Tech in Tatters; Court Kills Computer Upgrade

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

[UPDATED] Blaming the state’s fiscal crisis and high costs, the state court’s governing body voted to kill off its troubled technology program intended to unify all 58 county trial courts through a single computerized system.

The Judicial Council, acting in a special session, voted to find other ways to use the California Courts Case Management System (CCMS) technology and the state’s investment in unique software to help courts with failing computer systems.

“The council’s decision to stop deployment of CCMS was responsible and prudent in view of our budget situation and the facts we gathered on the actual costs of deployment,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

It was estimated deployment of the final piece of CCMS would cost $343 million for both one-time costs and ongoing support costs through fiscal year 2020-21.  To date, the courts , have spent $333 million on versions V3, which handled civil, small claims, probate and mental health cases and V4, intended to handle all types of cases as well as provide the much-touted data exchange and public access to electronic records across the state.

But over the last decade, the program originally envisioned as costing $260 million in 2004 had ballooned to nearly $2 billion today.

During the day-long session in San Francisco, witnesses criticized the software and asked that it be scrapped or urged the council to press ahead with some way to provide electronic case filing and tracking to the public and legal community.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kent Hamlin, head of the Alliance of Judges, called the CCMS a “failed effort.”  He said the technology is “clumsy and difficult to operate.”

Jon Streeter, president of the state Bar Association, spoke in support of the courts pursuing an electronic filing system for the courts – any electronic filing system.

“I’ve been traveling the state, talking to lawyers and what I’m hearing is that there is an overwhelming need for automated filing,” he said.

But that is not to be, at least for the foreseeable future.

Nearly 13 years ago, the judiciary embarked on an effort to provide a unified computer system to allow management of cases and communication electronically among all 58 counties, as well as providing electronic case filing for lawyers and the public.  It was to replace 70 individual case systems in use among the state’s courts.

But it became bogged down in cost overruns, an economic recession and disgruntled court employees, angered by layoffs and courtroom closures, found the system time-consuming to operate.  They asked the judges to choose jobs over computers.

Last week an Assembly committee stopped funding to deploy any more of the system for now.  A year ago the state’s auditor found the program mismanaged by the Administrative Office of the Courts and called for reforms.

By contrast, the federal courts have had online filing and nationwide access to court filings for nearly 15 years through a system known as PACER.  Lawyers are allowed to file documents and the public can view documents from court cases anywhere in the country via the system.  The public is charged 10 cents a page to view documents and a per minute charge for time spent on line.

Three options

The Council considered three options: going ahead with deployment of the latest version of the software in the San Luis Obispo courts and followed by 10 additional counties.  Second option is to wait one year in hopes of a better economy and then deploy San Luis Obispo and 10 other counties.  Lastly, the third option is to kill the system.  This would still generate costs to maintain the system in counties that have already adopted the programs.

The CCMS Internal Committee and AOC have also negotiated a $16 million reimbursement from Deloitte Consulting, which developed the software, to pay for project delays.

The council directed the CCMS committee to work with the trial courts to look for ways to provide technology solutions that will get some use out of document management systems, e-filing capabilities and other electronic data to help courts and public.

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