Judicial Council Pulls Plug on CCMS…My Work Here Is Done

In a stunning turnabout from the position that the Judicial Council has regularly taken regarding CCMS, today the judicial members of the Judicial Council voted to halt implementation of the much maligned and criticized CCMS software program.

From the Courthouse News Service:

Ultimately, the council found the courts as a whole could no longer afford to support the project and decided to allocate $8.6 million to shelve the Court Case Management system and salvage any useful technology from it, including the ability for lawyers to file documents online.

In other words, the JC is mothballing the project and they’re suggesting that courts pick through the scrapheap to see if anything worthwhile can be salvaged from it. Oh my how the mighty have fallen.

But I come here today not to bury CCMS, and certainly not to praise it, but to remind everyone that CCMS cost California almost $500 million in the middle of the Great Recession with county courts shutting down courtrooms and courthouses, and layoffs sweeping the land. Is it any wonder that the JC finally got a clue? Even if it was two and a half years later?

I tip my hat to the original followers of Thetis from the AOC who let me know what was going on with CCMS back in 2009. And I salute the Alliance of California Judges for leading the fight against CCMS. And what can I say about Judicial Council Watcher? Those folks took an idea and made it better. While I got stopped blogging due to life commitments, they soldiered on creating a website that I encourage all to visit.

And as for me, although I know there are many more court-related issues that people are still waging battles over, (I’m looking at you AB1208) I am officially pulling the plug on this great venture I started almost three years ago. I wish everyone the best of luck and again, I encourage everyone to visit the Judicial Council Watcher.

Maybe I’ll see you around there in the comments section.  😉

Will Debt Ceiling Deal Negatively Affect California’s Judiciary Budget?

The eyes of the nation have been on Washington these past weeks waiting to see whether a deal over raising the nation’s debt ceiling would materialize. Now that the president has signed a deal that nobody is happy about, the question on many minds is how much this will affect the budgets of all fifty states which get millions in federal spending in one form or another.

Which then poses this question for California ’s judiciary: How much more will be cut from the judiciary’s budget next year? Notice how I said will be instead of may be. That’s because I believe the $300 million in budget cuts suffered by the judiciary is just the beginning. Maybe I’m just being too much of a pessimist, but if recent reports about the nation’s economy and jobs outlook hold true, it will be almost inevitable that the governor and the legislature will come knocking on the judiciary’s door with further cuts.

And when those cuts do come, all eyes will be on the Judicial Council and the AOC once again to see what their response will be. More importantly, people will want to know whether both entities will develop a new plan of action or whether they will continue to shift the shouldering of cuts onto local trial courts.

That may be a solution in the best of times when local courts have reserves to cover whatever cuts the JC and AOC dish out, but as we all know, these are not the best of times and next year isn’t looking so hot either. Those counties that may be able to avoid layoffs and diminished court hours this year may find themselves in a whole different position come next year. Today it’s San Francisco , Stanislaus, and Alameda . Tomorrow it may be Los Angeles , Ventura , Orange or who knows.

One thing is certain and that is the uncertainty of the economy for both our state and nation. And when things are so uncertain, is it wise for the JS and the AOC to continue as usual? Or is it time, for newer perspectives and priorities? The latter question is one many would answer with a resounding yes.

Depleted Court Funds Leads to Diminished Access to Justice

Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post has written a detailed examination of how access to justice is being impeded by slashed court funding. And the news in California may be horrible, but it’s just as bad in other parts of the country.

The article does cover how California’s legislature slashed funding for the judiciary which has affected state budgets with San Francisco bearing the brunt, for now. But what the article doesn’t cover is the years of wasted monies and mismanagement by the AOC that has led us here.

Video of San Francisco Superior Court Protesting Cuts

The following is video produced by SEIU presenting employees of the San Francisco Superior Court who protested outside AOC headquarters on the 22nd of July.

Domino Watch: Monterey County Superior

Monterey faces the prospect of bargaining with court employees in order to make up for the cuts that the court will face this year.

Facing a $1.3million reduction in an already diminished budget, Monterey County Superior Court officials will begin talks next week with union leaders representing 165 employees.

Court spokeswoman Nona Medina said the court hopes to identify ways to make the necessary cuts without eliminating jobs. Among the options are work furloughs, pay cuts and a reduction in court-service hours.

Domino Watch: Solano County Superior Court

Initial news from Solano County paints a picture of a court that’s taken a hit, but appears to be prepared for it.

According to Court Executive Officer Brian Taylor, Solano County Superior Court’s baseline budget of about $25.5 million is set to take a $2.5 million hit. While that equates to about a 10 percent cut, Taylor said the disparity is attributed to an ongoing $1 million reduction carried over from fiscal year 2010-11 in addition to deficit spending for retirements clocking in at about $220,000.

How the funding loss will affect the landscape of Solano County’s courts is yet to be determined, according to Presiding Judge D. Scott Daniels.

“We’re going to have to tighten our belts. But we’re OK for right now,” Daniels said. “There are no present plans to furlough employees, close our doors or lay off employees. But we do have to plan for our future.”

Domino Watch: San Mateo Superior Court

The news from San Mateo appears to be good.

San Mateo County Superior Court will receive a $2.72 million cut instead of the anticipated $5 million in the current fiscal year, said Court Executive Officer John Fitton.

The court has been braced for $9 million in cuts over the next two years, starting with $5 million and followed by another $4 million. The latest news eases the initial hit to $2.72 million in fiscal year 2011-12, followed by an anticipated $5.4 million in 2012-13.

“It’s quite a bit better than the $5 million we feared but the problem really exists in the next fiscal year,” he said.

Domino Watch: Alameda County Superior Court

The followers of Themis in Alameda Superior Court (ASC) have alerted me that layoff letters have been sent to court employees. The details are still a bit sketchy but it appears that ASC may be following San Francisco Superior Court’s lead in restructuring its civil division.  Initial reports are that those affected are clerks, court reporters, and court supervisors.  Total number of layoff notices sent is unclear at this time.

More news and details to come as they develop. Of course, if you know more about this, leave a comment.

Domino Watch: Tehama County Superior Court

The news from Tehama is not good.

“We did not even know exactly what our budget would be until nearly a month after the beginning of the fiscal year,” Scheuler said. “Now that we know that figure, we are certain that we will experience a massive deficit without even further spending cuts.”

Employees will be asked to make further concessions, and layoffs have not been ruled out, he said. Labor negotiations will open in August, and after they are completed the court will have a better idea of the necessary changes that need to be made to meet the budget crisis.

Greece Is To San Francisco What Portugal Is To…

Bill Girdner of Courthouse News Service totally understands the possible consequences of the Judicial Council’s choice to stay the course while ignoring the cries for help from county courts up and down California.

San Francisco’s court could be compared to Greece, the first of the dominos to tumble.

“San Francisco may have been the first trial court to fall,” San Francisco’s presiding judge, Katherine Feinstein, told the Judicial Council last week. “But I know that others are soon to follow, and you know that too.”

So which one is next.

Which court will be California’s Portugal, the next one that has to take radical measures such as closing courtrooms and laying off hundreds of staff.

Maybe Ventura fits that bill.

And although Mr. Girdner names Ventura as a possible candidate to become Portugal or Spain, I can think of many other counties that would be up for the running.

Judge Feinstein was spot on to say that San Francisco would only be the first to fall with others “soon to follow.” Now it’s going to be a favorite pastime for court employees to take bets on which court will follow San Francisco down the rabbit hole to the AOC and Judicial Council’s mad Wonderland.