Capping years of sometimes bitter controversy inside and outside the judicial system, the state Judicial Council voted Tuesday to halt deployment of what was to be a computerized case management system linking every California court in paperless operation.
The California Case Management System (CCMS) was the brainchild of former Chief Justice Ron George and more than a half-billion dollars has been spent so far, mostly on private consultants and vendors. But it's come under increasingly sharp criticism by some judges, through the Alliance of California Judges, in the Legislature and by the state auditor.
The auditor had questioned how the money had been spent and an Assembly budget subcommittee voted recently to cut off funds for CMSS deployment.
The Alliance of California Judges, which said that the money had been squandered on an unworkable system while courts were being forced to close the doors due to sharp cuts in state court funds, was the big winner in Tuesday's action.
Preliminary applications of the system have been tested, but a full and presumably final version was scheduled to be deployed soon in 11 counties, beginning with San Luis Obispo, but that would have added another $119.6 million to the cost over two years, the council was told.
A consultant told the council that over the long run, CCMS would save money as it reduced the need for more court personnel, but it also drew criticism from court workers and their unions, who said that jobs are being cut now as courts pare back their operations.
The Judicial Council, composed of trial and appellate judges and representatives of other judicial and legal groups and headed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, was given three options. One was going ahead with deployment, the second pausing for a year and the third termination.
Members, meeting in San Francisco, debated them fiercely before finally agreeing to terminate but agreed to continue studying ways of using technology in court management, adapting what's already been acquired during CCMS development.
The reason, obvious from the hours-long discussion, is the state's uncertain fiscal situation. "We're in a lot of trouble for two or three more years," Alan Carlson, the Sonoma County court administrator, told his fellow council members.
The courts have been cut by $653 million in recent years and Gov. Jerry Brown's budget continues reductions and threatens another $125 million cut if his tax plan is rejected by voters.
"I believe that 10 years ago, a case management system was a farsighted vision, but a statewide connected system is just not feasible in the current climate and in the foreseeable future," Yolo County Judge David Rosenberg, a member of the council, declared. "It's just too expensive."
Fresno County Judge Kent Hamlin told the council that "the initial vision of a case management system...that would be operated in all courts and link them in real time is a failure. That vision needs to be abandoned."
But Jon Streeter, representing the State Bar, countered that "Those of us who have practiced in other states know that we are falling behind. California will become, if this system is suspended or abandoned, one of the states that brings up the rear in terms of automation nationwide. We should not be in that position. We should be leading."
Rosenberg moved for a complete shutdown that would allow individual courts to implement their own technology systems. However, his motion was defeated in favor of one by Santa Barbara Judge James Herman that stops deployment to the 11 counties, while urging judicial managers to explore uses of existing technology and authorizing up to $8.7 million to move in that direction.