SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Staring down the barrel of a legislative audit, California's judicial administrators are scrambling to hire 18 technical workers at a rough cost of $3 million to manage a controversial and expensive IT project, prompting a letter this week from trial judges to California's new chief justice blasting the move as "reckless" and one that "will cause further embarrassment and irreparable damage."
Just four weeks before a report by the state's chief auditor scheduled for Feb. 8th, court administrators issued two requests for proposals, one seeking to hire 18 new technical workers to maintain a massive computer system, and another looking for document scanning software that could give local courts the ability to sell documents online.
Over the past year, the Administrative Office of the Courts has faced virulent criticism over the estimated $1.3 billion cost of a project to connect all of California's trial courts through the Court Case Management System. The most recent hiring proposal is being justified as a "cost saving" measure.
But neither the proposal nor its logic sits well with many of the state's trial judges.
"It is clear that the Bureau of State Audits will be releasing its report on CCMS in early February. If these actions pertain to that report, then the bottomless pit that is CCMS is even deeper than any of us could envision," said Judge Maryanne Gilliard of Sacramento Superior Court.
"How spending up to $3.65 million per year saves money is a concept the public will have a difficult time understanding," said Gilliard in an interview. "At a time when courts are closing early to the public, important and vital court services are curtailed and court workers are being laid off, the fact that the San Francisco bureaucracy continues to hire unabated is appalling."
The first of the two requests for proposals is dated Jan. 11, announcing an effort by court administrators to take control over maintenance of V-3, an interim version of the new case management system that has been in the hands of Deloitte Consulting.
However the plan is not to hire directly but to use a vendor to hire 18 contract employees with software programming experience at a cost as high as $232,000 per year for some of the jobs to help on systems in San Diego, Orange, Ventura, San Joaquin and Sacramento. Los Angeles uses the system in only one small claims court.
That plan doubles the number of new staff bringing the total to 18 tech workers up from the nine tech workers included in a December request for proposals that was subsequently cancelled.
The hiring of a group of high-priced contract employees comes against the backdrop of a state facing a $28-billion budget shortfall where local courts have been furloughing court staff and closing on some days to save money. The San Francisco courts began closing for a half-day on Fridays earlier this month.