SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Despite recent setbacks, judges on the the governing council for California's courts announced Tuesday they are pushing ahead with plans to install a controversial IT system in ten more local courts.
They said accounting firm Grant Thornton will be asked to prepare a cost-benefit study on installing the IT system in 22 trial courts, with that list culled down to ten based on local interest and need.
California's courts are currently trying to maintain operations in the shadow of a proposed state budget that may cut their funds further, on top of draconian cutbacks over the last three years. The IT system, called the Court Case Management System, has already cost a half-billion dollars and is projected to cost almost $2 billion in total by the time it's in place.
A separate source of funding for the IT project was offered by a pharmaceutical mogul last fall, but negotiations over the offer fell apart recently. The offer's demise was confirmed at Tuesday's council meeting.
"There were more complications than were anticipated," Santa Barbara Judge James Herman told the council.
In an interview, Justice Terence Bruiniers said, "If we had outside money and resources for deployment, unquestionably it would have been easier."
He added that the judiciary's precarious budget situation has delayed work on the IT system, which is currently only used in a handful of courts. But spending any more money on the project, regardless of the source, does not sit well with many of California's trial judges.
"As California local courts struggle to keep their doors open, the Judicial Council continues to spend close to a million dollars a week on the mismanaged and publicly maligned CCMS project," said Sacramento Judge Maryanne Gilliard, a critic of the council's spending priorities.
"What started out as a $250 million dollar system has morphed into a $1.9 billion dollar fiasco," she added. "Asking the Governor and the Legislature to spare the courts from further budget cuts while continuing to waste precious resources on CCMS is a wrong headed strategy."
In an interview last year, Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, from Los Angeles, was highly critical of the money spent on the IT project. "The AOC is insisting on going forward with it while we're closing courtrooms," he said.
Calderon is the author of a bill currently pending in the Legislature that would redirect funds now spent on administrative projects towards the trial courts, legislation driven in part by the hundreds of millions spent on the case management system.
Despite the opposition, central administrators for the courts are plowing ahead with installation of CCMS in Fresno and San Luis Obispo County.
For Presiding Judge Barry LaBarbera in San Luis Obispo, the IT system cannot come soon enough. "We currently have no case management system at all," he said.
"The immediate benefit for our community is 24/7 access to calendaring information and minute orders," he said. "Parties can access information which can tell them when pleadings are filed by the other side."
"We expect to go live some time in 2013 in the Fall." LaBarbera added that his court has had to hire temporary staff to do the jobs of permanent employees who are busy working on CCMS, and he hopes to see cost-savings once the system is installed.