Since February, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court staff have been testing a pilot program for a statewide court case management system meant to replace the current antiquated system.
The new system would make information more accessible to the public by putting much of it online. It would allow lawyers, law officers and the public better access to court records, thus improving the court’s efficiency.
But implementation could be delayed pending an independent review of the statewide project.
Despite possible delays, local court officials remain firmly supportive of the plan and hope to launch the county pilot by August 2012.
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The Court Case Management System — also being tried in Ventura and San Diego counties — is controversial because of high costs and a decade of planning by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
The Bureau of State Audits gave a scathing review of the system in February, citing the $1.9 billion cost estimate for the project, which is expected to be completed statewide in 2015.
The bureau reported that the project has been poorly managed by the AOC and may not serve all 58 counties’ needs.
The auditor also has requested an independent review, which could delay the launch of San Luis Obispo County’s pilot.
In response to the criticism, San Luis Obispo County’s court executive officer, Susan Matherly, noted that the collective challenge in launching the program has been to incorporate a wide variety of informational tools requested by all of the counties, which has led to a more ambitious project than initially conceived.
Despite the setbacks and the ambitious scale of the project, San Luis Obispo County court staff continues to support the idea, saying an integrated system is long overdue.
“We jumped at the chance to be a pilot program when we had the opportunity, because this new system is very much needed,” Matherly said. “There’s no doubt it will improve service to the public and reduce staff workload. We are hopeful the deadline will be met.”
Since June, San Luis Obispo County court staff has invested more than 2,000 hours working out the kinks and glitches, Matherly said.
Matherly said the local court spends $1.7 million each year to operate its current computer system; it will spend $300,000 each year once the new CCMS system is functional.
On a recent day, seven court staff members representing different departments participated in product testing, including court staffers Tari Metcalfe and Janis Dumouchelle.
In addition to annual operating cost savings, Matherly and staff say the program will greatly reduce the number of court visits, phone calls and lines.
That’s because more information will be available online for access at anytime and lawyers will be able to electronically file documents.
Police will be able to file documents electronically from remote locations, including patrol cars.
The court’s criminal operations manager, Victoria Tooley, said that her department uses 11 different computer systems to keep track of court cases.
Those include programs for adult, juvenile and traffic cases. Tooley estimated that the new system could save as much as 40 percent of staff time for some in her department.
“We’ll be able to immediately transport the language of a minute order (case proceeding history) to all of the related cases,” Tooley said. “Now, a clerk has to type in all of that information from a written page.”
She said San Luis Obispo County’s current adult criminal case data system, which was designed in the 1980s, can be complicated for courthouse users. Buttons such as “page up” and “page down” on the keyboard are used to scroll instead of a mouse.
As the seven court testers unanimously push for the system to get up and running, they cross their fingers that critics and an independent review won’t get in the way of what they see as progress.
Some people, including a group of judges in the Alliance for California Judges, have called for the system to be abandoned and instead use the money for court staffing and other needs.
“In order to get something good, sometimes you have to pay for it,” said Thu Nguyen, the county’s pilot project manager. “This system will be a great investment in the long run.”