SACRAMENTO (CN) - A California Assembly committee voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend a costly and controversial statewide IT project for California's courts after the state Auditor revealed serious concerns about the project's future.
"Basically, using the parent language, we're taking a little time out here," said Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), chair of the budget sub-committee on public safety.
Presiding judges from trial courts around California also sent a letter to the chief justice Wednesday, urging the leader of the courts to stop spending any more money on the IT system and send that money instead to struggling local courts that are laying off staff and closing courtrooms.
The committee vote came after state Auditor Elaine Howle presented a report revealing that the court bureaucracy in charge of the project had not fully implemented the recommendations made by her office a year ago, failing to give rigorous oversight to the project and the huge sums it is costing.
"The project is a good example of how not to develop an IT project," remarked Assembly member Joan Buchanan (D-Contra Costa).
The committee's vote may be the end of the line for an enormous and often loathed project, caricatured as a sinking Titanic and variously called "misbegotten," a "boondoggle" and a "fiasco."
The central court bureaucracy that has ballooned in size and in consumption of public funds, as a result of legislation 15 years ago, has been been pummeled by legislators and trial judges over the ambitious project that has already cost a half-billion dollars and is budgeted to cost another quarter-billion in the next couple years.
The Court Case Management System was intended to unify information from all 58 county trial courts in California. But a blistering report by the state Auditor last year revealed poor management by the bureaucrats, cost overruns, and no financial analysis of the project prior to its auspicious inception in 2003.
The auditor's report also found that many courts did not want the system, and the Administrative Office of the Courts had failed to report the true cost of the project to the Legislature.
At Wednesday's hearing, the state auditor said the administrative office had taken steps to meet her recommendations, but those efforts fell short.
"Although we're beyond the one year date, many have not been fully implemented," Auditor Howle told the Assembly committee. "There's a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding the cost of deploying the system and whether or not they really have addressed the concerns we have. We have a lot of outstanding issues."
The auditor's technology expert, Payson Hall, testified that while the administrative office had hired a vendor to confirm that the system worked, "The caution is it might be challenging to maintain. Have you ever made a hideous excel spreadsheet and not left breadcrumbs to let you know what you did? Imagine doing that with 6 million lines of code," he told the legislators.
Recently the administrative office announced its intention to install the final version of the software, CCMS V4, in ten California trial courts. A feasibility study is to be unveiled later this month before the Judicial Council headed by the Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.