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Judges in San Luis Obispo and Fresno Oppose Installation of Money-Hungry IT System

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - As California judges on the Judicial Council deliberated over whether to abandon a costly statewide case management system, the focus of the battle was a small trial court in San Luis Obispo on California's central coast, a court with 12 judges and three commissioners.

In an interview Tuesday while the council was deliberating on the IT system's fate, San Luis Obispo Judge Jeff Burke said the Administrative Office of the Courts is wasting money trying to keep the project alive when it should be channeling all possible funds toward keeping courthouses open.

"The reason that they're closing these courthouses is because of the diversion of hundreds of millions to CCMS. There are hundreds of millions more that will be spent on this system that could be spent on court operations," Burke said.

Bureaucrats from the AOC say the current computer system in San Luis Obispo is failing and desperately needs CCMS.

"We have an old DOS based system that they've been eager to replace for quite a while. It is old and creaky. I don't think it's a critical need," Burke countered. "The need I perceive the court has is maintaining the employees that are here now and not on this Ferrari computer system, to keep court services in tact. If it gets worse, we will be laying people off. I think that's a shame."

Burke said that several years ago, his court looked into replacing its computer system with an off-the-shelf product, but the AOC put a stop to it. "Years ago we had a contract with a company in Texas for a case management system," he said. "The AOC put the breaks on it. They said, 'no, we're building our own system.'"

At the meeting, Grant Thornton consultant Graeme Finley said it will cost about $56 million to deploy V4 to San Luis Obispo, with most of that money going to lay a foundation to install the system in at least 10 more subsequent courts.

"Given the cost involved in deploying CCMS, which is far larger than you would ever spend deploys a single case management system to a single court, the deployment of CCMS V4 to San Luis Obispo really only makes sense if the branch also intends to deploy multiple additional courts to a statewide CCMS infrastructure," Finley said.

"It was always designed to be a statewide system or at least a system that has a significant fraction of the statewide case volume on it and the numbers only really work if you have a significant number of the statewide case volume running through the system," said the consultant. "Deploying one court on to the system doesn't really make sense economically."

Coming after San Luis Obispo on the list of courts listed for possible installation of CCMS V4 is the superior court in Fresno.

But, said Fresno's Judge Kent Hamlin, his court does not have the $18 million they would have to put up.

"Basically, our court is stuck," Hamlin said.

In addressing the council Tuesday morning, Hamlin said, "The initial vision of a case management system that would be operated in all courts and link them in realtime is a failure."

"That vision needs to be abandoned," he continued. "To continue to move forward with the idea that we're going to deploy to 10 courts, phases of development, ultimately a statewide infrastructure in place, it is a failed effort. If there was ever a system that will link the courts, it is not this system."

"This body needs to make the difficult decision today to end that project and save the money to deliver it to the trial courts so that we can keep our doors open and our staff paid," said Hamlin.

Watching the council deliberations from San Luis Obispo, Judge Burke said his court is divided on its support of CCMS.

"Our court is about evenly split. I think it's fair to say that we have a few that favor a few that don't and a group in the middle that will deal with it whichever way it goes."

Burke also took issue with characterization of his court's current computer system by speakers at Tuesday's meeting.

"I've heard characterizations of the system we have as an inaccessible meat grinder unless CCMS is installed. That's too much hyperbole for me," he said. "We're doing pretty well here in San Luis Obispo. I don't think the good service we provide here will be improved by spending hundreds of millions more on CCMS."

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