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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sacramento Drops Out of Big Study on Controversial Court IT System

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A list of California courts that are supposed to participate in a high-priced analysis of a statewide IT project has already sprung two leaks. Sacramento has sent a letter refusing to participate and Los Angeles is said to also have refused.

Adding sting to those turndowns, both courts are intimately familiar with the half-billion-dollar project.

Sacramento's presiding judge specifically said her court is refusing to participate lest it would be seen as an endorsement of an IT system that has forced her court to struggle with the system's "quality, design deficits and overall system performance."

A study on the feasibility of inserting the sytem into ten more courts was announced with fanfare last month at a meeting of the courts' governing council. But the list of local courts that were supposed to participate in the study remained shrouded.

A public records request by Courthouse News has since yielded the names of the 20 courts that are listed as participants in the study, with 10 of those courts becoming likely recipients for installment of the software. But the list includes Sacramento and Los Angeles.

"Quite candidly, our experience with CCMS-V-3 has left us with a jaundiced view," wrote Presiding Judge Laurie Earl in her letter rejecting participation in the study.

An earlier version of the IT software is called V-3. The latest version, called V-4, has yet to be adopted by any court in California. Despite those setbacks, the administrative office is now paying Grant Thornton more than $237,000 for a report expected next month on the feasibility of putting the system into more courts.

That additional fee brings the amount paid to Grant-Thornton over the last year up to a total of $555,000, for work tied to the IT project. The amounts are being paid while trial courts plan to close courtrooms and lay off hundreds of workers for lack of money.

In a report for delivery to the Legislature today, administrators said $521.5 million has already been spent on the project. The report does not account for future costs, which are expected to top a billion dollars.

In a presentation last year of an earlier feasibility study, Grant Thornton representative Graeme Finley told the Judicial Council that it would cost an additional $1.5 billion to develop and deploy CCMS throughout California's courts. The report itself relied on a host of positive, and some said unrealistic, assumptions and scenarios.

As it now stands, only a handful of courts use earlier versions of the CCMS software, including Sacramento, Los Angeles in only one courtroom, Fresno for traffic and criminal cases, Orange County, Ventura and San Diego. A court spokesperson for Orange County confirmed that the court will be involved in the study.

That, however, is not necessarily an endorsement.

In a survey last year, Orange County blasted the management of the nine-year-old IT endeavor. The court is now required to maintain a 100-plus technical staff to fix and make local adaptations to the software.

In the Sacamento letter declining to participate in the current study, Judge Earl wrote, "This decision is based on the technical and practical difficulties our court has experienced as a user of CCMS V3, as well as the current financial climate for both the Sacramento Superior Court and the California Judicial Branch."

"As an early adopter of CCMS V3," she added, "our court has struggled since inception with the quality of the product, its design deficits, and overall system performance. While I appreciate that perhaps CCMS V4 could very well address these issues, quite candidly our court's experiences with CCMS V3 have left us with a jaundiced view."

In the letter addressed to Judge James Herman of Santa Barbara who heads the committee of judges in charge of the IT project, Earl noted that Sacramento is struggling financially and will have to lay off employees.

"With this in mind the resulting cost to deploy, operate and maintain CCMS V4 is not within our court's budget," she says.

Earl closed by saying, "While I understand that participating with Grant Thornton on this project does not commit our court to deployment, I believe our collaboration adds an endorsement that I am not prepared to make."

Even though the letter was sent over a month ago, the list of courts provided last week to Courthouse News by the Administrative Office of the Courts listed Sacramento and Los Angeles as participants in the study.

In Los Angeles, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the court will not be involved in the study.

"We were asked to participate in the study and we declined," said spokesperson Mary Hearn. "We told them we didn't wish to be considered for CCMS V4 deployment because we lack confidence in CCMS and we didn't have a lot of confidence in the methodology that was going to be used."

The Los Angeles court is the midst of a related but much greater crisis.

The court's executive committee is meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss layoffs and courtroom closures brought on by harsh legislative cuts to California's court budget two years in a row.

The Los Angeles court, the biggest in the nation, is expected to announce the closure of more than 50 courtrooms and dismissal of more than 300 court employees.

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