SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Court officials made an offer to help the financially strapped San Francisco Superior Court at Friday’s Judicial Council meeting, but San Francisco’s presiding judge rejected the offer as ineffective posturing. And while trial judges were told earlier this summer that a controversial IT project was put on hold, it in fact appears to be in full swing.
“We have an option that would be able to close a $6 million gap this year,” said Ron Overholt, interim director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, referring to San Francisco’s budget shortfall.
The plan was short on specifics and appears to rely primarily on future funding by the legislature. “Given the kind of attention that has been raised,” said Overholt, “the legislature will bear fruit next year.”
Feinstein could not be reached for comment. But she told ABC’s Vic Lee that the offer from the administrative office is a “token” that would simply offset money spent out of the court’s depleted reserve fund but would not address the ongoing $6 million gap between the court’s expenses and its funding. It does nothing, she said, to avoid draconian layoffs planned in a month’s time.
In a second matter tied to San Francisco’s budget crisis, the council rejected the San Francisco Bar Association’s proposal to raise lawyer appearance fees in complex civil litigation, a move that would have generated some additional revenue for the floundering court. In a vote of 16-1, the council backed the AOC’s position that it does not have the authority to raise the fees.
Meanwhile Friday’s meeting also revealed that the bureaucrats’ costly statewide computer system for the courts is still in full swing, even though the council voted last month to put the project called the Court Case Management System on hold for at least a year. The administrators also told trial judges at a budget working group last month that the IT project was being put on hold.
“We have successfully completed all of the development activities for CCMS,” said Appellate Justice Terence Bruiniers. According to Bruiniers, the development cost for the latest version of the system is $315.5 million. Bruiniers also said the independent review mandated by the Legislature earlier this year in response to the State Auditor’s scathing report of the project had been completed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines asked Bruiniers and CCMS project director Mark Moore how much money is being requested from the legislature to fund CCMS. Moore responded that the AOC had requested $74.5 million for next fiscal year to fund current work on the project as well as maintenance costs for its two precursor systems.
“It was originally referred to as the one-year pause,” said Moore. “We’re now relabeling it. It’s not necessarily a one-year pause,”
Pines responded, “It would also be helpful to me at least for the later discussion if we’re going to be dealing with this in October is to have some other alternatives. I mean, if we decide we really cannot afford CCMS as it’s presently envisioned, while at the same time, keeping the courthouse doors open in the first fiscal year because from everything I can see for example, in Los Angeles, we’re going to be able to get by pretty much this year because of all the one-year stop-gap measures.”
“So if we reach the decision that we really cannot afford CCMS as it’s presently being planned, it would be helpful for me to see some other options whether pieces of that can be used,” Pines continued. ” I’d like to see some other options rather than an all-or-nothing scenario.”
Bruiniers said his CCMS committee would be looking at ways to implement the system while keeping in mind the judicial branch’s budget constraints.
Moore added that a full pause on the project would be more costly in the end. “When we implemented a one-year pause that assumed a very drastic reduction or kind of turndown of the entire program and then a very large cost to sort of re-engage next year and the year after,” he said.
“The issue for me is whether we can afford it, and what our priorities are,” Pines replied.
The meeting on Friday is the last for outgoing AOC director Bill Vickrey who has been hammered by legislators and judges over a series of controversies involving the administrative office’s handling of money.
The night before that last meeting, council members gathered for Vickrey’s retirement at San Francisco’s opulent and historic Merchants Exchange Building where the ball room rents for $8500 a night.
The building’s leasing service said the administrative office charged guests to attend and said they knew of no organization that sponsored the party. A spokesperson for the AOC said no state funds were used for the going away party.
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