The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

June 14, 2010
Glitch in state court computer system opens confidential documents

The Sacramento Superior Court had to temporarily shut down access to Probate Court records earlier this month when a system malfunction allowed pubic access to confidential documents, according to a statement from Presiding Judge Steve White's office.

The court still is trying to determine if any confidential information was accessed before the shut down.

This latest hiccup comes after months of judges' complaints about problems with the new computer system.

The bigger issue relates to the California Court Case Management System, a massive project to link all state courts on one computer system. The price tag for the project could reach $2 billion, according to a Bee analysis from October.

The project has been a major front in the civil war raging in the state's judicial branch. The project is part of a broader effort by Ronald George, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, to centralize control of the state courts, instead of allowing counties to control them. Some judges are bristling at spending decisions by the Judicial Council and its staff agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts, including a decision to close courts one day a month for budget reasons.

Sacramento judges have been particularly vocal in their displeasure with the CCMS system. Sacramento is one of a half dozen courts statewide running early versions of the system, which Deloitte Consulting still is developing.

Administrative Office of the Courts' officials have in the past deflected blame from the system to the Sacramento court's installation of that system. AOC officials have suggested the Sacramento court did not follow proper protocol in installing the system, which has led to ongoing issues.

The blame game spilled into the legal press this week with a June 7 article in the Daily Recorder in which AOC officials are quoted as suggesting locally developed scanning software wasn't compatible with a recent update of the system. That article led to a scathing letter from Judge White to the head of the AOC demanding a retraction. In the letter from White to William Vickrey dated June 8, the judge wrote:

"This latest incident continues the pattern: The release of confidential information was entirely the result of actions by the AOC contractor, Deloitte, which did not even inform our court of the changes it made or the resulting problem. We were left to make that discovery on our own. Yet anyone reading the AOC's press is told the problem lies with our court. This is false. It is unfair and it is wrong. Judges and staff on this court find that most offensive."

In response to The Bee's inquiries, AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa provided this response: 

"We respectfully disagree that the problem was caused solely by our software update to CCMS. If our update had been the only cause, then the same problem would have occurred with other courts that use the same version of CCMS as Sacramento. But this problem was unique to Sacramento."

Some in the state Legislature are paying attention to the ongoing computer system drama. Previously, the Legislature asked the state's Chief Information Officer to review the project and the state auditor also is planning a review.

With the budget looming, both sides are continuing to make sure the senators and assembly members who make funding decisions are aware of the issue and lobbying for support.

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