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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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California Court IT Project In Bind

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's half-billion-dollar court technology project is in a new bind, this time over its warranty.

By declaring the project "finished," California's court officials have started a warranty clock ticking before the technology is installed in a single court.

The problem is surfacing just as the California Legislature prepares for a Wednesday hearing on the ambitious IT project that has been severely criticized on functionality and cost at a time when courtrooms are being closed for lack of money.

A "fact check" sent by the Administrative Office of the Courts to reporters and legislators last month said the half-billion-dollar project is "finished."

But a more recent report from the administrative office to the Legislature outlines the resulting problem.

A warranty clock has been triggered. The report says the warranty expires in July 2013, giving the bureaucracy just over a year to push the technology into trial courts that have so far balked at installing the expensive and labor-intensive software.

"This is nothing more than the result of poor planning and the failure to oversee this program in an efficient way," said Los Angeles Judge Stephen Czuleger. "This should not be happening at this point."

The report to the Legislature notes that while under warranty, developer Deloitte Consulting will pay for the expense of fixing any defects in the Court Case Management System -- costs the judiciary will have to handle on its own in a little over a year.

The triggering of the warranty clock also has a practical effect of putting pressure on the court system to implement the much-maligned software.

"A primary concern is ensuring implementation of CCMS in one or more courts while the application warranty is in effect," the report says.

The huge technology project started in 2003 when the central bureaucracy signed a contract with Deloitte to develop a statewide civil case management system. An interim version, called V-3, was installed in four trial courts in 2006 and 2007 to handle all their civil cases.

The final version that allows lawyers to file papers via the Internet was said to be completed late last year, but no trial court has implemented the final product, called V-4, for reasons running from bad experiences with the interim V-3 to the millions of dollars it would cost to implement the final V-4.

So far, the IT project has cost California $521 million.

In an audit that seemed to warn against the current warranty predicament, State Auditor Elaine Howle said a year ago that the administrative office had failed to ensure that the warranty for the interim version would remain in effect long enough to handle defects when it was installed in San Diego, Orange County, Ventura and Sacramento.

"The AOC failed to ensure that the warranty period in its contract with the development vendor was effective during the time that warranty defects were most likely to become evident," Howle wrote. "The 12- month warranty period went into effect in November 2005 when the civil system was completed, but at which time no superior court had deployed the system."

She recommended that the administrative office re-negotiate the warranty period to make sure the problem with the interim version was not repeated with the final version of the technology.

"To ensure its contract with the development vendor protects the financial interests of the State and the judicial branch," said the audit, "the AOC should consider restructuring its current contract to ensure the warranty for CCMS is adequate and covers a time period necessary."

The warranty clock for the current and final version of CCMS was triggered on November 28, 2011, after Justice Terence Bruiniers signed product acceptance papers with Deloitte. A one-year warranty period starts eight months after that signature.

As a result, the administrative office finds itself in a race against time to either roll out the system or get the warranty extended.

Shortly after signing those papers, Bruiniers reported to the Judicial Council that warranty issues were becoming a problem, saying he and former AOC Director Ron Overholt were negotiating with Deloitte to extend the warranty period.

"It's a little difficult to get to a specific term on that at the moment since our deployment plans are so fluid at this time," Bruiniers said at the council's December meeting. "But I'm confident we will be able to reach some agreement with Deloitte on a modification of the warranty schedule that will fit better with our deployment plan, whatever that ultimately may be."

Three months later, the situation remains unchanged

"Deloitte indicated that they would be willing to discuss renegotiation of the warranty, but it is difficult for us to do that without first having a firm deployment schedule in place," said Bruiniers in an e-mail.

"They're caught between two issues," said Czuleger in an interview. "They've said publicly that they have a working system and they need that for the PR. On the other hand, they know substantial work needs to be done and they'd rather have Deloitte pay for that than the AOC."

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