SACRAMENTO (CN) – A dispute between Sacramento judges and California’s statewide judicial administration has resulted in a deal giving the judges a seat at the table in the implementation of a massive project by the Administrative of the Courts to overhaul record keeping in California’s courts. “It’s now or never,” said Judge Trena Burger-Plavan. “We have given the AOC a second chance, though some may say a hundredth chance.”
The agreement signed last Friday gives the Sacramento judges formal control of the court’s records. It also provides an escape clause that allows the court to separate itself from an Arizona server if a new and controversial IT system for court records does not work as promised.
The deal also provides a seat for a representative from the Sacramento court on a statewide committee overseeing the IT system that has been plagued by complaints and an enormous price tag.
If the statewide Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) fails to resolve technical problems, Sacramento will pull the plug on the Arizona server, that currently hosts the court’s case information, and install its own server.
For months, the court has struggled to make the AOC’s Court Case Management System work. In May, Presiding Judge Steve White announced a plan to disconnect from the central server in Arizona so the court could host its data locally, as Orange County Superior Court currently does.
In a formal letter, the AOC directed White not to do so.
“My court is very disenchanted with CCMS,” said, White at a legislative hearing on August 11. “I do not overstate the antipathy my judges have for it.” In his testimony, White also called the estimated $1.3 billion IT project “woefully misbegotten” and “badly managed.”
After months of grappling for control with the judiciary’s administrative body over control of the system in Sacramento, Burger-Plavan said the AOC has finally listened to the judges’ grievances.
“We told them, we will give you another chance. You give us what Orange County currently has. They have to replicate the performance standards, eliminate the delay and achieve performance speeds that match Orange County’s.”
Burger-Plavan explained that Sacramento will now receive “real-time streaming data” from the Arizona server, allowing the court to control more of its information, including its public document viewer and programs judges use from the bench. Judges will now be able to navigate CCMS from the bench, and go back and forth between documents without being thrown out of the system.
The agreement will also save the court “at least $685,000 a year,” according to a letter from White outlining the court’s deal with AOC.
Burger-Plavan said this is money the court has been forced to spend per year on having its data hosted remotely in the California Courts Technology Center in Arizona. “We have not gotten extra money to pay for CCTC. [We] have to take that money out of our operating fund every year, which would have gone to providing greater access to justice and making our court work better,” she said.
According to the agreement drafted by the court, the AOC has until Nov. 4 to ensure this data streaming achieves the results Sacramento expects. “We have no idea whether they’re going to be able to do this,” said Burger-Plavan. If it doesn’t, the AOC agreed to pay any money over the $1.4 million it will cost the court to buy its own server.
The AOC has also agreed to give the court a seat on a new CCMS governance committee established at the recommendation of the State Chief Information Officer, which audited CCMS in April. AOC Director William Vickrey recently announced that the original CCMS oversight committee would be dissolved at the end of July.
“The oversight committee was found to be a major failing,” said Burger-Plavan. “It didn’t work. We believe [the committee] met very few times. We think the AOC is committed to rectifying that failing.”
The judge credited media coverage, including articles published by Courthouse News, with removing the “veil of darkness” that had hung over the massive IT project.
When asked if the AOC offered Sacramento Superior a seat on the new committee, Judge Burger-Plavan laughed for some time. She said Sacramento’s judges insisted that a representative from their court be included.
“We intend to be a part of that effort to share our vision of CCMS with the AOC,” she said. “Hopefully there will be representatives from Orange County, Napa and other courts with strong IT Departments.”