SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - At its meeting Friday, California's Judicial Council voted to give Tehama County Superior Court $272,000 in emergency funding to handle the aftermath of a technology meltdown and approved the next step in Sacramento's bid for a new courthouse.
The Tehama court suffered a huge setback this past July when former IT Director Mark Montalvo, who had been fired on June 26, 2015 over suspicious month-long phone and computer outages, logged into the court administrator account and deleted two hard drives containing the court's phone and computer infrastructure over Independence Day weekend.
The court's phones, e-mail, website, case management system, and saved files were down from July 3 to July 16. Tehama Presiding Judge Todd Bottke told the council the sabotage cost the court nearly half a million dollars.
"It was a disaster in every sense of the word," Bottke said. "Over the Fourth of July weekend, we realized what we were looking at, which was being completely dead in the water. And when I say dead in the water, I mean no telephones coming in and out, no computers, no emails, nothing."
Bottke became presiding judge in December 2015.
He told the council Friday that the court continued to operate, thanks to the heroic efforts of former Presiding Judge John Garaventa and head clerk Caryn Downing.
"We kept the doors open, the court rooms were staffed, and no one experienced a delay in their cases despite what, again, is unthinkable," Bottke said.
The court filed a civil lawsuit against Montalvo in August and is seeking return of property and passwords, plus punitive damages for sabotage. Bottke said he didn't want to discuss the case while it's pending, and added that the court has taken steps to ensure that the court's password information isn't kept by one person.
"This is really a cautionary tale and I can only imagine it happening in a much larger court and what ripple effects that would have," Judge Eric Taylor of Los Angeles, who sits on the council as president of the California Judges Association, said. "So I am really happy that you are looking at it from a risk-management perspective. I think that this is really an Achilles heel for justice."
Sacramento also got the nod from the council to move ahead with plans for a new 53-room courthouse. The court purchased 2.4 acres of rail-yard land adjacent to the Sacramento Main County Jail for $10 million back in October 2014, and working drawings were authorized around the same time.
On Friday, the council approved the project's scope, schedule, and budget. The project is currently budgeted at $50 million. Building costs are estimated to be an additional $390 million, but the council said it would not approve construction until the Legislature agrees to fund it.
The funding dispute goes back to legislation enacted in 2008 to fund the building of new courthouses throughout California, including Sacramento. But when the state fell into a fiscal crisis a year later, lawmakers began to siphon money out of the fund for other state programs - forcing the council to put many of the construction projects on hold indefinitely.
Justice Brad Hill, chair of the Court Facilities Advisory Programs said Friday that "a total of $1.8 billion was swept by other branches of government. And we're hopeful that at some point in time we are going to see some restoration of that money."
Hill said the Sacramento project has progressed slowly since 2009, but his committee has been analyzing every aspect of the design. While the building was originally intended for criminal matters, Hill's committee recently determined it would be more cost-effective to move all of the court's cases to the new site.
"In this day and age, we have to get it right and in this case, we believe that we definitely have," he said, adding, "They need desperately a courthouse in Sacramento. They need a courthouse that is ADA-compliant, that is secure for the citizens of Sacramento and a courthouse that will meet the needs of the citizens of Sacramento for years to come."
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