SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A bill that would limit the power of California's court bureaucracy in spending hundreds of millions on an IT project has an enemy behind the lines in the form of Deloitte Consulting.
The principal private beneficiary of the big IT project spent $124,000 last year lobbying against the reform bill, AB 1208. Deloitte's lobbying report includes a $2,827 bill for an event at Sacramento's exclusive Sutter Club, for a select list of legislators and Assembly staff members.
AB 1208 passed California's Assembly in January and is now pending in the state Senate. Deloitte's interest in the bill correlates with its extensive invoicing of California as the developer of a $1.9 billion software system for the courts.
As passed last month by the Assembly, the bill requires that any technology projects receive written consent from two-thirds of the trial courts with voting power apportioned based on population. That provision puts a check on the ability of the Administrative Office of the Courts to embark on projects like the Court Case Management System, a 9-year-old project with Deloitte as the principal consultant.
In its report to California's Secretary State, Deloitte lists the law firm of Ochoa & Moore in Sacramento as the lobbyist paid to oppose AB 1208. But the report was filed by attorney Steven Lucas of Nielsen Merksamer in San Rafael. Partner Steve Merksamer was chief of staff for Republican Governor George Deukmejian in the 1980s.
Neither Lucas nor Ochoa & Moore answered a request for comment.
Deloitte's media contact dealing with state government issues said he was unsure how to address Deloitte's lobbying activities in California, because he is based in Virginia. He then said he did not know the appropriate public relations person to talk to. Inquiries subsequently directed to Deloitte's Sacramento office were not immediately answered.
No one in the Judicial Council's Office of Governmental Affairs was immediately available for comment.
AB 1208 was born out of long-simmering anger at the administrative bureaucracy that sits atop California's court system.
Trial judges are fed up with the IT project in particular, saying it has drained enormous amounts from funds intended to keep the state's trial courts open and operating. California's two-year budget crisis has only increased their opposition.
"To date, over $200 million dollars has been siphoned from local courts to fund this technological boondoggle," said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, one of the directors of the Alliance of California Judges, a group sponsoring AB 1208. "The Alliance of California Judges is not surprised to learn that Deloitte paid a lobbying firm over $120,000 to try and kill AB 1208."
A May 2011 report to the Legislature shows that in addition to spending from other parts of the court budget, fully $200 million has been drawn from the Trial Court Trust Fund to keep the IT project going. Those draws were recommended by the bureaucracy and approved by the Judicial Council, a body of judges and court officials headed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
"Deloitte has a vested interest in keeping Trial Court Trust Fund dollars flowing to the troubled CCMS project," Gilliard said. "Deloitte wants the Judicial Council and the AOC to maintain their unfettered access to these funds."
The event at the Sutter Club took place on Feb. 7 of last year, while a state audit of the IT project was pending. The report published later that month slammed the administrative office's handling of the project, saying, "In addition to planning inadequately for the state case management project, the AOC has consistently failed to develop accurate cost estimates," said the state auditor.
The Sutter Club event was attended by Assembly members Joan Buchanan plus three staff members, Steven Bradford, Susan Bonilla plus one staff member, Paul Fong plus one staff member, Jerry Hill, Jeff Miller, Nancy Skinner, Jose Solorio, Das Williams, as well as Gillian Eppinette, the executive secretary for Assembly member Jim Beall and Victoria Stewart, the senior assistant for Assembly member Curt Hagman.
"The participation by Deloitte, in trying to defeat this modest budget reform," Judge Gilliard concluded, "should concern every judge in the state."
Editor's Note: Of the Assembly members present at the Deloitte-sponsored event, Buchanan is the only one who voted against AB 1208. Bonilla and Fong abstained. Bradford, Hill, Miller, Skinner, Solorio and Williams voted in favor of the bill.