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Legislator Calls for Defunding of IT Project

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A central coast assemblyman has called for a halt to any funding for a costly court IT project and a restriction on the ability of bureaucrats to divert money from trial court operations to support it. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said that he would push the Legislature's Joint Budget Conference Committee to insert draft language into a trailer bill that would restrict funding for the project.

Those trailer bills, said Alejo, should be voted on early next week. His proposed language would stop the Administrative Office of the Courts from spending any trial court operation money on the Court Case Management System, an ambitious IT project that has drawn increasing fire from legislators and judges.

"I wanted to make sure that in the court's budget there was specific language to include that because I don't want them to have that flexibility to divert critical court finding to CCMS," Alejo said Wednesday.

In a letter sent to the joint budget committee this week, Alejo said he did not have confidence in the system and "that continuing to support it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars."

He criticized "out of control" costs for the IT project intended to connect the state's 58 trial courts, pegged at $1.9 billion in a report by the state auditor. The legislator also attacked the diversion of trial court funds to pay those expenses.

"Initial estimates had put the cost of CCMS at $206 million, but as of June 2010, the program has already spent $407 million and is projected to cost $2.5 billion to finish developing and training court employees and justice partners how to use the system," said Alejo in criticizing the Administrative Office of the Courts, generally referred to by its acronym AOC. "Moreover, because of failures by the AOC to properly structure its contract with the vendor, the contract now costs $310 million, nearly 10 times the initial estimate."

"The AOC has repeatedly cut into the operating budget of the courts to find money for CCMS," said Alejo's letter. "The cost of creating CCMS has devastated the courts' ability to provide necessary services to the community and the AOC must not be allowed to continue diverting money to CCMS except when they were originally designated for that purpose."

Alejo said in an interview on Wednesday that he thought all funding should be put on hold until there is an independent review of the latest version of the system and its practicality, as was strongly recommended by state Auditor Elaine Howle.

Alejo is a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that heard testimony from Howle on February 15, where she expressed grave concern over the project's success and cost.

At a meeting on Friday, judicial administrators from the AOC presented to its titular head, the Judicial Council, a cost-benefit analysis that predicted the project's financial success in about ten years, assuming there were no problems installing the latest version of the controversial and time consuming program in all 58 courts by 2016.

Alejo said, "I actually have copy of it in front of me. It's simply not enough."

He added that the administrators need to do more to convince the legislature that the computer project works and is worthy of funding.

He suggested another hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee wherein the adminstrative office would present the results of the independent review recommended by auditor Howle.

At Friday's Judicial Council meeting, administrators said they believed an independent review would be expensive and would delay the project's installation schedule. Mark Moore, head of the project's technical end, said the AOC would have to pay development vendor Deloitte $1 million a week for halting the IT pojrect in order to do an independent review.

The administrators said they had ultimately decided that the independent review should instead be put on hold while the latest version of the IT project completes development and testing phases.

"I think they're making a major mistake by taking that approach," Alejo said. "It would be very wise for the AOC to be open to implementing the suggestions by the auditor in a timely fashion." He added that delaying an independent review "would be miscalculating where the legislature stands on this."

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