This Op-Ed piece was published in the Daily Journal and was authored by the Hon. Loren E. McMaster, Sacramento Superior Court judge.
Last year, the Judicial Council took the unprecedented step of ordering all California courts to close the third Wednesday of every month. While we might disagree on the priorities for limited judicial resources, surely all would agree the first priority should be to keep the courts open to serve the public. That’s why a large majority of Sacramento County Superior Court Judges signed a petition last June urging the Administrative Offices of the Court (AOC) to defer expenditures on the AOC’s troubled $1.9 billion dollar proposed computer California Case Management System (CCMS) in order to keep our courts open.
Sacramento County Superior Court is one of the six pilot counties currently using CCMS. As one of Sacramento’s judges who use CCMS on daily basis, I speak from painful experience in urging that further expenditures on this seriously flawed proposal not take precedence over keeping our courts open. Some observations:
First, performance of the system is painfully slow. Parties attempting to file cases with our court must wait an average of 45 minutes at the front counter due to the time required to enter information into CCMS before a case may be filed. The slowness of the CCMS system is compounded by the reduction in clerks available to input this information – positions our court was required to leave unfilled due to funding cuts – imposed in order to continue funding CCMS. In Sacramento, this has resulted in a backlog of over 18,000 documents awaiting entry into CCMS. Our court has met repeatedly with staff from the AOC regarding our problems with CCMS. To date, the AOC and its vendor (Deloitte, LLP) have been unable to effectively address these problems.
Second, though CCMS is billed as a statewide system, it is not. The three largest participants in the pilot project – Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange – have opted to use their own data bases. The current pilot program has thus failed to meet its objectives: CCMS has not demonstrated that it offers an effective, reliable design to computerize California’s records statewide.
Equally troubling are the murky origins of the CCMS project. A diligent search of the records of the AOC available to the public likewise fails to reveal how this project was initiated, what it is supposed to accomplish, how its success or failure is to be measured, or how it was finally approved. What we know is that what started as a $260.2 million dollar project has now morphed into a $1.9 billion dollar excursion -with no end in sight.
Recently, the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Review held a hearing concerning the CCMS project. Staff from the AOC tried to defend the expenditure of scarce taxpayer dollars on a statewide computer system that is not yet fully functional. After nearly five hours of discussion, no one from the AOC could say how much the project would ultimately cost, when it might finally be completed or what it will look like. Since the AOC’s own estimate is that the system is likely to cost approximately $1 million dollars per judge, those questions need answers. That might help to explain why last week Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal formally requested the Bureau of State Audits to investigate and review this costly endeavor.
California continues to face devastating budget deficits. The troubled CCMS project must not take priority over keeping courthouses open.