Sunday, April 1, 2012

Contract Action: California Courts Taken To The Cleaners By Wayward Computer Contractors

This is the sort of story that will generate lots of articles of the sort that begin, "If you ever wondered how California got into its present state of never-ending financial crisis..." The State Judicial Council has pulled the plug on an effort to link all of the state's courts via computer after the project went billions of dollars over budget

The plug has been pulled on one of the biggest boondoggles in California history - the effort to build a $2 billion computer system linking the state's 58 county courts. It never worked, and some say it was doomed from the start. 
The program had run so amok, according to the state auditor, that one of the subcontracts had 102 change orders, pushing that one bill alone from $33 million to $310 million. 
Faced with mounting criticism from judges and legislators, the state Judicial Council finally voted Tuesday to kill the out-of-control program. But not before spending more than $500 million trying to launch it. 
"We are closing courtrooms, we are laying off people we need to run the courts, and at the same time here they were spending this money," said Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe, head of the 400-strong Alliance of California Judges, a dissident group that waged an all-out campaign to halt the runaway spending.

The courts have been laying off clerks, court reporters, and even (shudder) some judges in response to the financial crisis that the judicial branch has plunged into along with the rest of the state, but somehow this mess was on auto-pilot.

I am not even sure why the courts needed to be linked together via some kind of computer network. Each county superior court has its own website (admittedly of wildly varying quality, although the big ones (LA, SF, SD, Orange) are excellent). I assume that clerks and judges can send emails across county lines without too much trouble. Plus, why would one court need to be "linked" to another? It's not like they share cases, except in the rare instance where there has been a successful motion to change venue. The whole thing makes no sense. Too bad the smart guys couldn't find that out without spending $500 million. 

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