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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Land of Silence

In hard times, the bureaucracy at the top of California's court system is planning to spend $240,000 every single day, holidays included, on an IT boondoggle.

That is the amount they have budgeted for the Court Case Management System up until July 2014 for a total of $265 million.

When Courthouse News published that story by Maria Dinzeo two weeks ago, a judge told us the story was "a nuclear bomb."

I thought so too.

And yet the reaction was muted. We heard from a few judges. No newspapers picked up on the story, no legislators said anything. Nobody expressed outrage.

I figured it was because everybody is numb. They are so used to seeing this kind of excess that they are listless when they see it again.

Think back to this summer when the governing judges on the Judicial Council voted to put a hold on the IT project. Well, that decision had no effect whatsoever.

The very next council meeting, the administrative office came back and said there was no hold and then presented budget numbers that translate into $240,000 spent every day over the course of a three year period.

Nobody expressed outrage at that either, certainly not among council members whose vote one month earlier was ignored, was apparently meaningless and was tossed aside so easily that it seemed to confirm the opinion of those who say the council is in fact powerless.

Local courts had gone tin cup in hand to the administrative office, to beg for bail out funds. San Francisco had to fight to get $ 2.5 million.

Put that in context. It represents only ten days-worth of what the administrative office is spending on the IT system.

I keep wanting to write "new" IT system.

But it's not new at all. It's old. It has been in development for nine years.

Now it's true that version 4, or V-4, was rolled out last year, and the bureaucrats say the project is now "finished" and it "works."


If it's finished, why are they still spending a quarter-million a day on it.

And if it works, why is no court picking up the final version of the software.

There are four courts using earlier versions of the CCMS software. None of them are picking up the final version. Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento are not going to V-4. We heard on good authority just recently that the fourth CCMS court, Ventura, has also decided against V-4.

I said in a column last year that the IT system is labor-intensive, precisely the opposite of the benefits modern technology and efiling are supposed to bring. An administrator told me the column contained "misinformation.

But Sacramento's judges, who are very familiar with the system, have confirmed that it is labor intensive and contains a host of other problems.

"CCMS has resulted in the need for 38 percent more staff in Sacramento Superior Court's civil operational arena," said a survey answer from Sacramento, "primarily as a result of additional data entry tasks."

In a letter last month rejecting participation in a feasibility study on V-4, Sacramento's presiding judge wrote, "Our court has struggled since inception with the quality of the product, its design deficits, and overall system performance."

So where does all that leave the boondoggle, one that has already drained $500 million from court coffers.

Of the four trial courts that have adopted the system, Orange County and San Diego are going their own way. Orange County says that all its programming work on the old V-3 system has essentially created a different and better product. San Diego is following in Orange County's footsteps.

Sacramento and Ventura, on the other hand, are stuck. They are tied to the old product. They don't have the 100-strong IT staff that Orange County has, and they remain dependent on an out-of-state data center for access to their records.

But all the bigger trial courts, Los Angeles, Orange. San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, are going down their own path. That leaves the smaller courts, those without the same financial strength, dependent on the will of the administrative office and its ongoing campaign to push V-4 into the trial courts.

And that position of dependence on an errant bureaucracy is not an enviable one.

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