In anticipation of Tuesday's meeting of California's Judicial Council, court administrators posted online a consultant's report that favored proceeding with a deeply controversial IT project. A group of judges promptly challenged the administrators to show the project is anything but "an abject failure."
Consultant Grant Thornton was hired in December 2011 to write a feasibility study installation of the new software in ten trial courts in California. The study, that cost the courts $200,000 to prepare, proposed three options and recommended the first, which is to install the latest version of the Case Management System in San Luis Obispo Superior Court and continue from there.
The context of the report is one where trial courts are closing courtrooms and huge layoffs are planned. Los Angeles alone plans to lay off 300 employees and close 50 courtrooms, as a result of two year-on-year cuts in the court budget totaling $650 million.
In its dueling recommendation, the Alliance of California Judges wrote, "We challenge the AOC, Judicial Council or anyone else to demonstrate how this project can ever be made anything other than what it is -- an abject failure."
The group has long campaigned for fundamental reform in how the court's budget is handled. The CCMS project, which has cost more than a half-billion dollars, has served as Exhibit 1 in that campaign. "The official death of CCMS can be delayed no longer," urged the Alliance.
In the Grant Thornton report, commissioned by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the consultant says the cost of installing CCMS's latest version, called V4, in San Luis Obispo, would run to $56 million. That sum does not account for maintenance and operation costs.
Those additional costs were, however, included in a January estimate from the court administrators that put the figure for the San Luis Obispo installation at $102 million. The administrators have been criticized in the past for the shifting nature of their financial numbers, including a blast from the state Auditor last year who concluded they had understated project costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Alliance pounced on the discrepancy.
"The costs of maintaining and operating the system are real costs that the courts would have to expend if CCMS is deployed," said the Alliance statement sent on Sunday. "So we question the methodology that discounts those."
The Grant Thornton report also recommends that the San Luis Obispo insertion of V4 serve as the foundation for pushing the system into ten more trial courts. The consultant argues that the cost for the San Luis Obispo installation can only be justified if it is defrayed by installation in more courts, a course that would lock the California court system into the controversial software.
The additional courts listed by the consultant as likely converts are Inyo, Marin, Mendocino, Orange, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Ventura and Alameda.
But the argument that it would make financial sense to continue with the project was also roundly dismissed by the Alliance.
"The branch has no more money to fund that project -- the AOC and Judicial Council have already spent more than a half a billion dollars and they have no idea what it would cost to deploy CCMS statewide," said the Alliance statement. "This $200,000 report does not answer that question."
The numbers in the Grant Thornton report skyrocket when it comes to that further deployment. It would cost another $211 million to put the system into the ten courts and cost California another $475 million over the next nine years to maintain a statewide system supporting those courts, according to the consultant.
"Where will another $211 million come from?" asks the Alliance. "Certainly not from the already devastated budgets of those trial courts."
"After spending over a half billion dollars of trial court funds, subjecting the branch to public ridicule and creating dissent amongst judges, the time has come to end this debacle," the Alliance concluded. " We expect a thorough investigation to determine if the taxpayers can be reimbursed for some of the losses incurred. We also expect that those responsible will be held to account for their lack of judgment in bringing this about."
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