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S.F. and Coast Courts Mixed on IT Project

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In answers to a survey by the state auditor, courts along California's Central Coast and in the Bay Area show deep skepticism about a new IT system pushed by the judiciary's central bureaucracy mixed with enthusiasm from a few courts, particularly in Marin.

In results released to Courthouse News by California's auditor, five out of nine Bay Area and Central Coast courts say their current computer systems work well. Those five trial courts show no eagerness to take on a new and controversial IT system projected to cost $1.9 billion.

The state auditor conducted a survey of all 58 trial courts in California earlier this year. The survey asked about the new Court Case Management System, touted by the central judicial adminsitrators as a savior to courts with old computer systems.

San Mateo said guardedly, "While in theory all courts on one case management system sounds reasonable, the local benefit for our court is nebulous and non-essential."

The court said it was satisfied with its current computer system and it fears that if it were to install the new CCMS software, it would be "held hostage" by the software's private developer, Deloitte Consulting.

The court also alluded to a complaint coming from other courts about down time and slow connection speed associated with using a central, Arizona-based server which is part of the CCMS package.

"System hosting and telecommunications would be a concern - particularly if slow system response to the host and back to the court was encountered," said San Mateo. " Our current systems uptime is quite high."

Santa Barbara Superior also believes its computer system is not in dire need of updating, saying "our existing system meets most of our needs."

Paralleling concerns from many California trial courts, Santa Barbara also revealed misgivings about handing over control of its computers to the central judicial bureaucracy at the Administrative Office of the Courts.

"The challenges will be adapting to a new system that will be significantly different from our existing system, the potential support issues if they are provided from a centralized AOC staff or AOC contractor, as opposed to our internal IT staff, loss of local control to make necessary software changes in a timely manner, and the maintenance and hardware costs of the system over time," said Santa Barbara.

Even courts that need to replace aging computer systems doubt that the new IT system pushed by the central administrators is a good solution.

"The goal and concept of developing and deploying an enterprise-wide case management system for all the trial courts is a good one. But it is highly complex and a huge risk," said Alameda Superior Court based in Oakland.

It also doubted the ability of the administrative office to manage the massive IT project, an ability called into question by other courts, notably Orange County, as well as state legislators and the Bureau of State Audits.

"Whether the AOC has the capacity to adequately plan, develop, deploy, maintain, support and manage a project system of this size is questionable," said Alameda.

Across the bay, San Francisco's trial court expressed frustration with its current system for tracking criminal cases, but seemed reluctant to adopt the new IT system as an alternative.

"There is not a single case management system that will meet all of the needs of the court," said San Francisco. And its answers mirrored Santa Barbara's concern about loss of control over system upgrades. "What you need to have in place is a system that can be updated or modified to meet the current and anticipated needs as they arise," says San Francisco.

Running against that skeptical trend, survey answers from Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Marin reflect an entirely different view of the big software project.

They are, to quote San Luis Obispo's one-word answer, "positive."

The majority of the survey answers from around the state, while anonymous, were apparently written by the head administrator for the court, based on follow-up interviews. That appears to be the case in the Central Coast and Bay Area answers.

The response from Marin is particularly effusive in praising the potential benefits of the new system, saying the court would benefit, as a result, from "the many innovations that modern technology provides."

That view contrasts with the view from the state auditor and from Orange County, where the CCMS system is in place, saying the technology underlying the new system is already nearing obsolescence.

The Marin answer notes that future programming changes are likely to "be made by committee.

"This means that some features that may be desirable in this court will not make the list," said Marin. "However, the benefit of having a single, statewide solution will mitigate many of the challenges and sacrifices made locally."

Marin Superior's head administrator, Executive Officer Kim Turner, is an outspoken supporter of the new IT sytem.

She is also one of two court executives, along with Michael Roddy from San Diego, named by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to a committee watching over the project.

At a meeting of the Judicial Council on late last month, Turner praised the Administrative Office of the Courts for "all its amazing work." She said, "We keep hearing that we can't afford to do this. For a court like mine, I say we can't afford not to do it."

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