SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Of all the California courts that responded to the state auditor’s survey on a massive judicial computer project, perhaps none wanted it to work out more than Sacramento Superior Court. Since 2010, the court has spent more than $17 million of its meager budget on staff and computers trying to accommodate the new IT system pushed by judicial bureaucrats, only to realize it had entered “a nightmare.”
In a withering 33-page survey answer, Sacramento chronicles the almost continuous problems with the new computer system, from constant system crashes and slow response times to pervasive defects that the developer, high-priced consulting firm Deloitte, seemed incapable of adequately fixing. Sacramento uses several pages of its response to document observations from judges and clerks on the Court Case Management System
“I have heard nothing but complaints about how awful CCMS is,” one judge responds. Another says, “My clerk and other clerks have said CCMS is a nightmare!”
In answer to a request from Courthouse News, the state auditor provided survey answers underlying a report by the auditor issued in February, a report that blasted the Administrative Office of the Courts over the expense and lack of control on the project.
The answers from a large majority of California’s 58 trial courts are critical of the IT endeavor which some judges have described as a “boondoggle.”
But two of the survey answers have been surprising in the level of heat they direct at the central administrators combined with the intimacy of knowledge about the new software. Those two courts are Orange County and Sacramento County, surprising because both were early and enthusiastic endorsers of the big IT project only to come around to a deep and abiding anger with the software, its backers and the fundamental direction of the project.
The survey answers have been reported here as part of a series covering the reaction from courts in different regions of the state, from the Central Valley to Northern California and from Southern California to the Central Coast.
This article concludes the stories based on survey answers from individual courts. Sacramento’s answer is noteworthy in that the court sought individual answers from its judges and clerks to produce a 33-page survey answer, the longest of them all.
Within those pages is a tale of frustration and grief.
The complaints of the Sacramento judges and clerks move from general attacks on the system to more specific grievances as they note the slowness and counter-intuitiveness of the new software.
“I have not used CCMS since 2009. When I did use CCMS I found it to be cumbersome and time consuming,” said one Sacramento judge. “Locating information and documents was very difficult and slow. Sometimes when I found a document, it took too long to retrieve it from the system or the document did not come up on my computer, forcing me to start over to retrieve it.”
“It takes my clerk twice as long to enter data into CCMS compared to our court’s locally-developed program,” says another judge.
Using a dark analogy, on judge said, that asking clerks to use CCMS even while it is riddled with bugs is “the equivalent of tasking the clerks with utilizing an airplane in flight while the actual plane is being rebuilt as the flight is progressing.”
Sacramento Superior has had some form of the software, with the latest working version called V3, since 2005.
“CCMS has resulted in the need for 38 percent more staff in Sacramento Superior Court’s civil operational arena, primarily as a result of additional data entry tasks that did not exist in the previous case management processes,” said the court’s survey answer.
Its survey response indicates that problems began with the system in 2007, when it first expressed its concerns to the judicial bureaucracy of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the agency responsible for the CCMS experiment, about numerous glitches and the AOC’s inability to make Deloitte to fix them.
“On June 12, 2007 the Sacramento Superior Court expressed its concerns with respect to the poor quality management of CCMS to the AOC. The court wrote it is ‘committed to the concept of a single statewide case management system and strongly desires to see CCMS a success,'” the court says, in recalling the history of its dealings with California’s central bureaucrats.
“We are concerned,” the court wrote early in the process, “that Deloitte is not required to fix the defects. The current set-up provides no incentive for them to produce a quality product the first time. It appears Deloitte is paid to build the application, paid to fix their errors, paid again to fix fixes.'”
According to Sacramento Superior, the primary problem is that its computers are now hooked up to the California Court Technology Center, a remote server in Arizona.
“Given that CCMS V3 for the Sacramento Superior Court is installed at the CCTC in Tempe, Arizona, the court has had significant performance and stability issues from day one. The Sacramento Superior Court has had to endure many outages which have totally shut down CCMS V3 and performance gaps which have impacted business operations,” said the court’s answer.
“In January 2008 Sacramento Superior communicated to the AOC/Deloitte its significant concerns, particularly with respect to performance and speed. Slowness and stability had not improved,” said the court’s answer.
Sacramento has for months argued that if it could host the system on its own server, as Orange County currently does, the system may run much more smoothly. However, the central administrators have fought that initiative by Sacramento’s judges, and won the battle for now.
Sacramento’s survey answer provides a grim timeline of the incidents that have caused its push for local control, a timeline of breakdowns and errors, court visits from AOC and Deloitte representatives, and repeated promises and assurances from the consultants and bureaucrats for fixes that were never fulfilled.
For example, in what was likely an unpleasant bit of timing for the central administrators, the entire system broke down in the middle of one of their visits.
“On September 2, 2008, a Deloitte/AOC team came to Sacramento Superior Court to view our judicial processes and identify why performance was so slow. The visit was cut short as a result of an outage in the middle of the day at the CCTC. Sacramento asked for a report from the visit. No report was provided until after the court submitted three different requests for a report.”
The report was finally provided on November 24, 2008, said the court, two months later.
“The report from AOC/Deloitte confirmed that the system is too slow. It confirmed that a user of the system had to make too many clicks to use the system. AOC/Deloitte did not provide any remediation ideas.”
The court goes on, “In February 2009, there were three separate outages during the middle of one court day. The economic loss to our court for that one day was over $17,083 in productivity.”
In addition to excoriating the system through the survey, the judges leading Sacramento Superior Court have expressed their frustration in every forum available, most importantly the state legislature.
Sacramento Presiding Judge Steve White visited the legislature a number of times over the past year to tell the court’s opinion of the big IT project, calling it “woefully misbegotten.”
“My court is very disenchanted with CCMS,” White told a legislative committee on accountability in August 2010. “I do not overstate the antipathy my judges have for it. It’s been woefully misbegotten and badly managed by the AOC and Deloitte.”
“It has not worked for us and we have a very strong IT department,” he added.
At a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing in February 2011, White testified, “I supported CCMS from the beginning. Now I see it as a train wreck.”
The system breakdowns culminated in a written promise from the central administrators in August 2010 to “replicate the performance standards that are currently enjoyed by Orange County Superior Court and eliminate the current delays.”
So far, Sacramento has not seen much improvement, and refuses to host the version due out this summer, V4, which administrators claim to be the ulitmate version, until the court sees actual results.
One of the ways the bureaucrats within the administrative office have fought back against critics has been to cast them as complainers who are not willing to join committees to try and fix the problems. Sacramento, however, does make a series of specific suggestions.
It says the software provided by the central administrators should serve as a backbone onto which the local courts can graft the individual applications they need.
“In our view, CCMS would be similar to the base product iPhone and would come with identified standard functions,” said Sacramento. ” Just as Apple Corporation could create an ‘APP Store’ for CCMS. Any court could access the APP Store and pick and choose the specific solutions it wants/requires to meet its individual needs.”
The court believes it has identified the root cause of the computer system’s failings, one that was also pointed out in survey responses from Orange and other courts.
“Our court believes, and experience in courts throughout California has shown, that many of the difficulties that have plagued the deployment of CCMS V3 can be traced to a single but pervasive programmatic ‘assumption’,” says Sacramento. “That assumption is that it is necessary to produce a single case management system that is alike in every respect, no matter where the program is deployed,” it says.
“Although not necessary to achieve any of the goals of the statewide CCMS initiative, project planners have — erroneously in our court’s view — concluded that a single software solution can meet the needs of every court in California.”