Big problems for controversial court computer system

February 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The California State Auditor's Office issued a scathing report Tuesday, saying its audit of the State Judicial Council's expensive and controversial trial court case computer project found significant management and financial problems.

The project, called CCMS (California Court Case Management System), was conceived nine years ago by the State Judicial Council, which sets policy and administers the budget for the 58 trial courts in California. The computer project is designed to connect all of the courts to one system when completed with a goal of making it easier for judges to manage their caseloads. But the price tag for CCMS has skyrocketed from an initial cost estimate of 250 million dollars to 1.3 billion. The audit projects its final cost to reach close to $2 billion.

So far, only a handful of courts have implemented parts of the system, which has been plagued by glitches and cost overruns.

The state audit found the system was "inadequately planned...and did not analyze whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts' needs."

"I think it's a significant indictment of the entire project from beginning to middle to end," Judge Maryanne Gilliard said.

Gilliard, a Sacramento judge, is a member of the Alliance of California Judges, a reformist group which has been the leading critic of CCMS. Gilliard says the state auditor's report vindicates members of the alliance.

"We've been saying for two years now that this was an out of control, misuse and misspending of scarce public resources," Gilliard said.

The audit said further that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the operating arm of the Judicial Council, failed to "provide contemporaneous analysis and documentation supporting key decisions on the project's scope and direction."

Judges critical of the project say the millions spent on CCMS could have prevented courthouse closings and furloughs, a possibility again this year because of the continuing state budget deficit.

"If they weren't taking trial court money to feed this insatiable project, these courts wouldn't have closed," Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steve White said.

Auditors also concluded that the AOC did not adequately control the cost and scope of the project over the past seven years, making 102 changes or amendments to the contracts which increased the cost from $33 million to $310 million.

The report says that because of poor management, CCMS "may be at substantial risk of future quality problems."

The Judicial Council issued a statement saying it "agrees with most of the recommendations made in an audit of the CCMS...and in many instances has already adopted practices and policies consistent with the recommendations made (by the State Auditor.)"

Assm. Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who spearheaded the audit, says the council should suspend the project.

"At this point we need a time out; we need for them to stop, we need to review it and make some decisions about how to go forward," Lowenthal said.

Justice Terence Bruiniers heads the Judicial Council committee which oversees CCMS. He says they should have a final version of CCMS by mid-April.

"There have been some issues with the project, management that we need to address, we've already taken steps to do that," Bruiniers said.


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