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Critics Cry 'Reboot' at Troubled Court Case Management


Cheryl M iller
The Recorder
February 28, 2011

It was supposed to be the ultimate symbol of a modern, unified state judicial branch.

Envisioned more than a decade ago, the California Court Case M anagement System would finally link the Golden State's
58 trial courts, freeing many of them from aging computer networks -- clunky legacies of the days when counties, not
the state, funded courthouses.

Lawyers, sheriffs and the public would be able to tap into thousands of records and case documents with just a few
keyboard clicks. A judge in Del Norte County could easily review an order filed by a colleague in San Diego before
issuing his own ruling.

It seemed a fitting plan for the nation's largest court system in a state that's home to Silicon Valley.

But that idyllic vision has struggled to become a reality. And it was dealt a serious blow on Feb. 8 when the state
auditor issued a damning report. Elaine Howle concluded that judicial leaders have so poorly managed the
development of CCM S that the project is over budget, years past its original scheduled deployment, and in jeopardy of
never being fully completed.

Judges and court workers are furious, questioning why the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts
continued to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the troubled project while furloughing employees and ordering
courthouse closures. A former presiding judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Stephen Czuleger, has gone so
far as to call for the firing of William Vickrey, the AOC's administrative director.

What's more, the judiciary has drawn new scrutiny from the Legislature, which traditionally has been willing to leave
most budget and planning decisions to its sister branch. Now, the "separation of powers" argument has lost its political
punch.

In light of the audit's well-publicized findings, lawmakers are proposing restrictions on the judiciary's authority to
contract for services. They're weighing new reporting requirements for the branch as well as a proposal to spend
$600,000 on an independent review of CCM S' viability.

"This audit highlights the kind of misplaced priorities and careless spending that make people distrust their
government," Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said during a tense legislative oversight hearing earlier
this month.

"I see this [audit] as a challenge to the Legislature," Lowenthal said. "What are we going to do about it? Are we going
to let more courtrooms go dark? Are we going to see more layoffs while the AOC moves ahead with CCM S?"

BRINGING TOGETHER CRITICS

The audit's stark revelations of mismanagement have unified AOC critics with traditionally disparate motivations. Labor
groups, lawmakers, judges, and some lawyers have seized on CCM S failings as a powerful argument against former Chief
Justice Ronald George's vision of a highly centralized, independent branch.

Whether those critics can agree on what to do about CCM S -- and what to do about judicial branch management -- are

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other questions. Employee groups want CCM S shelved and funding redirected to ensure an end to furloughs and
layoffs. Some judges want to democratize the Judicial Council, rather than having the chief justice appoint most of
the voting members, a move they say would make the body more accountable. Still others want to shrink the AOC's
size and power while shifting more decision-making authority to the local courts.

In the past, George deflected such challenges with a mix of charm and political strength flexed over 14 years as the
branch leader. His relationships with three governors, most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger, usually ensured friendly
treatment from the executive branch.

His successor, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, has been on the job for less than two months. She's endorsed CCM S,
borrowing an analogy from President Obama's State of the Union speech that dumping important infrastructure to save
money is akin to "eliminating the engine on an overloaded plane to lighten its load."

But some judges say quietly that they want a stronger public acknowledgment from Cantil-Sakauye that she
understands the severity of the auditor's findings. New Gov. Jerry Brown has shown no particular affinity toward the
judiciary, and last week he asked auditor Howle -- the author of the scathing CCM S report -- for a "Top 10" list of
actions he could take to cut government waste and inefficiency.

"We take [the auditor's] report extremely seriously," Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday. The judiciary will follow all of the
auditor's recommendations, she said, including a call for an independent review of the system before it's finally
installed in courts -- something judicial branch leaders had originally balked at.

But the chief justice also challenged critics who want her to make more sweeping changes to branch management.

"To me, that isn't about taking the auditor's report seriously," she said.

While the auditor has not recommended pulling the plug on the project, she did suggest that it could be permanently
scaled back in scope and cost. That may be what ultimately happens. Cantil-Sakauye said the immediate goal is
deploying CCM S to three "early adopter" courts -- San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Ventura -- and then to "any court
that wants it."

"We're taking slow baby steps," she said.

COMMON PROBLEMS

California's judiciary is not the first to struggle in efforts to move to a paperless case system. Courts from Texas to
Indiana have spent millions on projects that were slow to develop or didn't deliver the promised results.

M any public-sector IT projects fail because they just become too large and unwieldy, said Payson Hall, a systems
consultant who advised the auditor in her review of CCM S.

As a project's development drags on, Hall said, "It's easier for people to hang ornaments on the Christmas tree."

Because of confidentiality rules governing his work with the auditor, Hall could not discuss CCM S specifically. But the
consultant said that the mix of work on a complex computer network, politics, and rigid government contracting rules
can often spell disaster for a project. While a 10 percent variance in a project's cost or schedule would usually be
acceptable in the private sector, he said, big changes or delays in a government project often lead to public rebukes.
To mitigate the risk, a vendor will ratchet up the project's cost, Hall said.

The chances for a new computer network's success also plummet when vendors don't get buy-in from the eventual
users, especially if those workers fear losing their jobs to the new technology, he added.

For almost a decade, California's Judicial Council has plowed ahead with plans for a massive computer system even
though outsiders warned on numerous occasions that CCM S was in trouble.

In 2004, the Legislative Analyst's Office raised red flags about the AOC's planning process for CCM S, noting that officials
had never done a cost-benefit analysis on the project or figured out how the branch would pay for such a major
undertaking. Seven years later, the branch still hasn't completed either task, although the cost-benefit analysis may be
finished this month.

In 2007, a consulting firm hired by the AOC raised concerns about the project's aggressive schedule, a lack of clear
day-to-day management structure, and problems assuring that the system would actually fulfill users' needs. While the
AOC did identify a day-to-day project manager, the other concerns were largely set aside in a rush to complete CCM S'

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design, the auditor said.

In 2008, then-Assemblyman Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, alerted AOC officials to problems the Los Angeles Unified
School District was experiencing with a computer payroll system created by Deloitte Consulting LLC, the same vendor
developing CCM S. The school district blamed the costly new software for issuing thousands of inaccurate paychecks
and W-2 forms. The district eventually settled its dispute with Deloitte for $15 million. The Judicial Council decided to
stick with Deloitte for deployment of the system, although a contract for that piece hasn't been signed.

The auditor's report noted another sign of potential trouble: Branch managers agreed to 102 contract amendments
with Deloitte between 2003 and 2010. Those changes added more than $310 million to the project's cost and made the
AOC overly dependent on Deloitte for future work, the auditor concluded.

AOC'S RESPONSE

In the weeks before the audit's release, branch leaders tried to fend off some of the impending criticism by shifting
day-to-day management from Sheila Calabro, director of the AOC's southern regional office, to M ark M oore, an IT
specialist who deployed a case management system used by the state's appellate courts.

They also created four new oversight committees comprising judges, lawyers, and court users in a nod to critics who
said project designers never got enough input from local trial courts.

But the changes don't seem to have gone far enough for lawmakers, who choked on the rising costs for CCM S. The
AOC's projections have risen from $260 million in 2004 to $1.3 billion today. Auditor Howle said her review of the AOC's
own documents peg the price at closer to $1.9 billion -- and that's before adding in the costs that trial courts and law
enforcement agencies will incur to plug in.

The discrepancy has led some lawmakers to question whether the AOC is keeping a second set of books. The AOC
denies that, saying the different figures stem from how they tally the expenses.

The AOC does not, for example, include the costs for maintaining CCM S or the expenses for interim case management
systems some courts are using. AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa compared the accounting to buying a car.

"The cost of purchasing a car does not typically include the cost for buying gas, tires, oil, insurance and similar costs
during ownership of the car," he said in an e-mail. "Instead, the purchase price of a car is the cost to take ownership
of the vehicle and drive it off the dealer's lot."

Still, in light of the auditor's recommendation that it provide "more robust" financial information to the Legislature,
judicial leaders say they will report all categories of spending in the future. It's a start, Howle said last week.

"They have to gain back some trust from the public, from the courts [and] from the Legislature," she said.

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