Category Archives: Op-Ed

LA Mayor Villaraigosa: Redirect Court Construction Funds

Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles McCoy got a big boost of support today for his plan of redirecting court construction funds back to courts for day-to-day operations of trial courts with an opinion piece printed in this morning’s Daily Journal written by Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Mayor Villaraigosa lays out the all the unfortunate details we’ve come to understand of the crisis faced by Los Angeles Superior Court.  Forced closures of nine courthouses resulting in 180 closed courtrooms and planned layoffs of 1,800 court employees resulting in a 34% deduction of the court workforce.

The mayor rightly points out that if the doomsday scenario described above pans out, the citizens of Los Angeles will pay the ultimate price.

And because more and more lawsuits are being filed, including many related to the current economic crisis, the courts will rapidly clog up, and long delays extending out not just months, but years, will occur. Justice will not only be delayed; in many cases it will be effectively denied.

And then Mayor Villaraigosa comes out swinging strong for redirecting court construction funds.

This tragedy need not happen. If we set priorities straight, and make access to justice a top priority, as it must always be, we can avoid this.

About $83 million is presently collected in Los Angeles ($280 million statewide) from certain fees and fines created to support future new state courthouse construction under SB 1407, which authorizes the future sale of $5 billion in construction revenue bonds. The Governor and Legislature should seriously consider temporarily redirecting all or part of that revenue stream to keep our existing courtrooms operating. All options should be considered.

It doesn’t make sense to urgently build new courthouses when courtrooms are being closed for lack of adequate funding. If the court’s workforce is cut 34 percent for lack of funding, who will run the new courthouses when they are eventually built? Just as families and businesses across the country have delayed plans for remodeling or new construction, our courts should do the same. Once we are on the other side of the current recession, the income stream can be put back to work on construction projects and the bonds sold.

I urge the Governor and Legislature to seriously consider temporarily redirecting all or part of the courthouse construction revenue stream to keep our current courtrooms operational. This will not only save nearly 1,400 jobs here in Los Angeles, it would also serve the greater good of Angelenos and preserve justice in our city. Once we are on the other side of the current recession, the income stream can be put back to work on the construction projects and bonds sold.

New and renovated courthouses are important, but justice comes first.

Op-Ed Piece Claims “Deploying CCMS Is Common Sense”

In an op-ed piece published in the Daily Journal yesterday a group of CCMS supporters comprised of judges and court executive officers from San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura continued to bang the drum in support of the AOC/Judicial Council’s contention that CCMS will be the savior of the California superior courts. The group claimed in their letter that currently courts are paying exorbitant amounts of money to run antiquated computer software that does not meet the needs of superior courts throughout the state.

The cost-saving implications for a unitary system are obvious. Together we three courts alone spend almost $2.6 million annually to maintain inefficient, outdated local case management systems. These monies should be better spent in the deployment of CCMS, which promises economies of scale as it is rolled out throughout the state.

However, nowhere in their piece did they even mention that it’s cost California almost $2 billion dollars to save millions. Let me repeat that again in case you missed that. We’re spending BILLIONS to save MILLIONS. Is it any wonder there’s such a large wide swath of the population that doesn’t trust the government to spend its monies wisely? And they didn’t bother to mention that this project is almost ten years old.

And no. Even though the op-ed piece was published on April 1st, I don’t think the citizens of California should be fooled by their arguments. I’m all for a consolidated software program with all courts integrated into it. I’m just not sure it needed to cost billions and take almost longer to complete than the building of the Great Wall of China.

Op-Ed: Secret Judicial Council Vote Rewrote Branch Governance Policy

Is it possible that the Judicial Council and AOC could totally rewrite the Judicial Branch Governance Policies, and then somehow enact them in secret? Is it further possible that the AOC could subsequently totally rewrite the California Rules of Court pertaining to branch governance, including making an unprecedented grant of policy-making power to the AOC, and get those rules passed without any council discussion, and without the public and members of the judiciary being given any chance to comment prior to their enactment? This sounds simply preposterous, of course, but read on.

Click here to continue reading.

Op-Ed: New Computer System Is Trouble Laden

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.

Op-Ed: The Twelve Days of an AOC Christmas

I had this sent in by a former AOC employee who wanted to share this with everyone. Happy Holidays to all AOC Watcher readers.

The Twelve Days of an AOC Christmas

On the first day of Christmas the AOC gave to me
A pink slip in a bare tree.

On the second day of Christmas the AOC gave to me
Two unlicensed contractors
And a pink slip in a bare tree.

On the third day of Christmas the AOC gave to me
Three bungled audits
Two unlicensed contractors
And a pink slip in a bare tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas the AOC gave to me
Four budget cuts
Three bungled audits
Two unlicensed contractors
And a pink slip in a bare tree.

Continue reading

Another Day, Another Anti-AOC Editorial

This time it’s the Pasadena-Star news throwing their two cents in on how the AOC’s appears to be mismanaging the way the judicial system in this state is run.

Last year the Legislature passed, and the governor approved, Senate Bill 1407. It created an income stream from new fees and fines to support courthouse construction and renovation.

The $5 billion revenue bonds for courthouse construction have yet to be sold, but the new fees and fines that started Jan. 1 of this year are accumulating at the rate of about $280 million a year.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if we’re on the brink of closing our existing courts, the thought of spending $5 billion on new courts teeters on insanity. And about $73 million of that was earmarked for L.A. County. That money should immediately be put to use to renovate and save what we already have.

The problem is an unregulated body called the Administrative Office of the Courts controls the money and refuses to budge. In fact, it gave funding authorization this week for a new courthouse in Glendale. That logic escapes us.

Continue reading here.

Sac Bee Op-Ed Calls AOC’s Cost Estimates for CCMS “Fishy”

Clark Kelso had his say in the Sacramento Bee when he came to the defense of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the over $1 billion cost estimates for the AOC’s CCMS computer project. Now the Bee has published another op-ed piece this time attacking Kelso’s assertion that CCMS would cost no more than $1.4 billion. The piece, written by Richard Power, who is a columnist for the Daily Recorder as well as a practicing attorney and software writer, says that any new software for the courts should cost no “more than $1 million or $2 million.”

Kelso stated the cost figures were grossly inflated and the courts’ system shouldn’t cost any more than the $1.4 billion child support project. That project was done twice at huge cost. The $1.4 billion price tag for the second version was ridiculous. The Administrative Office of the Courts told the Legislature the system would cost $1.75 billion.

Contrary to what Kelso opined, $1.4 billion is way off the charts. The cost to write all the specialty software for managing court data and all the specialty software to allow associated agencies to share data and to educate users should not be more than $1 million or $2 million.

I’m no computer software expert, that’s for sure. So I’m not sure what to make of Mr. Power’s claims that the software for the entire court system that’s supposed to do everything the AOC claims it’ll do except power the Universe will cost no more than a couple million. That’s a HUGE world of difference than the $1.4 or $1.75 billion dollar figures that some estimate CCMS will wind up costing taxpayers.

But is Mr. Power’s cost estimates anymore unreasonable than the billion dollar estimates given by the AOC? According to Mr. Power, for the $500 million the AOC has already spent on CCMS the agency should have had SOMETHING to show for the money it spent.

Software to handle court case data and share it with associated agencies could be created in a matter of weeks.

About $500 million has been spent so far on the court system and not a single county is fully operational. The final software version just for the court portion hasn’t even been written after years of effort. And they haven’t even started figuring out how to share data bilaterally with associated agencies.

Yikes!  $500 million is a whole lot of money to spend without some evidence that you’re creating something.  But I’m sure the PR department deep within the recesses of the AOC offices are cranking up the old Imperial mimeographs to start counteracting Mr. Power’s op-ed piece.  Expect the CCMS supporters to come out with blasters firing.

However, there is one thing that Mr. Power says in his op-ed piece that I’m sure not even the myopic AOC could take offense with.  When he says that, “It’s time for some fiscal responsibility and common sense,” he’s only repeating what critics of the CCMS have been saying for years.  And as we’ve seen so far, contrary to whatever the AOC may claim, “fiscal responsibility” and “common sense” are two things that are in short supply over at the AOC.

Op-Ed Piece on AOC’s “Ludicrosity”

I just love it when people get to the AOC’s Mad Hatter tea party and discover just how crazy and insane things can be in the Wonderland that is the AOC. These newcomers to the party are just discovering the insanity that those who work within and with the AOC have known for years. The newest person to the party is columnist Lois Henry for the Bakersfield Californian whose incredulity at the AOC’s decision to issue raises in the midst of a budget crisis caused her to invent a word.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day to absorb all the ludicrosity (yeah, I made that word up) that abounds in California state government.

I’m back on the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which has taken over operation of county courts in the last decade. And which came up with the brilliant (dripping sarcasm) idea of closing those courts one day a month in order to save money this year.

Now, I see they’ve been busy giving out raises to some of their 900 employees while continuing to pursue a $2 billion computer system and they’re pushing ahead with new courthouse construction.

Let us pause for a moment to mull the idea that the AOC was created to bring greater efficiencies to county court operations. It now has 900 employees, while our courts are closed one day a month, cases are backlogged and if we could fill our vacant judgeships, there’s no staff to run a courtroom.

Oh yeah, that smells like California style “efficiency,” doesn’t it?

Ludicrosity.  It may be made up, but it certainly defines the AOC to a tee.  You can read the rest of the column here.

Op-Ed: A Plan to Restore Confidence in Courts

I want to direct AOCW readers to an op-ed piece printed on the Bakersfield.com website written by Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe. Judge Lampe is also a member of the California Alliance of Judges.

A Plan to Restore Confidence in Courts

Our state budget failure has resulted in a legislative mandate for court closures on the third Wednesday of every month. For the first time in our state’s history, citizens have been shut out of their courtrooms. This did not happen even in the Great Depression. Our courts must be reopened, and they must be kept open. We are entitled to courts managed by judges who live in our communities.

Over the last 10 years, the court budgeting process has evolved from an open, public process conducted locally, to one that is obscure, closed, and conducted by a remote bureaucracy. It is time to restore public confidence in our courts by reestablishing public awareness and scrutiny.

Click here to read more.