SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The council that governs California's courts heard a new set of financial numbers Tuesday for the amount spent so far on an IT project that has generated intense criticism within both the judiciary and the Legislature.
The IT project's champion, Justice Terence Bruiniers, told the governing Judicial Council that the project costs total $521.5 million up through June of 2011. Those are the figures prepared by court administrators for Wednesday's report to the Legislature on the IT project.
A different figure was included in a "fact sheet" distributed to reporters earlier this month by court administrators, saying the IT project, called the Court Case Management System, "took nine years to refine and develop at a cost of $315.5 million."
In turn, figures reported to the Legislature last year put the total cost at $546 million up through June 2011. The difference between that total figure in last year's report to the Legislature and this year's total figure would suggest a few million had been saved. But a tendency of the administrators has to been to push the cost estimates into future years.
This year's report to the Legislature goes a step further and altogether omits future costs.
Regardless of the precise figures, the bulk of the money is coming out of a fund dedicated to the trial courts, a particularly sore point in a time when the trial courts are being starved for funds. The spending on the IT project is also front and center in debate over a bill pending in the Legislature, AB 1208, that would reform the way money is handled by the court administrators.
At Tuesday's council meeting, Judge David Rosenberg from Yolo County asked Bruiniers what this year's $521.5 million total included.
Bruiniers replied, "These are total program and project costs through this current fiscal year. It includes nothing in terms of deployment activities going forward. This is what we have spent from the inception of this program."
An independent accountant who reviewed the numbers said critical dollar figures have been left out.
"This time around, it appears they didn't provide the Legislature with any cost information for future years," said Karen Covel, an independent accountant with Lauer Georgeatos & Covel in San Diego. "They did not tell you what lies ahead."
She said a similar tendency was on display when last year's report to the Legislature was compared to the previous year's report. Costs for the IT project appeared to go down in the near term but then they ballooned enormously in future years. "They are just pushing the costs forward every year," she said.
In a phone interview, Judge Daniel Goldstein from San Diego was surprised that the administrators would report to the Legislature with no estimate of future costs at all. "The number they're not commenting on is what will it cost to deploy?" asked Goldstein incredulously.
"That's where the auditor said it's a $2 billion project," he continued, referring to last year's scathing critique by California's Auditor of the project's management. "And they're not discussing that number. Not including the total cost of the system is dangerous, because costs can get away from you. They should set a ceiling."