Tech Committee Elevation Brings Blast Aimed at Leaders and History
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Comments are due today on the proposed elevation of a key technology committee on the California Judicial Council despite sharp questions about its history of decisions involving a software fiasco that has plagued relations between the judiciary and the Legislature.
A proposed rule would put the Technology Committee on formal par with the four existing internal committees that decide the agenda for council meetings, court rules, the legislative positions taken by the judiciary and courthouse construction.
The Technology Committee was originally called the Court Case Management System Internal Committee, and changed its name only after the cumbersome, labor-intensive, crash-prone CCMS software was junked by the council last year. The software project ran up a taxpayer tab of a half-billion dollars.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told reporters in a recent meeting, "If I knew then what I know now, probably I would have ended CCMS my first month in."
Proposed Rule 10.16, with comments due today, would nevertheless elevate the Technology Committee and define its formal responsibilities to include "establishing an approach and vision for implementing technology."
That move within the Judicial Council has brought a blast from trial court judges who bore the brunt of wrenching judiciary budget cuts exacerbated by the vast sums wasted on the CCMS project.
"It's important at this point to start fresh," said Judge Susan Lopez-Giss in Los Angeles. "It's hard to believe they cannot find 12 people in the state -- who are judges who have experience, who would be able to have some insight, who are critical thinkers -- to bring something new to the table. There is no way that Judicial Council committee can do this."
Judge Maryanne Gilliard in Sacramento amplified those concerns, questioning how anyone tied to the CCMS fiasco can continue to be involved in technology decisions for the courts and be involved in defending the related expenses in the Legislature. The two principal voices on technology within the leadership of California's judiciary are Justice Terence Bruiniers and Judge James Herman.
"Anybody who had any involvement in CCMS have proven themselves to be incompetent," said Gilliard."So if you had any part before, during or after you should not be on any IT committee."
"Justice Bruiniers and Judge Herman were two of the most vociferous cheerleaders for CCMS, and even after the State Auditor issued her scathing report they continued to defend the project," she continued. "Why would you continue to use Justice Bruiniers or Judge Herman to be the face of the judiciary for court IT projects based on their track record?"
Bruiniers was appointed to the Technology Advisory Committee by former Chief Justice Ron George in 1999 and has for many years been either its co-chair or chair. The CCMS project was launched around 2002, with the advisory committee centrally involved.
The CCMS Internal Committee was created in 2011 by the then newly-appointed Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, with the old advisory committee answering to the new internal committee which, with the collapse of CCMS, changed its name in 2012 to the Technology Committee, minus the formal status of an "internal" committee.
The CCMS Internal Committee and the follow-on Technology Committee was and is chaired by Judge Herman. The Technology Committee set up a separate Technology Planning Task Force, also in 2012. Herman heads that task force and Bruiniers sits on it.
Defending the elevation of the Technology Committee to the rank of its predecessor committee as an internal committee, Bruiniers said, "The council itself doesn't have subject matter expertise in these areas, so having a standing committee that's going to focus on these issues is a good idea."
Judge Herman said it was important that a council committee oversee statewide tech projects so as to avoid criticism.
"We felt that what was really important post CCMS was for a council committee to take ownership through oversight of statewide projects so we didn't run into criticism, like we did with CCMS, that the council is asleep at the wheel," said Herman. "A lesson learned from CCMS is the expectation from the other branches that there be oversight of branch level, as opposed to local court level, IT projects."
He argued that among the lessons learned from the CCMS debacle was "the need for oversight of technology related advisory bodies" as well as oversight of the Information Technology Services office within the Administrative Office of the Courts, yet another group with a role in court technology.
Finally, said Herman, a key lesson of the CCMS episode was "the need for stable funding."
But the critics of the old regime said a change is needed for the sake of both substance in decision-making and perception in the eyes of the Legislature where members have expressed exasperation with the spending habits of the judiciary's leadership.
"The credibility of any IT system is in question because of CCMS. It would seem in picking a committee that perception is really important," said Judge Lopez-Giss who sits on the technology committee for the Los Angeles trial courts. "It seems there should be a new group of eyes looking it."
She added, "It's not ill-will, it's just perception. It's needed for the credibility of the branch, with respect to going to the legislature. Because we've spent $500 million on something that doesn't work. We need to change who is in charge."
The elevation of the Technology Committee comes at a time when much of the power over the technology future of California's courts appears to have shifted to the California Information Technology Managers Forum. The forum was borne out of the ashes of CCMS, with court tech staff forming the group just as the Judicial Council was pulling the plug on the ten-year-old project. It is comprised of IT staff from trial courts all around California, including Orange, Humboldt, Alameda, Mariposa, Riverside, Fresno, Kings, Kern, Merced, San Diego and San Mateo counties.
It is headed by tech directors from the Sacramento and Santa Clara courts.
The forum has decided on the terms of a master services agreement for trial courts looking to buy off-the-shelf software systems for millions of dollars, and it chose the three principal bidders for the system, Tyler Technologies which developed the Odyssey software, LT-Court Tech from Thomson-Reuters, formerly West Publishing, and Justice Systems based in New Mexico.
But power within California's judicial system tends to flow upwards to the well-appointed hallways and offices of the building in downtown San Francisco where the Supreme Court, the Administrative of the Courts and the Judicial Council are based.
Judge Herman described the relations between his technology committee within the council and the forum of IT directors from the trial courts as one of collaboration.
"The forum generously offered to donate the subject matter expertise of its members to assist in the development of a new vision and road map for information technology at both the branch and local court level," Herman said. "Although I came on as part of the CCMS rescue squad after the much criticized administrative decisions were made, as part of that rescue effort, those of us who were part of that rescue effort are in a very good position to implement the lessons learned."
He described a "new era of partnership" with the trial courts and a "bottom up rather than top down strategy in serving the courts' IT needs."
But the move to formalize the power of the Technology Committee as one of five internal committees at the council -- with a formal grant for providing the funding and the vision for the technological future of the courts -- is seen with profound skepticism from within the trial courts. It has also stirred the pot of controversy cooked up by the CCMS project and renewed anger over the legacy of financial pain it inflicted on the trial courts.
In addition, it brought a reminder of a much more recent initiative by Bruiniers's group in drafting and pushing a set of e-filing rules that brought a loud protest from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 850 newspapers in California, along with Courthouse News, the Bay Area News Group and the Los Angeles Times.
The comment on behalf of the CNPA focused on what appeared to be an effort by the drafters of the e-filing rules to give individual court officials a justification for denying access to records until after they have been "processed, " a set of tasks that takes days and, in some courts, weeks. As the media groups pointed out, delay obstructs news coverage of the public record.
Bruiniers then pushed for passage of the rules in June, telling the Judicial Council that e-file courts provide faster press access than paper-file courts, a statement contrary to the experience of journalists covering the courts.
The two California e-filing courts in Orange County and San Diego -- both of which installed, defended and now must rely on the defunct CCMS software -- delay press access to new filings by one to three days.
In contrast, paper-file courts throughout California provide press access to new matters on the same day they arrive in the court, including the trial courts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kern, San Mateo, Fresno, Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano.
In her comments on the pending elevation of the Technology Committee, Judge Lopez-Giss noted the devastating report by the State Auditor that blasted the management of the CCMS project and the financial representations about its costs made the the Legislature. The judge then questioned how the leaders of the technology committee and the related advisory committee could continue as statewide influences on technology for the courts.
"The Chief Justice recently indicated that had she known about the issues with CCMS when she took office, she would have stopped it then," said Lopez-Giss. "The audit of CCMS which was released a short time after the Chief Justice took office identified the exact problems that led to ultimate end of program. The issue now is that the people who were responsible for overseeing and supporting CCMS are now involved in the creation of a new IT system."
"In view of the audit and the ultimate demise of the system," she concluded, "the qualifications of the members of this committee do not invoke confidence."
Answering the critics, Justice Bruiniers said, "I've got no apologies to make for the work that I did. I'll continue to work on it as long as the chief wants me to. CCMS wasn't a technology failure, it was a political failure. Those of us who were tasked with working on CCMS did what we were asked to do."