Old California IT Project Sparks New Dispute

     (CN) – Despite instructions from legislators to stop spending money on a controversial software project, a court technology committee is looking to pour more money into the project long thought dead.
     A key administrator noted the political risk in spending additional hundreds of thousands of dollars on the aging Court Case Management System used by only a few trial courts. The great majority of trial courts, said the administrator, could see the spending as “enhanced funding for a project deemed cancelled.”
     In more freewheeling language, judges slammed the software as “a money-sucking beast” that deserves “a stake through its heart,” thence to be “dragged out into the sunshine to rot.”
     The renewed life of the CCMS project was sparked by a request from two courts, Ventura and San Diego, made to the Court Technology Committee, one of the powerful court committees that work closely with the Administrative Office of the Courts and meet in sessions closed to the press and public.
     The committee’s chair, Santa Barbara Judge James Herman, then sent a letter earlier this month to the five courts that use an interim version of the software, San Diego, Ventura, Sacramento, Orange and San Joaquin, asking if they would like to “enhance” the system for a cost of somewhere from $317,000 to $381,000.
     Specifically, the proposal would expand the case types that can be included in the third version of the software to include family law and juvenile dependency cases.
     Over its decade-long development, the expense of the software project has been underestimated by administrative office officials and wound up costing more than a half-billion dollars in public money.
     The project was supposed to be terminated last year as a result of a vote in the rule-making arm of the court system, the Judicial Council, saying money could only be spent to maintain the system in the few courts that use the software.
     Herman with the technology committee defended the proposal for expansion by saying the Legislature had not foreclosed expansion of the interim version of the IT system. He also pointed out that the committee has not made its final decision and is still in discussion with the individual trial courts.
     In an earlier interview concerning alternate court software, Herman argued that the IT project had in fact been successful. “CCMS was a technically successful, completed product,” said Herman. “What defeated CCMS was we didn’t have the money.”
     Orange County Judge Robert Moss, who is also a member of the technology committee, echoed that point in an interview this week.
     “It’s all about money,” said Moss. “The three courts that are against it don’t plan to use V3 for other case types and they don’t want the limited resources that exist to maintain V3 to be diluted by expanding. It’s not an irrational thing, but it’s a dilemma because the trial courts are not in agreement.”
     At its Monday meeting, said Moss, the technology committee decided to go back to the courts to see what funds each can afford to contribute, if any. “We’re looking into whether the courts would have the ability to share the cost.”
     The five courts that use the software had polar-opposite reactions to the expansion idea.
     Sacramento, Orange County and San Joaquin are strongly opposed. Ventura and San Diego think it is a good idea.

The Nays
     Sacramento head clerk Christina Volkers said in a letter that the proposal “poses too much of a political and financial risk.”
     “Sacramento is keenly aware of the discussions surrounding the reduction or elimination of funding for CCMS V3,” she said. “If additional case types are added, this could be considered by other courts as enhanced funding for a project deemed cancelled.”
     Volkers, who was hired late last year, also gave voice to the point often made by judges — that the central administrative office has been subsidizing individual courts that agreed to use the software by footing the bill for the software’s development.
     The great majority of California’s 58 trial courts did not take on the software, so they are required to buy case management software, which routinely costs millions of dollars, out of their own operating budgets.
     “Many courts may believe that the CCMS V3 courts are receiving special treatment, when many are paying for their case management systems out of their trial court trust fund allocation,” wrote Volkers.
     Sacramento adopted the controversial software under a previous clerk. Since that decision, the court’s leaders have been in a number of confrontations with the administrative office over the IT project and they were instrumental in its demise with a deeply critical assessment of the software’s reliability and efficiency.
     “It’s a reality that we are given additional money because we were ‘early adopter courts,'” said Sacramento Judge Maryanne Gilliard. “Our court can’t afford to keep CCMS afloat without it.”
     “It is such a money-sucking beast,” she added, “and so staff and employee driven.”
     Another of the five affected courts, Orange County, sent a letter back to the technology committee, saying it is “not interested” in the expansion.
     “If case types are added to V3,” said head clerk Alan Carlson, “other courts that already object to any funding being provided for V3 courts may gain additional supporters and may succeed in cutting off the funding altogether, even for defect fixes and legislative updates.”
     Judge Moss, from the technology committee and also from Orange County, said that even if the committee decides to roll out the expansion for only two courts, the other three will still have to pay for testing to ensure the changes don’t affect current operations.
     “Every court that has V3 running will have to do regression testing if the program is modified,” said Moss. “Orange County will still have to do a lot of testing to ensure the modifications don’t affect functionality.”
     Like the administrators in Sacramento and Orange, the head clerk in San Joaquin Superior Court is also skeptical.
     “When V3 was deployed, there were several deficiencies in the accounting and financial area that today remain unresolved after several releases of ‘fixes’ to the original V3 product,” said a letter from the court’s head clerk Rosa Junqueiro. “We believe adding additional case types that require filing fees prior to fixing the existing accounting problems will create the need for additional ‘work arounds’ thus creating more work.”
     San Joaquin is currently looking to replace its entire case management system with off-the-shelf software put together by Justice Systems Inc., one of three companies recently selected by a group of trial courts to be approved for the sale of software to California’s trial courts.
     “We do not believe it is in the best interest of our court, given our limited resources, to expand V3 at this time,” Junqueiro wrote. “Like many courts, the ultimate goal for our court would be to use a single case management system to support all case types.”

The Ayes
     Coming from the other end of the debate spectrum, San Diego’s head clerk Michael Roddy thanked the technology committee on behalf of both San Diego and Ventura, saying he “strongly endorsed” the proposal.
     But Roddy also said in his letter that the expansion could take longer and cost more money than the technology committee had thought.
     The conversion of old case information had not been addressed, said Roddy and he would need more “tools” to help in data conversion, in addition to “information from Deloitte,” a reference to the consultant that rang up enormous bills in programming the software.
     Ventura’s presiding judge, Brian Back, also supported the enhancement with a letter saying it would help the move to e-filing. That ability to file court papers via the Internet was the original promise of the CCMS project. The final V-4 version was supposed to allow e-filing, but no trial court was willing to use the final version.
     While the letters from the five trial courts gave a decidedly mixed review of the expansion idea, commentary from judges was withering.
     Referring to the statements from legislators telling court administrators and their judicial supporters to stop spending money on the IT project, Judge Andy Banks in Orange County said, “It would be great to see what language is used to finesse how this is okay under the clear directive of the Legislature.”
     As an example of legislative criticism of the project, Assembly member Joan Buchanan called it “a good example of how not to develop an IT project.”
     Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo in March 2012 called for a halt to the software’s development, saying, “Basically, using the parent language, we’re taking a little time out here.”
     Two weeks later, the courts’ top rule-making body, the Judicial Council, voted to kill the project while salvaging some of its technology for the future. At the time, there was no discussion of specific future uses for the technology.
     But it now appears, based on the technology committee letter, that the notion of expanding the software’s application came almost immediately after the project was declared dead. Specifically, Ventura’s court made the request for expansion the next month, in April 2012.

The Proverbs
     “A lot of people were afraid it was like a vampire,” said Banks. “You could never be sure it was dead until you put a stake through its heart and drag it out into the sunshine to rot.”
     Gilliard in Sacramento used a similar analogy to something that would not die.
     “It’s like a Terminator movie,” she said. “You think it’s been killed off but then a bolt starts to scoot across the floor.”
     “I thought the Legislature was pretty straight forward when they said, ‘Don’t spend any more money on this failure,'” added Gilliard who is a member of the Alliance of California Judges, a group that has been highly critical of the IT project.
     “How can our branch leaders think this is a strategically good thing to do in light of the fact that every single court in this state is hurting and the Legislature told them to quit pouring money down this hole?”
     Technology committee member Moss defended the expansion by saying the money had already been set aside in funds intended for maintenance of the aging program, which he added should not conflict with the Legislature’s wishes.
     “We’re mandated to continue operating and supporting V3 and this is within that budget,” said Moss. We’re not seeking any more money.”
     As it had in years past, CCMS still keeps its ability to inflame debate within the judiciary, among the different courts, and within the same courts.
     In San Diego, Judge Runston Maino was troubled by the letter from his court’s head clerk endorsing the expansion.
     “There a number of us who, despite Mr. Roddy’s protestations to the contrary, believe that CCMS was and is a failure,” said Maino. “As many of us see it, CCMS was not only a failure but it has cost this court about 40 million dollars.”
     He added that the judges in his court shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
     “Could I suggest that it might be a good idea to send out a judge wide email telling us what is going on? How much money is this going to cost us? Where is the money going to come from? What is the business plan?”
     Maino added by email, “The AOC has learned nothing from the CCMS fiasco. Their stubborn inflexibility to understand that CCMS is dead is troubling. What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand? They are acting like the dog and fool in Proverbs 26:11.”
     In the King James version of the Bible, Proverbs 26:11 says, “As a dog returneth to its vomit so a fool returneth to his folly.”

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