SACRAMENTO (CN) - A scathing audit of California's court administration was released Tuesday by the Bureau of State Audits, blaming the administrators for a series of blunders in their 9-year effort to press a uniform computer system onto the state's trial courts. The massive audit found that the bureaucrats had exercised "poor management" of the computer project, disguised its true $1.9 billion cost, and failed to analyze the needs of the trial courts. Despite the findings, those in charge of the project said they would press on.
The head of the agency subjected to the auditor's withering critique, William Vickrey, thanked the auditor and said the agency is pressing forward with deployment of the latest version of the IT system.
An appellate judge closely tied to the project also vowed to continue its implementation.
"It's important to emphasize the audit does not recommend ending the project, said Justice Terence Bruiniers. "We need to move on."
That statement brought an immediate and heated reaction from trial judges who have roundly lambasted the Administrative Office of the Courts and its IT project called Court Case Management System.
"The AOC has mismanaged this project from the beginning, " said Judge Maryanne Gilliard in Sacramento. "They have consistently hidden the true cost from legislative scrutiny."
In a reference to Bruiniers, she said, "The AOC even mounted a campaign to prevent this audit from occurring and has named as its chairman of their CCMS Executive Committee a judge who personally testified in Sacramento against the audit."
The audit of the IT system was requested a year ago by Assembly member Bonnie Lowenthal (D). The Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted for its approval in February 2010, after hearing testimony from a group of trial judges and labor representatives who said the escalating cost of the computer system had contributed to the fiscal crisis in many courts, resulting in court closures and staff layoffs.
At the time, administrators actively opposed the audit and fought to delay it. The completed audit released Tuesday morning concludes the agency headed by Vickrey had consistently been underestimating the cost of the project to members of the legislature.
Assembly member Lowenthal who represents the port of San Pedro said, "For nearly a decade, the project seems to have spiraled out of control. The audit shows poor planning, poor management and confirms my worst fears about this project."
In an interview, she added, "While the AOC is moving forward with a costly computer system, courtrooms across the state are closing and there is less access to justice. The AOC needs to take a time out."
Reacting to the audit, Vickrey said in a press release, "The main thing is that we are moving forward now, and many lessons were learned that we can apply to the successful implementation of CCMS. We remain committed to this deployment approach which recognizes the state's fiscal challenges and the need to move deployment forward."
In Los Angeles, a trial court that has resisted the IT system, Judge Charles Horan said the reaction from administrative office director Vickrey is modus operandi for his agency.