Proposed Court Software Expansion Bites Dust

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A request by court clerks in San Diego and Ventura to expand the reach of a controversial and expensive computer system has brought a fierce blast of criticism and a subsequent decision by a powerful court committee to reject the idea.
     The proposal to expand an interim version of the old Court Case Management System to cover more types of cases brought a sharp reaction from judges who have fought the half-billion-dollar software project.
     “What will it take to kill the beast?” asked the Alliance of California Judges.
     The project was supposed to be terminated last year as a result of legislation ordering the courts to stop spending money on the computer project other than maintenance for the five trial courts using early versions of the software.
     Among those courts, San Diego and Ventura asked last year that the software be expanded to include family and juvenile cases. But clerks in Orange County, Sacramento and San Joaquin opposed the idea, saying it was politically untenable and that it would threaten the maintenance money they currently receive.
     “If additional case types are added, this could be considered by other courts as enhanced funding for a project deemed cancelled,” wrote Sacramento clerk Christina Volkers.
     Promoted over the course of 10 years by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the software project was shelved in the wake of increasingly specific direction from legislators to stop spending money on it.
     In the at-times arcane terminology of the software project, the final version 4 — that no trial court has installed — would have provided lawyers with the ability to email documents to the courts and would also have added family law and juvenile dependency cases.
     As a result, critics suggested that the proposal to now spend roughly $350,000 to include those same two case types in the earlier version 3 was really a sneaky move to put elements of version 4 into use.
     As part of last year’s budget, the Legislature passed into law a government code sections that says, “The Judicial Council shall not expend any of these funds on the system known as the Court Case Management System without consent from the Legislature, except for the maintenance and operation of Court Case Management System Version 2 and Version 3.”
     Judge James Herman, who heads the Court Technology Committee, said the two courts asking for the expansion were well aware of that language.
     “The courts asking for additional case types for V3 were aware of the four corners of the V3 legislation allowing the funding of the operations and maintenance of V3,” he said. “At this point, however, that issue is moot.”
     In a Monday meeting, the technology committee, one of the powerful court committees that are shuttered to the public and the press, voted down the proposal.
     “Accordingly, there was no need to consider legislative intent,” said Herman. “Keep in mind this is about V3 and the individual courts who still depend on it, not about V4, the terminated state wide system. The idea of reviving V4 has never been part of this conversation.”
     Although the technology committee’s vote puts an end to the most recent issue, the proposal stoked the ongoing controversy over how policy decisions are made in California’s court system.
     “These are tough times for the local courts,” wrote Judge Maryanne Gilliard in a statement from the Alliance of California Judges. “We have all witnessed valuable employees being shown the door, curtailment of hours of service to the public, and the closure of numerous local courthouses. It is truly bewildering that while this carnage is taking place our unelected branch leaders believe it is prudent to revive and expand on a computer project that has done irreparable harm to the judicial branch.”
     “We will continue to keep a close watch on this Council and its uncontrollable hydra, the Administrative Office of the Courts,” Gilliard continued, “and we will continue to advocate for an elected Council with the conviction to put the interests of the trial courts and the public ahead of those of the central planners and their uninformed devotees.”

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