State computer upgrade for courts botched, audit says

Despite a scathing audit criticizing a planned statewide court computer system, local court officials remain optimistic that county residents and all Californians will be much better served by the new system.

The planned system would modernize and link court computers in California’s 58 counties. A new state audit found the modernization project has ballooned in cost from $260 million to as much as $1.9 billion, and is “so far over budget that it should be on hold and reconsidered,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The new approach — called the California Court Case Management System — would include a host of new features, including electronic document filings that would give law enforcement

officials access to data from patrol cars, as well as 24-hour public access to information such as court dates.

Currently, looking up information about a criminal case requires a call to the court or a visit to a computer that uses a confusing program that’s so antiquated it relies on “F4,” “Page Up” and “Page Down” keys instead of mouse clicks to navigate its screens.

Planning for and implementation of the new project have been problematic since it started in 2001, and installation costs could be significantly higher than anticipated. That could kill the project for lack of state funding in a tough budget cycle.

However, the county’s presiding judge remains confident the system will greatly benefit the public in courts throughout California, and he hopes to see it proceed.

“There’s no question mismanagement has occurred,” San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall said. “But it’s a bad idea to put (the new system) on hold. There’s a great importance for the new system, and it should run.”

San Luis Obispo Superior Court is hosting a pilot program for the California Court Case Management System, along with Ventura and San Diego counties.

Local testing of the program is scheduled to be made available to the public in 2012, said the county’s court executive officer, Susan Matherly.

Matherly said the pilot program already is being tested in the Paso Robles court and that staff will need to be trained in how to use it, which is a time-consuming process.

Crandall said a vocal group of judges in a statewide group called the Alliance of California Judges has lobbied to oppose the new court program because of the state budget crisis. Some believe the money should go toward court staffing.

But Matherly said the new program would reduce the amount of customer service work that court staff has to take on, eliminating numerous phone calls and face-to-face encounters.

Also, counties have different laws, and courthouses throughout the state operate with separate setups, so the new program has to fit each situation to work properly.

Under current planning, San Luis Obispo County’s program will be the pilot for launches at 25 other California counties.

“I am not sure how long it will take all 58 courts to finish deployment, but I am excited that San Luis Obispo will be one of the first courts to deploy,” Matherly said.

“I think the reason for the many tweaks in the system is because the scope of the project expanded over time.  When you have so many courts participating in the development, everyone wants to include some local features.”