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A Drunken Sailor

What shall we do with a drunken sailor, early in the morning?

The jaunty sea shanty keeps running through my head .continued

California faces a $28 billion deficit this year and trial courts are bearing part of the brunt. San Francisco's trial courts started shutting down a half-day on Fridays earlier this month.

But a couple weeks ago the state court administrators put out a request for 18 contract workers, some paid as high as $230,000 a year, as reported by Maria Dinzeo on this page, along with the blistering reaction from trial judges.

The IT workers are being hired to support a vast, new computer system that is intended for something that, when you get down to it, is pretty basic. The system is for docketing, in other words opening a computer file on a new case and then keeping track of subsequent events in the case.

That new system, called Court Case Management System, is projected to cost a wacky $1.3 billion to complete although I strongly suspect the cost will run well higher with much of that expense coming in the form of payments to Deloitte Consulting.

At the same time, the statewide administrators, about 80% of them, just received a 3.5% retroactive raise and last month they took $240 million from trial court funds, mostly to continue paying the outlandish costs for the new system.

It seems as though they have drunk the elixir of spending, and they cannot stop.

I recently heard Los Angeles court officials refer to the effort by state administrators to "impose" the new docket system on Los Angeles. They spoke of it in conjunction with a bad experience Los Angeles Superior Court had a decade ago with a similar consultant on a similar technology project.

But the amount lost in that fiasco is almost a piffle, a bagatelle, a mere $85 million, compared to the amount the state administrators are washing down the drain.

The folks in Los Angeles learned the hard way. But there has alway been a second part to their resistance and that of other courts in California. And sometimes, it just takes time for a piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

That piece, that second part of the problem with the new system, finally fell into place this week.

Four courts have adopted the CCMS system, San Diego, Orange, Ventura and Sacramento. A Sacramento court administrator, who is unbending and obdurate in her resistance to press access, told me a few months ago that it takes her staff 30 minutes to docket a new action.

I found that figure incredible.

I have asked federal and state court clerks in the past about the time it takes to docket a case and the answers always fell in the 2-3 minute range.

So a couple weeks ago, I asked our reporters to check with the docketing clerks who work directly with the new billion-dollar system.

The answers that came back were that, at first, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to docket a new case. With practice, you can get it down to 15 minutes.

So 15 minutes on the low side, 30 minutes on the high side.

One of the clerks directly compared the new CCMS system to the old Fast-Track system, where she could docket a case based on pre-set codes in 2 minutes. Having worked with both, she said she would go back to the old system "in a heartbeat."

In other words, the CCMS system is not only obscenely expensive. It is also a bad system.

That difference 15-30 minutes versus 2 minutes represents a ten-fold increase in the workload for entering a new case. No wonder Los Angeles Superior Court, with its enormous volume, has no interest in the new system that state administrators are trying to impose.

In a time of hardship, they are not only hitting the trial courts directly by taking hundreds of millions out of trial court funds to pay for the new docketing system. At the same time, they condemn any court that bends to their will and adopts it, condemn that court to a much higher workload for years to come.

So, what do you do with a drunken sailor?

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