Jackpot

     Answers to survey questionnaires might seem like pretty boring stuff.
     And often they are.
     But sometimes you hit the jackpot. As we did with answers to a survey by the Bureau of State Audits.
     Of all the answers from California’s 58 trial courts, the biggest surprise so far and by far has been Orange County.
      Because Orange County has acted as cheerleader for the Court Case Management System, as the new software pushed by the central bureaucrats is called.
      So my eyes really did widen like in the movies, when an actor shows surprise as I started to read the answers from the anonymous but clearly knowledgeable voice within the Orange County system.
     The writer was more critical than the folks from Los Angeles have been, which is amazing, given L.A.’s longstanding, vociferous resistance to what might be called the AOC’s Folly.
      A lot of it had to do with familiarity and what it can breed. Because the technical folks in Orange had been forced to work extensively with the central administrators, and they had come to know them.
     And a lot of it also had to with the individual writer who forgot about bureaucratic niceties, used clear, simple, expressive language and illustrated his points with biting stories.
     In the section on accountability, the author, who writes with the expertise and humor of an IT director, really cuts loose. You can just feel the frustration and something awfully darn close to contempt.
     “They directed courts to stop investing in their legacy case management delivery system because they were going to rollout a statewide solution in 2008, then 2009, then 2010, then then 2011, then 2012, then 2014, then 2015, then 20??. They have forced courts into using an inferior product (Sustain) in a manner that gives the local trial courts virtually no real-time access to their data.”
     “The cost of the project has skyrocketed and they continue to march on,” said the writer who also marches on. “They are fixated on a single solution, using overly complex and expensive technologies (Tibco, the non-database parts of Oracle.) They have not once demonstrated the ability to operate and modify the software without the assistance of Deloitte.”
     It was something I had seen in the answer from Kern and some of the Northern California trial courts.
     The bureaucrats from the administrative office in San Francisco are pushing the local trial courts into a corner by leaving them with aging technical systems that are becoming obsolete and giving them only the troublesome CCMS software as an alternative.
     Orange was able to fight its way out of that bind only through the strength of its IT department. But what about the other counties without that kind of money and staff. They are stuck.
     A separate point came originally from the state auditor herself who said earlier this year that the CCMS software was already close to ten years old and would soon be obsolete. But there wasn’t a whole lot of backup for that statement.
     The writer for Orange, who clearly has the expertise, gives flesh and bone to the point. He says the “stack” of technologies contained within the new software system have individual life spans of roughly ten years.
     Using what I would call tech humor, he says, “Shift happens”!
     But it’s at the end of his comment on accountability that the writer really nails it.
     “The decision makers appear to lack the sophistication and experience to run a program of this size and scale. Yet, they manipulate the message to imply that everything is great and they quick to deflect blame on the trial courts when the system does not operate correctly.”
     That is what the bureaucrats in San Francisco do. They can’t program or, according to the Orange writer and many judges from other courts, responsibly run a project of this one’s size and ambition. But they can manipulate a message.
     Indeed quite successfully.
     That is what I complained about in this column last time, saying they had convinced the state senators on thejudiciary committee that there is an enormous cost to providing the press with access to the court’s new matters while they are still news. Whereas the new court filings are simply sitting there, waiting to be worked on for hours and sometimes weeks, during which a journalist is not costing anybody anything to look at them.
     But no matter the truth of it. They had manipulated the message successfully.
     The Orange writer is saying the same thing, putting the right nuance on it, by saying they “imply” that everything is great. Because that dancing around the true state of affairs is exactly what I have seen implications much more than outright assertions.
      Note the other key bureaucratic skill nailed by the writer, “quick to deflect blame.”
     The voice from the technical depths of Orange goes down the list of key characteristics for an ensconced and privileged bureaucracy. Another is the need for sycophants, like any royalty.
     The writer tells the story of briefings set up for the chief information officers. “For a while they held ‘CIO Briefings’ for the lead courts, but these were quickly stopped when it was clear that the tough questions were being asked.”
     No tough questions for the administrators in their San Francisco sanctum.
     Yes, however, to retroactive raises. Just a few months ago.
     It is a great relief to hear, from someone inside the technical gears of the system, a clear and uncompromising voice.
     And as for the future, the writer says it’s dark. Instead of fixing the problems, he says, the Administrative Office of the Courts is veering off in a diastrous direction.
      The administrative office and remember it carries with it the enormous power of the purse, able to reward its friends and punish its enemies continues to press down on a single, one size fits all, solution. Worse, says the writer, it is now trying to adapt the system to the needs of law enforcement, at the expense of the trial courts.
     On the very last line of comment, he sounds the alarm.
     “The Administrative Office of the Courts remains singularly focused on a solution that may cripple the judicial branch.”

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