Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Judge Blasts Judicial Council’s Technology Allocation
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
One of the heads of a fledgling judges’ organization seeking more local court autonomy yesterday blasted the Judicial Council’s decision to allocate over $171 million for statewide administrative and technology infrastructure from special funds designated to support trial courts.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles E. Horan of the Alliance of California Judges said that using the money to continue developing and deploying administrative and technology infrastructure projects instead of funding courthouse operations will only worsen the Superior Court’s ongoing budget problems, leading to possible closures and layoffs.
The council—the administrative and policymaking body of the California courts—on Friday approved the Administrative Office of the Courts’ recommendation for a total of $232.4 million in allocations from the Trial Court Modernization Fund, the Judicial Administration Efficiency and Modernization Fund, and the Trial Court Trust Fund.
That figure includes almost $54 million for non-administrative and technology projects and programs, and $7.4 million to courts for replacement of technology assets, such as personal computers and printers, which local courts can redirect to offset the impact of budget reductions as they deem necessary.
Horan—whose group seeks to “provide an effective voice for those who feel that they have not had that effective voice up until now” and promotes what it says would be more democratic structure for court administration—said he agreed with remarks by Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Lee S. Edmon at the council’s meeting Friday in San Francisco.
Edmon, a member of the council, expressed concern about the prudence of spending down overall funds on the programs and projects instead of using the monies to keep courts open and accessible to the public, and she voted against the proposal.
“The good news is that there was one ‘no’ vote,” Horan said. “The bad news is that there weren’t 20 more.”
The council in July allocated funds that had been earmarked for construction and technology to offset budget reductions, and some members on Friday said the council was obligated to meet its commitment to fund technology that one member said provided access as much as keeping courthouses open.
However, Horan commented that Edmon “got it right,” asking, “How in the world can we do this when we’re closing courtrooms? The primary job ought to be keeping courtrooms open. Everything else should be on the back burner.”
Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy announced in May that the Superior Court would be shutting down nearly all of its operations and furloughing employees once per month beginning in July due to budget reductions. Courts are closed on the third Wednesday of each month, and McCoy said in May that the closures and furloughs could remain in place for up to two years.
Horan said that he had been told that a likely result of using the money in the special funds to support programs such as the California Court Case Management System—a single, statewide computer system meant to replace each county’s individual system—would be courthouse closures on “far more days per month” and possible layoffs of court staff.
He also derided the case management system itself. Acknowledging that, “in a perfect world, you would want a statewide system with all the extra bells and whistles,” he commented, “I don’t see how you can dump funds into a project not proven to be effective and necessary, and so overpriced as to be considered a joke.”
Almost $85 million of the allocations approved by the council Friday would go to the ongoing operation and continued rollout of CCMS alone.
AOC Finance Division Director Stephen Nash told the MetNews Friday that the purpose of the proposal was to “strike a balance” in order to keep existing programs on “life support” and to continue rolling out new technology.
He commented that a number of superior courts have already transitioned to use of the programs and projects, and that continued support was necessary because cutting off funding now would result in “serious difficulties.”
A spokesperson said both Edmon and McCoy were attending a conference in San Diego this week and were unavailable for comment.
However, Horan was not alone in his sentiments. Former Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger—who noted that he was no longer part of the court’s “front office” and could not speak on its behalf—said that he was in “complete support” of Edmon’s position.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company