Governor’s Budget Is In, and the Fight Begins

The Governator released his May revised budget on Friday and he seems to have given the courts a wee bit more than they asked for.  His budget calls for $3.43 billion for the courts.  And though it may seem like that may answer everyone’s prayers, it doesn’t really.  In fact all sides with an invested interest in how that money gets allocated have begun the fight with one of the main battlegrounds being the multi-billion court software program.  As the Courthouse News Service tells it, both sides are fighting hard to get their viewpoints out in front to convince people how their respective sides are in the right, with their opposition in the wrong.

From the Courthouse News Service:

On the other side of the issue, some judges have gone to the legislature to sell the new computer system with a video presentation.

Judge Glen Reiser of Ventura County Superior Court, a long time advocate of the centralized computer sytem, met with members of the legislature last month to answer questions about the system called Court Case Management System. Reiser said that after presenting the video to legislators, “I got the impression that they were hugely receptive.”

Countering that position, trial judges in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento argue that the benefits of the centralized computer system are outweighed by its $1.3 billion cost. One judge said the courts could have their own space shuttle for that kind of money.

Reiser answered that point by saying the new system will ultimately “save the courts tens of millions of dollars.”

“Change is threatening to some people,” Reiser added. “I love my colleagues to death, but the reason some people become judges is because they love tradition. Anytime you introduce new technology, there is going to be some push back. You have to look at the age of the judge and where they are on the technology curve.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino answered back, saying it is not the technology he opposes, rather it is the projected cost.

“Judges routinely ask whether the benefits of a certain choice are outweighed by the costs,” he said. “In the case of the case management system, the answer is the very slender benefits do not outweigh the costs. The projected cost of the system is $1.3 billion — an amount that is nearly sufficient for the Administrative Office of the Courts to purchase its own space shuttle.”

Well, it may be true that the AOC could have spent that $1.3 billion to “purchase its own space shuttle” as Judge Maino so eloquently puts it. But could we even count on the AOC to know how to launch it? Or would they need to spend another $1.3 billion on software that “might” do that?

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10 responses to “Governor’s Budget Is In, and the Fight Begins

  1. Since they want to debate this, how about opening the matter up to a competitive demonstration? Pick one or two counties not involved currently in CCMS and which are either all still on paper or have a legacy system that is on the verge of collapse.

    If those backing CCMS are so sure they’re right, they should have no fear of such a competition.

  2. Judge Reiser’s comments echo the spin the AOC has put on CCMS from the beginning – if you question the CCMS project you are afraid of, or don’t understand, technology.

    This argument is based on the premise that CCMS is the only technology available to the courts. It is not. Courts, e.g. Napa, are able to provide many of the purported benefits of CCMS such as e-filing to its users at a fraction of the anticipated costs of CCMS.

    There are many other off the shelf systems out there that can provide courts with proven technology. I know the AOC will argue they did a study and it would costs almost $1.0 billion for each court to purchase its own system. Anyone who looks at the AOC’s costs analysis of these commerical systems will see that the estimated costs are grossly inflated. It would costs less than half of the $1.0 billion the AOC estimated for each court to get its own system. Of course, this assumes each court needs its own system. There are already approx. 15 courts on Sustain. Why would these courts need new systems????

    Likewise, much of the criticism of CCMS does not relate to the proposed technology but the lack of planning and project management. Before beginning this project the AOC never seemed to give any attention to whether what works in a large court, will work in a small court. Yet only large courts were involved in the V2 and V3 projects and it was not until the end of the design stage that the AOC allowed small courts to provide input into V4. And that was only because the large courts could no longer afford to provide staff resouces in the form of subject matter experts the conultant requried to complete the design.

    There has never been a published budget for the V4 project. Nor has the AOC ever identified a source of funding for the project. Think about that from a public policy perspective – the AOC has been plowing ahead with a project it admits will cost more than a $1.0 billion and they have never known how they were going to pay for it. Never.

    There should be an open and honest debate. This would require critics like myself to be open to considering the AOC’s arguments that CCMS is, in fact, the best way to meet the courts’ technology needs in the future. It would also require the JC/AOC to listen and be open to the possibility that CCMS may have been a misguided policy decision from the beginning. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen.

  3. Ray O'Light

    The CIO report supports continuation of CCMS.

    “Both sides” or “battlegrounds” are within the same entity … the judicial branch.

    A point will be reached for true consensus regarding serious matters before the branch.

    Whether it happens before or after the November 2, 2010 California general election is up to the members of the California bench. I will no longer use this forum for that debate, but others will for as long as they need to.

    Good luck to all.

  4. “Reiser answered that point by saying the new system will ultimately “save the courts tens of millions of dollars.””

    I am curious where Reiser gets his facts from, assuming they ever get the system to work properly, how can this system possible save any money?

  5. Tony Maino

    I do not believe the CIO (The OCIO) report is favorable to CCMS. In brief:

    Page 11: The project completion date has been pushed back from January 2010 to September 2010 due to “issues discovered” As the report points out on the same page the AOC has spent 386 million to date on this 8 year project. This is not,in my opinion, a clean bill of health when one discovers “issues” after this length of time and this expenditure of money

    Page 16: The report points out that at initation the AOC did not perform a formal business plan until 2007. This is 5 years after the AOC decided to start CCMS. The report does not have to point out the obvious: it is not a “best practice” to write up a formal business plan 5 years late.

    Page 16: The AOC says that CCMS will save money. The report says,”Without more complete information the OCIO is unable to take a position on the absolute value of the project”.
    Later at the end of page 16 and into page 17 there is this sentence: “From a systematic perspective, because some of the baseline costs for the items above were not studied in detail, the intangible nature of some project benefits, and because the AOC does not have a standardized cost and expenditure model; a set monetary value (expense cap) for the system is immpossible to determine.” My goodness. The AOC wanted to shine in this report and they cannot even give the OCIO the information it needs? One does not have to read between the lines to know that the OCIO is skeptical of the AOC opinions and nunbers.

    Page 18: The report says: “The AOC has been challenged in managing the scope, schedule and cost of the CCMS project partially due to incomplete information about business requirements and processes during the initiation stage, the complexity of the project, and external factors impacting the project.” Later on this page there is this statement: “Additionally, the AOC does not have formal project management practices and tools in place, such as standard methods or tools for estimating. tracking and reporting on project costs. This makes determining the precise level of expenditure difficult and reported numbers subject to interpretation.” I could be wrong but all of the above indicates to me that the OCIO is skeptical of what the AOC is doing and the numbers generated from what they are doing.

    There is a lot more but I am going to stop here. I hope everyone reads this report. I will close by a quote from the conclusion of the report at page 24. “The CCMS project has been challenged to date with scope,schedule, and cost definition and control due to incomplete information, early lack of project management processes during the initiation stage, and the size and complexity of the effort. Despite these setbacks and future risks, the OCIO believes the project is at a point where there is nore reason to move foward than to stop the project.”

    My translation: The AOC has already spent 386 million so we ought to go ahead and take a chance it will work and be completed on schedule and not cost more than the 1.3 billion the AOC says it will cost.

    • JusticeCalifornia

      Thank you, Judge Maino, for pointing out the most interesting passages of the report.

      Although I am completely supportive of the concept of readily available computerized information, I think this particular recommendation to move forward on Ron George’s CCMS project may fall into the “garbage in, garbage out ” category. (Is this a forecast of what is to come from the JLAC audits?)

      The following is most interesting, for those of us who have seen a lot of judicial branch obfuscation:

      “Additionally, the AOC does not have formal project management practices and tools in place, such as standard methods or tools for estimating. tracking and reporting on project costs. This makes determining the precise level of expenditure difficult and reported numbers subject to interpretation.”

      Personally, I think this means the AOC has in some fashion indicated that it has spent $386 million, but because the financial records ALLEGEDLY were not kept in a “formal” or “standard” fashion, the REAL number remains unknown.

      ummmm……current top court leadership has a multi-billion dollar judicial budget, courtesy of CA taxpayers, but “the AOC does not have formal project management practices and tools in place, such as standard methods or tools for estimating. tracking and reporting on project costs”?

      Sorry, I come from AOC-protected Marin, where court records are kept, but then altered and/or destroyed, at will. I don’t buy it.

      Government Code 6200.

  6. Judge Maino, and others. Do you really want to put an end to the expenditure of scarce judicial branch money on CCMS? Seriously? Then challenge the backers of CCMS to have a competition. With me. Pick a county that’s in desperate straits. A county that will cooperate in a demonstration. I’ll have them up and running a modern system in nothing flat that will totally blow CCMS away. It will run on standard Windows computers outfitted with MS Office and other standard, basic applications.

    All I hear is whining but there’s no action. My wife, who has seen me write far more complicated software in a week or so, likens this situation to someone who wants to be rescued but they complain when the rescuer comes and has the wrong color life preserver to suit the drowning man’s tastes.

    This is just plain crazy.

  7. localcourtautonomy

    Sacramento Told to Toe Line on CCMS
    The Recorder

    By Cheryl Miller

    May 17, 2010

    SACRAMENTO — A Judicial Council committee has ordered Sacramento County Superior Court leaders not to follow through with plans to unplug their troubled computer system from a remote, branch-controlled server.

    But Sacramento Presiding Judge Steven White on Friday called the executive and planning committee’s order invalid and said his court will continue work to bring the system under local control.

    “We have a responsibility to make our court work, to use our data system in a fashion that serves the court rather than hampers the court,” White said.

    The committee order and subsequent refusal is the latest sparring between the Judicial Council and the Sacramento court over the Court Case Management System. Sacramento judges have complained that the computer system is slow, prone to frequent failures, expensive to fix and incompatible with basic word processing needs. The judicial branch has launched the $1.3 billion CCMS with the goal of linking every California court with each other and with law enforcement agencies.

    At a public event last month , Sacramento court leaders announced that they would disconnect their hardware from CCMS’ Arizona-based vendor server so they could coordinate fixes to the system locally. Courts in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties already house their own servers.

    After the announcement, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts said that while the branch preferred that all courts use the central server, Sacramento could choose to leave. But in a May 11 letter (.pdf) to White, executive and planning committee Chairman Richard Huffman, a justice on the Fourth District Court of Appeal, ordered the court not to spend any money on new computer equipment or staff for the system move. He also directed the AOC to work with the court on its concerns and report back to the Judicial Council.

    “The council should have the opportunity to consider and respond to the court’s concerns before the Court takes action to effect any transfer,” Huffman wrote.

    Huffman cited Rule of Court 10.11(a) in issuing the committee’s “direction.”

    White said he and other Sacramento judges “do not agree that there is any rule of court that stands for that proposition.” State law is clear that local judges run local courts, he said.

    “We don’t have an objection to CCMS,” White said. “What we want … is to simply be treated the same way as San Diego and Orange County and Los Angeles already have been, which is to host their own database,” he said. “I do not intend to have us singled out by the AOC.”

    Huffman’s letter cited an April report by the state Office of the Chief Information Officer that recommended that CCMS be centrally controlled. But White called the citation “selective reading” of the report, which also criticized the project’s planning and oversight.

    Just because Sacramento is an early participant in CCMS’ development, White said, “We should [not] now be a hostage to the AOC and the Judicial Council.”

    White said the court does not have a projected date for the system transfer.

  8. Has anyone taken a good look at the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the marketing of CCMS? At least two spin videos have been produced, numerous articles and speeches written, and supportive judicial officers as well as AOC employees are paraded to Sacramento periodically (expenses paid) to lobby the Legislature! Are the taxpayers not only paying the salaries and expenses of the participating lobbyists as well as absorbing the costs of the courts closed, the work not done, during their travels?
    Furthermore, many of us who have worked with the AOC have been astonished by the amount of paper generated by even the simplest of assignments. Every Committee meeting generates a binder filled with (frequently unnecessary and duplicative) background materials. Witness the pride taken by the commentator in the CCMS-spin video produced in January touting the 18,000 pages of manual developed to date in the production of this behemoth! Even the mailing room of AOC spares no expense, avoiding the folding machine to send one-page documents in legal-sized manila envelopes.
    We observers would welcome an internal audit of the AOC by an auditor with a sense of frugality and fiscal responsibility.

    • FWIW, a modern User’s Manual for software that just plain works should be fairly short. And not on paper but embedded in the software. And a description of requirements should be mostly oral from intended end-user to programmer and should be completely non-technical and just in plain English. And the software should be designed to simply help out the worker.

      But …. that’s just the way it’s done around here.