Courts pour more money into flawed computer system

December 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Are the people responsible for a key part of the state's court system throwing good money after bad? That is what critics believe. Tuesday, the judiciary's policy making body approved spending almost $100 million on a computer system with a history of glitches. Some judges are calling the action irresponsible.

The decision was made Tuesday in a meeting of the Judicial Council, a 21-member group of judges, lawyers and court executives who administer the multi-billion dollar budget for California's courts. Most of the more than $90 million will go towards building the Court Computer Management System (CCMS). The program will link all 58 county trial courts in the state into one computerized system. But the CCMS has been controversial because of its many glitches, delays and rising costs, now estimated at more than $1 billion when it is completed.

Most of the judicial council members who spoke defended the project.

"When I hear judges say it's somehow broken or ineffective, I just don't understand where that comes from," Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss asid.

"This is a plan we've committed now for almost 10 years, we need to see it through," San Diego court executive Mike Roddy said.

But some judges wondered if the money is being spent appropriately.

"It is also a priority to keep the courts open; my view is it ought to be the top priority," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lee Edmon said.

The judicial system this year has been enduring court closures and furloughs because of budget cuts.

Sacramento presiding Judge Steve White believes it is going to get tougher.

"This is the direst budget cycle we've ever seen and there are going to be big cuts that are much worse than this past year," White said.

"They seem to be spending taxpayers money as if it's their own; there's no accountability," Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kent Hamlin said.

White and Hamlin are members of the Alliance of California Judges, a group working for reforms in the judiciary.

"If there's any money to be moved at all, it should be moved to the trial courts, not away from the trial courts," White said.

Michael Yuen could not agree more. He is the chief executive of San Francisco's court system, which is $1.2 million in the hole.

"Every Friday we'll have 25 percent less staff than we normally would have," Yuen said.

San Francisco is one of four county courts which have already told the Judicial Council they will have to cut operations because of the lack of money. Starting in January, in addition to the rolling furloughs, the clerk's office will close early at noon every Friday.

"These limited service hours will mean that its fewer available service time at our windows for our clerks to receive filings," Yuen said.

The Judicial Council passed the allocation almost unanimously, with only two judges voting 'no.' Retiring Chief Justice Ron George, who presides over the council, urged members to approve it.


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