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Statewide court computer project mishandled, audit says

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California court administrators failed to properly plan for and realistically budget a massive computer modernization project that has fallen years behind schedule and on which the cost could balloon from the original estimate of $260 million to $1.9 billion, state auditors said Tuesday.

As a result, State Auditor Elaine Howle recommended that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) delay moving forward with installing the system until an independent reevaluation is conducted of potential problems with the California Court Case Management System.

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The office ‘has not analyzed whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ technology needs and it is unclear on what information the AOC made critical decisions during the project’s planning and development,’ Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown in suggesting the delay in deploying the system at three court systems.

Envisioned as a way to modernize and tie together computer systems operated in the state’s 58 counties, the new system has been in trouble from the beginning, and some presiding judges have called on the administrative office and the Judicial Council of California to rethink the project.

Originally estimated to be completed in 2009, the project now may not be finished until 2015-16, but there is not enough money yet to install it in all counties, which diminishes its value, Howle said.

Howle found the administrative office did not adequately heed warnings by a consulting firm it hired that raised ‘significant concerns’ about the case management system, and bungled the handling of contracts to develop the system. In particular, the main contract to develop the system lacked cost controls, which resulted in the state changing the contract 102 times to increase the contract from $33 million to $310 million, Howle said.

‘To make certain that no significant quality issues or problems exist,’ the audit said, the court administrators ‘should retain an independent consultant to review the system before deploying it’ as planned to three court systems.

The Judicial Council agrees with many of the recommendations but has already made changes and will go ahead with deploying the system in three court systems during the next two years. The council also believes the final project will be brought in at a cost of $1.3 billion, below Howle’s estimate.

‘The Judicial Council is largely in agreement with the (auditor’s) recommendations and in many instances has already adopted practices and policies consistent with the recommendations made,’ said William C. Vickrey, administrative director of the courts.

-- Patrick McGreevy


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