old_computer.jpgThe governing body of the California courts, faced with cost overruns and severe budget cuts, put an end today to ambitious plans for a $1.9 billion computerized statewide court records system.

The state Judicial Council voted at a meeting in San Francisco to terminate statewide implementation of the troubled California Court Case Management System.

The council also took the least expensive of three scaled-down options before it and allocated up to $8.7 million for the costs of closing down the system and salvaging elements of it for possible future use by individual county superior courts.

The statewide system for court case information was first planned in 2001 and was initially slated to cost $260 million and be in place in the 58 county trial courts by 2008.

Since then, the estimated cost has grown to $1.9 billion with a completion date of 2015.

Thus far, the state has spent $522 million on the project and parts of it have been installed on an experimental basis in seven county superior courts.

A state audit published in February 2011 concluded the cost overruns were partly caused by poor management and inadequate oversight of outside contractors by the Judicial Council’s staff agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts.

At the same time, deep cuts in court funding made by the Legislature during the state’s budget crisis have caused courts to lay off staff and close courtrooms.

Several groups of judges urged the council to abandon the CCMS in order to send as much money as possible to cash-starved trial courts.

“The Judicial Council needs to move beyond the denial stage and embrace the fact that CCMS must be permanently shelved,” the Alliance of California Judges wrote in a comment letter. The alliance advocates local management of courts.

In another letter, San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein and judges and executives of eight other courts said, “If statewide deployment of CCMS…was ever an attainable goal, that time has passed as the state’s budget crisis has grown and endured.”

Supporters of statewide system said it would enable police to obtain information quickly on domestic violence restraining orders and judgments issued in other courts, allow lawyers to file documents electronically, and permit the public to pay traffic tickets and do research on cases online, among other advantages.

Some of those elements can still be used, but not necessarily on a statewide basis, council members said during the meeting.

Several members of the panel commented that the system has now been completed and said they believe it would work statewide, but that it is not affordable.

“It was a visionary project and we now have one that works,” said Justice Harry Hull of the Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

“We have a product that in my view would be a tremendous boon to the courts and the public, but we have not found a way (to implement it),” Hull said.

The council, established by a state constitutional amendment in 1926, is made up of 14 judges, four lawyers and two legislators.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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