Court and Central Authority in Test of Wills Over California’s Troubled Computer System

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – In defiance of an order from the state’s judicial authority, the presiding judge for Sacramento Superior Court is going ahead with plans to host the court’s case information on its own server rather than a problematic out-of-state server run by the central judicial authority. “I will not be held hostage to this policy,” said Sacramento Presiding Judge Steven White. “We haven’t slowed down at all with our plans.”

     A letter from Court of Appeals Justice Richard Huffman, who is a member of the central authority called the Judicial Council, directed the Sacramento court to back off its plan to pull the plug on an Arizona server that hosts statewide case information for California, also called the California Courts Technology Center.
     “The Executive Committee directs the Court to maintain the status quo with regard to use of the CCTC,” said the letter dated May 11 addressed to Judge White. But White challenged the committee’s authority to give him orders.
     Huffman’s letter is the most recent blow in an ongoing bout between the Sacramento court and the Judicial Council concerning a $1.3 billion statewide computer system intended to eventually connect California’s courts with each other.
     In April, Sacramento announced plans to unplug the computer system, called the Court Case Management System, from the Arizona server and launch the local court’s own server, hoping the move would fix the bulk of errors and crashes the court has experienced with the statewide software.
     “The bottom line is that CCMS in Sacramento is not working,” White said. He went on to detail his own “disappointing and frequent experiences” with the computer system in his courtroom.
     He noted that as of Monday morning he was unable to view all of the pending cases on his judicial calendar. “The calendar says I have four cases for tomorrow and I know I have 31,” he said. “We’ve had no end of grief with CCMS.”
     In the letter from appellate Justice Huffman, who chairs the Executive and Planning Committee of the Judicial Council, he instructed the Sacramento court to prepare a report for discussion at the next Judicial Council meeting scheduled for June 25. “The Executive Committee’s view is that the council should have the opportunity to consider and respond to the Court’s concerns before the Court takes action to effect any transfer,” he wrote.
     White said in an interview that the Sacramento court is dedicated to making the program work, as Ventura and Orange county courts have done by implementing their own servers and customized add-ons. Though the letter received by White on Monday insisted that Sacramento not spend any money on equipment and staff to make the necessary changes, White said the Judicial Council does not have the authority to force Sacramento to put its intentions on hold.
     “I have an obligation to have a case management system that works,” White said. “San Diego and Orange County have their servers and that makes all the difference in the world. All we want is to be treated the same as those courts. We want the system imposed upon us to work.”
      A spokesman for the Judicial Council answered by saying the county courts normally ask permission and pointed to San Diego as a court where the leadership does ask for pemission and did so in seeking to move to a local server.
     “With all respect to Judge White, it has been the practice of local courts to obtain the approval of the Administrative Director of the Courts, William C. Vickrey, to host CCMS on their own servers,” said Philip Carrizosa acting as spokesman for the council. “For, example, the Superior Court of San Diego sought approval for either local hosting or hosting on the California Courts Technology Center in 2005 and were given that approval.”
     In the Sacramento court, White said he did not know when the transfer to the local server would be complete, but said it would go forward in spite of the Judicial Council’s directive.
     A rebel group of 250 trial judges who have criticized the expensive computer project since September released a statement in support of Judge White through one of its directors, Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe. “The Alliance of California Judges supports Judge White and his court in taking a responsible position on the IT needs of the Sacramento court. The improper directive from the Judicial Council Executive and Planning Committee is an example of how court governance is out of balance and not considering the unique needs of local courts.”

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