Stuck

     This fall’s courtship dance between California’s judicial leaders and a billionaire drug magnate was all about the money, the many millions needed to pay for an IT boondoggle.
     The dance failed and, now in winter, the leaders are looking for another way to pay the fees demanded by Deloitte Consulting to work on the system. They certainly won’t find it in the governor’s new budget.
     The judiciary budget announced last week by Governor Brown has one and only one item that is not filled in with a dollar number. The box next to the IT project says “TBD,” which stands for “To Be Determined.”
     That means that either the leaders are not telling where the money will come from, or they don’t know.
     Indeed, it seems more and more obvious that the high-level bureaucrats in the court administrative office have led California’s court system into financial quicksand. They have already spent a half-billion dollars on the IT system, called the Court Case Management System, that has been rejected by most of California’s trial courts, including the Big Kahuna, L.A. Superior.
     “The project seems to be imploding,” says retired L.A. Judge Charles Horan. “Nonetheless, the Chief Justice insists that CCMS is the judiciary’s way out of poverty.”
     He was referring to the fact that a couple big California courts — the very ones that have adopted the controversial IT system — have also gone into the publishing business.
     They sell records online, delaying press and public access to the records until they can put them up for sale. That fits in with the bureaucrats’ pitch. They attempt to justify the investment in the CCMS system partly by saying it will generate millions from those sales.
     But the costs generated by the CCMS system really are extraordinary and cannot be covered by interfering with public access in order to make some online sales. In addition to the half-billion already spent on a clunky system that is now ten years old, the state Auditor says it will take another $1.4 billion to finish it.
     But the money has run out.
     So where does that leave the four loyalist courts that followed the bureaucrats into the morass.
     It leaves them in a position of peril.
     A judge told me last month that his court had asked for two things before adopting the new IT system: access to the underlying code and the ability to run it on local servers. Those two requests were rejected by the central administrative office.
     So the trial court said, no deal.
     But that means that any local court that did make that deal, such as Orange County, San Diego, Ventura and Sacramento, is now dependent on the central bureaucrats for maintenance of the software. And the bureaucrats in turn are dependent on the private consultant that has been charging California about a million a week.
     And what all that means is that the money will be paid, because the bureaucrats have little choice.
     So where will it “be determined” that those millions will come from.
     In the past, much of the money for CCMS came from a trust fund set aside for California’s trial courts. That is one big reason so many trial court judges despise the project, because it takes money away from funds intended to run their courts.
     Now, in contrast to a series of cuts for next year, the judicial budget does show that the trial court trust fund will get a $50 million bump based on higher filing fees. It also happens that the one simple estimate of CCMS cost, pressed out of an AOC official by L.A. judges, was that California pays Deloitte roughly $1 million a week to work on the system.
     So $50 million would just about maintain that level of pay for a year.
     Maybe the trust fund is not where the money will come from, because the starving trial courts surely need it.
     But my bet is that the central bureaucrats will not cut off payments to the private consultant, because they can’t. And the money will come, as it has in the past, from funds intended for the state’s beleaguered local courts.

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