Second CA Court OK's Multimillion Software

     (CN) - Keeping with a trend in the nation's courts, a second small California court has opted for multi-million-dollar software from Texas-based Tyler Technologies, to be paid for by California's Administrative Office of the Courts. The spending comes in the wake of a failed, half-billion-dollar software project by California central court administrators.
     The decision by seven-judge Kings County Superior Court in the heart of the Central Valley will cost California somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.1 million over the next five years, in order to lease Tyler's Odyssey System.
     With that decision, Kings County joins San Luis Obispo, along California's Central Coast, where the superior court decided earlier this year to spend $3.1 million to buy the Odyssey System, a contract that included yearly maintenance payments.
     The presiding judge and clerk in San Luis Obispo emphasized the financial advantage of buying the system outright over leasing it. But the clerk in Kings County said he did not have that option.
     Head clerk Todd Barton said the county is kicking the court off its mainframe in the coming year, creating an emergency.
     "The county gave us notice that they would like us off the system by 2014 because they want to get out of the mainframe business," Barton said, noting that the court is the last public agency still on the county mainframe, and has been picking up more and more of the cost as other agencies leave the county system.
     "It will be $550,000 a year and there's no way we can afford that. Increased costs would mean more furloughs and layoffs," Barton said.
     A third California court in San Joaquin County chose software by competing Justice Systems earlier this year. Both Tyler and Justice were among a group of approved vendors chosen by a consortium of courts to provide software to California's 58 trial courts, in the wake of the failure of the Court Case Management System that was terminated last year after costing California more than $500 million.
     In a Judicial Council meeting earlier this year, Kings County Assistant Presiding Judge Steve Barnes drew a stark picture of the court's computer problems.
     "The difficulty is that the emergency that we have has to do with the county and is throwing us off their main frame." He said the system they have is run on COBOL, which stands for COmmon Business-Oriented Language. COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages in existence.
     "It's not a bad system, but it's COBOL. It's difficult to keep it running," Barnes said. But he added, "The COBOL issue is not the issue with us. It is actually the county getting us off their system."
     Court clerk Barton also pointed to the loss of its one COBOL programmer in adding to the court's sense of urgency.
     "Our programmer retired this past December. So we really didn't have a choice," said Barton.
     He said the court had moved to replace its case management system years ago, but was told to stop by former Administrative Office of the Courts director Bill Vickrey, in anticipation of all 58 courts eventually getting Court Case Management System.
     "He said there would be a statewide system and he wanted us to be on the statewide system, which really never happened," Barton said.
     Tyler's Odyssey system will cover all the court's case types and will allow for attorneys and the public to file cases electronically. It will cost between $1.5 and $2.1 million over the five-year contract, and will be paid for by a special allocation from the Trial Court Trust Fund's 2-percent reserve.
     "The court will pay nothing, this is all funded by the Administrative Office of the Courts," said Barton. "This is not out of our budget at all. We send the Tyler invoices to the AOC."
     The Kings County deal follows the earlier agreement between Tyler and San Luis Obispo's court, which signed a $3.1 million deal under which the court will own the software license and $200,000-a-year maintenance payments for five years after a warranty period ends.
     The Kings County court's contract covers a court with seven judges, 90 employees and 13,000 cases a year in a county of about 150,000 people.
     San Luis Obispo County court's contract covers a court with 15 judges, 160 employees and 70,000 cases a year in a county of 270,000 people.
     San Luis Obispo's head clerk Susan Matherly said the maintenance payments wind up being much cheaper than hiring more IT staff for the court.
     The rough breakdown of the San Luis Obispo price tag is about $1 million to buy the license, $1 million to deploy and an 18-month warranty period up until the middle of 2015, and $1 million for an ensuing five-year service contract at $200,000 a year.
     That comes out to about $440,000 per year over seven years.
     By contrast, Kings County, a substantially smaller court, is paying somewhere between $300,000 to $420,000 per year over five years. After the five years are up, leasing costs would then continue at about $300,000 a year.
     But Barton emphasized that those continuing leasing costs would be paid for out of the Kings County court's budget.
     Another contrast between the two deals is that Luis Obispo was anticipating the availability of the central administrative office's CCMS and already had servers. So there is no hardware in the deal between Tyler and San Luis Obispo.
     While part of Kings County's deal will include servers provided by Tyler.
     "We're never going to buy the system because that means we'd have to buy servers and we can't afford that," Barton said. "We are leasing the system from them."
     The clerk said the court will consider staying with Tyler after five years, but any maintenance fees to would come out of the court's budget.
     "I would think that after the contract is over that we'd have to spend $300,000 a year -- which is still cheaper then what we have now," he said.
     The Kings court received an initial allocation of $733,000 under the condition of strict financial oversight from the AOC. The Judicial Council decided to fund the Tyler contract at its February meeting, with a round of vigorous debate preceding the 15-2 vote.
     "I would have concerns about paying for CMS through in essence the reserve funds, because in essence we are allocating money they came from all of the courts' reserve funds for the purposes of CMS that's going to benefit one court," said Judge James Brandlin of Los Angeles.
     "My concern is what happens when we deplete that balance? This is money would normally go back to the courts- courts that are running on fumes," continued Brandlin. "What would happen to the other courts if they don't have that funding?"
     Presiding Judge Laurie Earl of Sacramento also expressed reservations.
     "I also sympathize with Kings but am concerned about the use of this 2 percent funding to fund case management systems," she said. "I see us as stewards of the 2 percent funding for the trial courts, many of which are hoping to get that back to use of their operations. And we would be depriving them of that. And I think we have to be careful because while Kings may be the only county that has submitted a request for funding to fund a case management program I guarantee you there 57 other courts watching what we do today in the door will be busting down in years to come."
     Since the demise of CCMS, the Judicial Council's technology committee has been working on a "strategic plan" to update court technology.
     At the council's February meeting, Judge Robert Moss of Orange County said it would be cheaper in the long-run to just give Kings County the money rather than wait for that plan to be developed.
     "We are struggling with an overall strategic and tactical plan for where we go post-CCMS. we can't wait for the final strategic plan to put out some fires that exist," said Moss. "San Luis Obispo was one, we dealt with that, the only other remaining one is Kings County. We have to address this even though we don't' have a tactical plan. This is not a very big bite in the big picture. It's a relatively small amount. Instead of paying it out in one bite; we're spreading it out over 5 years. It's penny wise and pound foolish if we don't give them the money now."