Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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(CN) - The administrative agency that oversees California's courts has decided to halt work on minor computer system that tracks employee payroll, in the face of a $425 million budget deficit. A dissenting group of judges said Wednesday that the cuts should be extended to a much bigger and still uncompleted computer project to track court cases, charging that the Administrative Office of the Courts continues to give its own people pay raises while imposing huge sacrifices on the state's trial courts.

In an internal memo released by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Director William Vickrey said that to save $11 million this year, implementation of the payroll computer program in California's trial courts will have to be postponed.

The dissenting California Alliance of Judges has questioned the AOC's expensive case tracking system, saying that the $11 million is somewhat helpful, they would also like the AOC to cut back on spending for the much bigger Court Case Management System that has cost $1.3 billion so far and continues to generate multi-million dollar fees for private consultants.

"While we are pleased that the AOC has found $11 million of the tax payer money that is better spent elsewhere, but we are troubled that the AOC continues to fund the problematic and costly CCMS project," said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, one of the directors of the California Alliance of Judges.

The much smaller payroll tracking system has since its inception in 2001 cost $199.6 million, according to an April report to the California legislature. That system is part of a larger accounting system for the courts that has been installed in all 58 trial courts of California. The personnel tracking component has only been installed in six of those courts.

The AOC will continue to help those six trial courts with the personnel system, said the AOC's Vickrey, but plans to expand it throughout California will be put on hold after installation in San Bernardino County Superior Court which is currently underway.

"We are very short of money and are looking at anywhere we can make cuts," said AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa, who said the Judicial Council has not decided on where to direct the $11 million savings. He said it was unlikely that the council would give the money to Los Angeles Superior, which asked the council in February for $47 million to prevent 500 employee layoffs in October.

In last week's memo, Vickrey also announced plans for new committee focused on financial accountability, which will review future budget requests and spending. One role of the committee is to review outside audits of the judiciary's finances. "From the perspective of good governance, public sector audits provide an appropriate mechanism for promoting public accountability and transparency," Vickrey's memo said.

All ten members of the new committee will be appointed by California Chief Justice Ronald George, and will include representatives from the Judicial Council, the Trial Court Presiding Judge's Advisory Committee, one trial or appellate court executive officer, a member of the California Judges Association and a State Bar member.

The AOC is facing an audit by the State Department of Finance expected to be completed this summer. One topic of controversy has been the price tag on another computer project intended to track case management in California. The price tag has ballooned from seed money of $21 million in 2002 to a cumulative cost so far of $1.3 billion with more to come.

The final version is being tested in five "lead courts," including those in San Diego and Sacramento. But the same memo that announced a halt to the personnel computer system stayed the course on the much more expensive case management system.

"I am confident the final CCMS product will deliver on its promise of improving access to justice for the people of California," said Vickrey.

But that new case management system has been sharply criticized by judges up and down the state, including

"While trial courts are forced to close courtrooms, layoff staff and decrease hours of service to the public, the same does not appear to hold true for the AOC, an organization which claims to 'serve the courts for the benefit of all Californians.'"

"In reality, only a few have benefited- those who work for the AOC and receive pay raises, those who have information technology and court facility maintenance contracts and those who have been hired as temporary workers in spite of a purported hiring freeze.

"We would urge the AOC to eliminate all spending not directly tied to trial court operations and in so doing acknowledge that the top priority of the Judicial Branch is to keep courthouses open to the public."

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