SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The state's judicial leadership on Tuesday approved the taking of $142 million in money set aside for trial court operations, maintenance and construction, largely in order to fund a controversial technology project. The vote came despite the opposition of Sacramento's presiding judge who called the technology project a fiscal "misadventure" and "a long road to a small house."
The 13-2 vote approving the fund transfer came despite an earlier vote saying that keeping the courts operating should be the highest priority. The two judges opposing the fund transfer are both from Los Angeles, incoming Presiding Judge Lee Edmon and trial court Judge David Wesley.
The meeting was presided over by outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George. Incoming Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who was sworn in last week, did not attend.
"The reality comes when we have to look at how we spend judicial money," said Presiding Judge Steve White of Sacramento Superior, speaking during a 10-minute public comment period on behalf of the Alliance of California Judges, the group that has criticized the AOC's spending practices.
The alliance has argued that long lines, closed courtrooms, mandated furloughs and employee lay-offs have resulted in restricted public access to justice. White noted the "$25-$28 billion" hole in the state's budget, and pointed to five hour case filing lines in Sacramento Superior as evidence of an increasingly dire fiscal problem.
The vote by the Judicial Council over those objections transferred $142 million from three different funds, from the trial court trust fund intended for construction, the modernization fund intended for remodeling and from the operations fund intended to keep courtrooms open and operating.
The money taken from those funds as a result of Tuesday's vote will pay primarily for technology projects, that include the controversial Court Case Management System, a system intended to manage court records and link courts together so they can share information.
It is predicted to cost $1.3 billion by the time it is officially rolled out. Back in August, officials from the state's Administrative Office of the Courts told a legislative committee that the project would be completed in April 2011, but that date has since been pushed back to sometime in July 2011. AOC Director William Vickrey mentioned at Tuesday's meeting that CCMS testing would continue into next winter.
That technology project has been criticized by trial court judges as an extraordinary waste of money and a "boondoggle."
Judge White spoke eloquently at Tuesday's meeting about CCMS as "a nice concept but a misadventure," calling it "a very long road to a very small house."
He said Sacramento has experienced a set of failures with the system. "We strongly object to additional money from trial court funds for advancing CCMS," he said. "Even if it were a good program, as good as it may be, it's not nearly as important as keeping the courts open. We should pave no more road to that small house."
In his presentation and report to the council, AOC Finance Director Stephen Nash asked for the allocation of $49 million for statewide IT projects and $94 million for the maintenance of those projects, even though the special funds being depleted in order to pay for those projects have already dropped in size by $164 million.