because one of the suggestions of CCMS proponents was that those who opposed it were “Luddites” who were opposed to technology itself. The opposite was true: those who were tech-savvy were the most disposed to criticize CCMS. That gave me the impetus I needed to learn, if not master, a new technology to get my points across.

The points I wanted to get across were as follows: 1) The “Sunk Cost” theory applies to CCMS, which is to say that it is irrational to factor economic losses you have already incurred into a decision about whether to proceed with a given course of action, 2) CCMS doesn’t work as intended and the employees of the court system know it, 3) Keeping the courts open is more important than pursuing the quest to make CCMS functional, 4) Court management is a delegation of power from the judges. That delegation can be rescinded in a given situation. Judges run the courts and their collective opinion on CCMS should be paramount, 5) Court management should avoid using obfuscatory language in general and when defending CCMS in particular.

Although the cartoon is satirical and mordant, it was born of reverence for the judiciary of the State of California — a quiet, but co-equal branch of government. My reverence for the judiciary runs deep. Day after day I saw my judges make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. I was honored to be able to assist in that process. The heroine of my cartoon is, not coincidentally, a judge who, as judges do, asks the hard questions.

I understand there are different points of view on CCMS within the judiciary and I respect them. Chief Justice George had a vision of a statewide court management system and had anyone asked my opinion, I would say that one was needed. The Federal Courts have one, and it works. This can be done. The problem, in my view, was in the execution of the C.J.’s directive.

In the long run, I would like to see the Chief Justice’s vision honored by developing and implementing a statewide court management system. I have the following recommendations in that regard: 1) Look first to existing systems, such as PACER, and adapt those systems if possible, 2) Avoid contractors with a history of good marketing and salesmanship and poor execution, 3) Develop the system in house to the greatest extent possible. Court employees are smart, capable, dedicated, know what they need in a system and possess a quality that you may not find in certain government contractors: a sense of duty, candor and loyalty to the court that develops naturally from working with persons that are among the finest, most honorable and wisest that California has to offer. These are the kind of people that inspire loyalty and make you willing to slay a dragon or two for them.

I miss them very much and am honored to have worked for them.

Glen Burris – Retired Attorney

San Diego Superior Court