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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judicial Council Features Optimism

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A committee created by California's chief justice to conduct a thorough review of the judicial branch's bureaucracy will meet for the first time this week in Sacramento, said the chief at Friday's Judicial Council meeting, and she expects the committee to make its first report as early as June.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said a full review of the Administrative Office of the Courts is "part of my responsibility as incoming chief." The committee that will conduct that review is called the Strategic Evaluation Committee, composed of 14 mostly retired and sitting justices and judges from throughout California.

The chief announced her intention to create the committee in March, in response to mounting dissatisfaction with the AOC's spending policies. On Friday, Cantil-Sakauye said the committee appointments will last two years, but, "I expect we will be able to act on findings and recommendations as they become available."

At the Friday meeting of the Judicial Council, supporters of the administrative office's prize technology project offered an optimistic outlook for the massive IT undertaking called the Court Case Management System that aims to link trial courts in all 58 counties.

"We are pleased to report positive and encouraging developments regarding CCMS," said Justice Terence Bruiniers, who was appointed earlier this year by the council to head the project's newly formed CCMS Governance Executive Committee. "Most significantly is the successful completion of core product acceptance testing."

Bruiniers reported that the system developed by Deloitte had been tested in more than 11,000 scenarios and revealed 28 moderate defects that the AOC believes can be easily fixed. Bruiniers says the testing phase should be completed by July, at which time the AOC plans to begin installing the IT system in three early adopter courts, in Ventura, San Diego and San Luis Obispo.

The project, however, is not without controversy. Judges throughout the state have criticized the project as too expensive and time-consuming to implement as courts face budget and staff constraints. Issues of governance have also entered, as judges question whether the AOC has the authority to force courts to accept the system and hand over management of their data to the San Francisco bureaucracy.

The state auditor recently released a report revealing mismanagement of the project since its inception in 2003. Auditor Elaine Howle estimated that CCMS may end up costing $1.9 billion by the time it is installed statewide. However, the AOC claims no more than $1.3 billion will be spent on the project.

"As you know, there's great concern about this program," said Judge Burt Pines of Los Angeles Superior Court. "I want to be clear on how much money it will take to complete this program and when it will be deployed. Realistically you're looking at close to a billion dollars without maintenance costs."

Bruiniers answered, "One billion is certainly the number we've been using. Our challenge is to do it for less. If you ask how long to deploy to 58 courts, in this current economic environment, I can't get you an honest answer."

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