SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The head of California’s presiding judges called for unplugging an expensive and controversial computer system for California’s courts in a newsletter emailed to presiding judges throughout the state on Wednesday. His comments came just as the Judicial Council prepares for a pivotal vote on the future of the project.
“I have come to the conclusion that we simply cannot put all our eggs into the CCMS basket,” wrote Presiding Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County, referring to the Court Case Management System. “The original vision of CCMS is just not achievable or realistic in 2012.”
“Just stop it. Put the brakes on it,” Rosenberg added in an interview.
“I hope everyone understands that courts need technology,” said Rosenberg who chairs the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee.
“Courts need a case management system. In these times, courts cannot function without it. You have 10 million filings a year in our superior courts, and we have to track that,” the Yolo County judge continued. “The reality is the state is in difficult financial shape and we can’t afford a Rolls Royce or a Cadillac. We can’t even afford a Chevy. So we’re going to have to start looking at a Smart Car.”
The car analogy was recently used by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in a talk to a bar group in Los Angeles, where she compared the computer system to a Ferrari the judiciary could not afford.
A San Diego judge who has sharply criticized the CCMS project continued the analogy in saying that terminating V4 would be a good first step, but he questioned whether California and its courts had received full value for the half-billion dollars spent on the computer project.
“My position is that we do not have a Ferrari in the garage awaiting gas and insurance but we have a broken down Yugo in the garage after paying for a Ferrari,” said Judge Runston Maino. “Gas and insurance is not the problem.”
“There is no reason to have a Ferrari in the garage,” he continued. “We need a reliable commute car that will get us to and from work safely and at the lowest possible expense. Ferraris are for wealthy folks who have a lot of discretionary income. This does not describe the courts.”
The huge technology project started in 2003 when the central bureaucracy signed a contract with Deloitte Consulting to develop a statewide civil case management system. Its proponents argued that it made sense to create a single, uniform system for all the courts.
During the decade since the project was started, it has moved slowly.
By 2008, only four courts out of the state’s 58 trial courts had adopted an interim version of the software for all civil cases. Work on the final version that in theory allows lawyers to file papers through the internet didn’t even start until 2010.
Rosenberg said the judiciary should continue to provide support for maintenance of the system in the courts where it’s installed, Ventura, San Joaquin, San Diego, Sacramento and Orange County, while helping other courts look for alternatives.
“There are off the shelf products that weren’t there ten years ago but are now there,” he said, adding that it should be left up to individual trial courts whether to accept the earlier CCMS version, called V3, or buy a different system altogether. “I’m convinced at this stage in the game that we should leave those decisions to each individual court.”
Those arguments precede a Judicial Council meeting set for next week. The council, which is headed by the state’s chief justice and functions as the governing body for California’s courts, has put three options on the agenda.
The first is to deploy the final V4 version of the system to the trial court in San Luis Obispo where the presiding judge has called for it. The second is to pause development and deployment for 12 months and then send it to San Luis Obispo.
The third option facing the council is to terminate V4 and use the technology that has been developed up until now in a manner that is not specified.
Last week, a budget subcomittee in the Legislature voted to halt further spending on the court computer project, with Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo saying, “We’re taking a little time out here.”