Judicial Tech Group Walks Back IT Contract Numbers

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The ghost of fiascos past was awakened when a justice reported in late summer that California’s court bureaucracy in a time of great financial hardship had spent $156 million on information technology contracts. This week the head information officer for the courts tried to lay that ghost back down, saying the figures had been “misunderstood.”
     The controversy stems from a report presented in August to the full Judicial Council by Justice Richard Huffman, chair of the council’s Accountability and Efficiency Committee. The report showed with tables and charts that the bureaucracy, formerly called the Administrative Office of the Courts, has spent $146 million for information systems consultants and roughly $10 million for IT consultants in the last fiscal year.
     At a meeting of the Judicial Council’s Technology Committee, Chief Information Officer Mark Dusman dismissed the report as news that “drew a lot of oohs and ahs.” He then made a cursory bullet point presentation, claiming that the true number spent on tech contracts last year was only $12.6 million, less than one tenth of what Justice Huffman had reported.
     Dusman said the biggest share of the $12.6 million was spent for work on the now-defunct Court Case Management System, a software described by judges as a “fiasco” and a “boondoggle” which cost the state a half-billion dollars and which at its peak was running through $200,000 a day.
     The current Technology Committee was formerly called the CCMS Internal Committee, and many committee members carried over, including its chair, Judge James Herman.
     Justice Huffman, who in August reported the $156 million expense, is on the accountability committee. He was not present at Monday’s tech committee meeting.
     “It is sad but predictable that the committee has chosen to ignore the findings of Justice Huffman, a man who was the longest serving Council member in history, and a person we all know to be intimately and completely knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Council and their staff,” said Judge Maryanne Gilliard of Sacramento.
     Gilliard is a director of the 500-member Alliance of California Judges. The group has attacked the court bureaucracy’s obfuscation over staffing figures and expenses, saying the agency has in the past hidden its contract figures to make it look like they employ fewer people and spend less on wages than they actually do.
     In past years, the bureaucracy has stonewalled judges’ requests for information on technology contractors and the work they are hired to do. That criticism from fellow judges led Huffman’s committee to examine those contracts and conclude that the bureaucracy, now called the Judicial Council staff, had spent $156 million on technology contracts last year.
     “Even a longterm insider of the Judicial Council can’t get a solid number,” said Gilliard. “Committees disagree with committees, all populated by handpicked members. This is a why an outside audit is absolutely essential. It was the only way the truth about CCMS finally came out.”
     Earlier this year, at the urging of the Alliance, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit of the Judicial Council and its staff, an audit resisted by council staff director Steve Jahr who has since retired. The audit is due to completed in January.
     At the tech committee’s Monday meeting, information officer Dusman said Justice Huffman’s committee included contracts that the staff did not classify as IT contracts, even though they have to do with technology. For example, Huffman’s committee included in its report contracts with IT service providers like Science Applications International Corporation, said Dusman.
     Using a form of expression used by staff members on occasion and criticized by judges as incomprehensible technical jargon, Dusman said, “We don’t include it as an IT contract, nor do we include folks who are implementers, again usually a fixed bid contract for a particular service — in this case, implementing a particular functionality.”
     Science Applications International Corporation ran the Arizona data center that hosted CCMS data for some of the few courts that agreed to take on the cumbersome software system. The data center has been another topic of controversy, crashing on fairly frequent occasions. Some courts such as San Diego Superior refused to use the data center and at one point three years ago a multimillionaire cancer drug salesman, called a “white knight” by council members, tried to buy it.
     He later backed out.
     In his report, Huffman discussed not only the amount spent on IT contracts but also the length of time contractors were working. “Our committee ultimately was concerned about long-time use of consultants,” Huffman said.
     “Some have been there more than 10 years . . . over time you should be concerned with instances where you have a consultant working as a consultant 10, 12, 15 years. It may be necessary but it ought to be the exception to the generalized rule. Hiring the employee may be better and more financially prudent.”
     Huffman was indulgent in his August remarks however, noting several times that he did not expect the Judicial Council to do anything with his report other than consider it.
     “We’re not suggesting anything be done with it other than it’s an issue important to the overall branch consideration,” he said, adding, “The technology people have the need for particular skill sets.”
     “We simply raise it,” he concluded, “in our responsibility as being, I suppose, the appointed nitpickers for the Judicial Council.”
     In answer to that point, Dusman said the staff is trying to move contract workers over to full-time positions, moving eight out of 18 positions to full time last year to save $600,000. “What’s left, the 10, are very specialized positions or there were other salary, lifestyle, or telecommuting issues. Our contractors can choose to work remotely, whereas Judicial Council staff has a relatively restrictive telecommuting policy in place,” he said.
     Dusman added, “It’s a difficult issue to recruit for a boatload of people at one time. And there’s a political issue of adding a bunch of staff, even if it’s to save the branch money, there is a political issue of having a bunch of recruitments out on the market at the same time.”
     At the Monday meeting, technology committee chair Judge Herman of Santa Barbara also gave an update on the five courts in Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, San Joaquin and Ventura that are still using CCMS V3, saying the council is looking at “moving V3 courts off of V3 or moving to them picking up the costs themselves for V3.” He said the committee surveyed the five courts, and said the committee is planning a “one day workshop to see if we can’t bring them more in line” and “incrementally have the courts pick up the cost of the V3 systems.”
     Since the demise of the troubled CCMS project, courts have been moving to off-the-shelf case management products, including the few that originally signed on to CCMS. Most have chosen Tyler’s Odyssey software, while Sacramento has gone with LT Court Tech for its criminal system and San Joaquin has chosen Oracle’s Justice Systems Inc.
     

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