Judicial officials grilled over computer boondoggle

February 15, 2011 8:23:55 PM PST
In Sacramento Tuesday, state judicial officials were grilled over bungled contracts and huge cost overruns in a massive computer project for the court system. The state auditor released a long awaited report last week, blasting the controversial court computer system. The audit says mismanagement seriously jeopardizes the project. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee met Tuesday to go over that report.

"This is certainly one of the most sobering audits I've read in my time in the Legislature," St. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Stockton, said.

"This is about fiscal responsibility; this is about best practices," Assm. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said.

The legislator's criticisms were blunt and damning. They questioned the propriety of a court computer system that the state audit says may cost nearly $2 billion.

"Are we going to let more courtrooms go dark? Are we going to see more payoffs as the AOC moves ahead with CCMS?" Assm. Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long beach, asked.

The Court Case Management System (CCMS) is supposed to link all 58 county trial courts together. It is the brainchild of the Judicial Council, which sets statewide policy for the courts.

The project is mired with serious glitches, cost overruns and delays. The state audit says the Judicial Council and its administrative arm, the Office of the Courts mismanaged the project by failing to control costs.

"This project is at substantial risk of failure," California state auditor Elaine Howle said. "Poor cost estimates and uncertain funding have plagued this system."

The audit also said the Judicial Council failed to disclose the full extent of the projected costs to the Legislature.

Almost all who testified had harsh words for the project.

"I see it as a train wreck; it has not worked at all in my court," Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Steve White said.

"They have shaken our confidence in both our executives and our bench," San Diego Court Employees Association spokesperson Warren Smith said.

William Vickrey, administrator of the courts, promised more transparency.

"We also will follow every single recommendation that the state auditor has made," Vickrey said.

But when he spoke with ABC7 after the hearing, Vickrey appeared to refute the audit's findings.

"I don't think we've wasted money; I think everything we've done has been done to develop a successful product," Vickrey said.

Legislators will introduce at least three different bills by the end of this week. They are designed to reduce the power of the Judicial Council and provide for more transparency in the Council's financial affairs.


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