Judge Dukes Rebukes Chair of CCMS Oversight Committee
Says Bruiniers’ Defense of Project ‘Embarrassing,’ ‘Insulting’
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes yesterday sent an email to his judicial colleagues sharply criticizing Court of Appeal Justice Terence L. Bruiniers of the First District, Div. Five, for defending the California Case Management System in light of the scathing audit of the project made public Tuesday.
Dukes told the MetNews that the $1.9 billion program “has been an issue that, I think, has been out of control for a number of years and it needs to be addressed by the judges and judicial officers,” and for Bruiniers, chair of the Judicial Council’s newly-formed CCMS Executive Committee, “to say 12 or 24 hours after the audit ‘we’ve addressed all the criticisms’ just does not seem to be credible.”
Dukes was responding to a three-minute video sent out yesterday morning by Bruniers, which Dukes said was sent to all of the state’s judicial officers. In the video, the justice said the CCMS management had “no quarrel with most of the findings” in State Auditor Elaine M. Howle’s repor.
He reiterated comments in a press release from the Administrative Office of the Courts on Tuesday emphasizing the audit contained “no criticisms of CCMS on a conceptual level” and that Howle’s recommendations—to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for the project, better document decisions and costs, and work with the Legislature and governor on a deployment plan—were being implemented.
Dukes responded via email, a copy of which was obtained by the MetNews, asking the justice to “[p]lease stop.” He insisted the “branch and judicial officers of this state deserve better then the messages you are sending in response to the CCMS audit.”
Tuesday’s report “was the most damning audit I have ever seen, Dukes wrote, calling Bruiniers’ defense of the AOC’s past oversight of the project “embarrassing,” and his statements “suggesting that the audit did not really condemn the concept of this project, its expenditures, as well as its management by the AOC frankly, insulting.”
“We should be ‘big enough’ as a branch to acknowledge the problem, set this miserable fiasco aside, regroup and re-analyze what we really need as judicial officers in a case management system and then proceed in a fiscally cautious and responsible manner with a true cost-benefit analysis.” He implored Bruiniers to “not gloss over this critical audit and say ‘torpedoes be damned, full speed ahead.’ ”
Even if the issues raised by the audit are being addressed, Dukes wrote, “the trust is not there anymore’ having been “destroyed over the years by pronouncements from the AOC that all criticism has been addressed and full operation is close at hand.”
Commenting on the email, Dukes said he felt “it’s the responsibility all judges have” to speak out since “we’re elected constitutional officers and we should be acting in the best interests of our own court and our constituents in our county and taxpayers and citizens of our state.”
Dukes is a member of the Alliance of California Judges, a dissident group which has openly challenged the state’s judicial hierarchy, and he predicted that “some will use that as a way to try to dissuade people of the righteousness of my views.” But Dukes said his membership in the ACJ “matters little” more than his membership in the California Judges Association or the Los Angeles Superior Court since he wrote on his own behalf only.
Dukes, a 24-year veteran of the bench, said he was “a supporter of the concept of a statewide case management system,” when he was a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court’s steering committee in 2002, but he “watched [the idea] morph into the monstrosity that it is now” and became “a critic of the unmanageable behemoth that it has turned into.”
Bruiniers told the MetNews that he was not “trying to minimize the audit,” and his messages were intended to covey that “we accept the criticisms” and “we recognize them and we have moved quickly to deal with them.”
He said “my job here is to try to establish some credibility here, but whether I have any or not remains to be seen.” Bruiniers acknowledged “it is our responsibility on these committees to establish to the satisfaction of our colleagues on the bench that CCMS will do what we say it will, that we got what we paid for, and that our investment in CCMS is justified.” The final product “will be the proof and validity of what we’ve done,” Bruiniers said.
“Rebulding some trust and confidence” with members of the bench and “establishing a process that is open, transparent, and credible is the highest priority” for the CCMS management team, he said, acknowledging that some are “understandably skeptical” of the project.
Some of the opponents to CCMS, however, he said, are “more focused on rigid opposition to anything that they see as originating from the AOC without regard to the individual merits” and “if the AOC developed a cure for cancer, they’d reject it.”
In his emailed response to Dukes, which was also sent to the entire judiciary and obtained by the MetNews, Bruiniers conceded the audit “was sharply critical of project planning and management, and it is hard to argue that the entire branch did not receive a black eye as a result.” But he asserted the overall project had merit, and “will give courts and judges the tools we need to efficiently administer justice, to exchange critical information with our justice partners, and to provide the bar and the public better access to our courts and to court services.”
Dukes remarked that Bruiniers’ response “speaks for itself,” and that “I appreciate his sincerity.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, a director of the ACJ, replied to Bruiniers’ email with one of his own, noting his organization had testified at a hearing last year in favor of the audit, but Bruiniers—and former Chief Justice Ronald M. George—had “bitterly opposed it.”
He asked if Bruiniers was “now glad the audit was conducted, given the mismanagement it has revealed” and if the report “shock[ed] you as much as it did all of us.”
Horan also inquired “[w]hat specifically has been done to deal with” the auditor’s finding that the AOC “engaged in a pattern of what can only be described as deception, repeatedly giving false information to the legislature re: the cost of the program.” (The audit report faulted the agency for having failed to provide data to lawmakers about the increasing total project cost and present the costs in an aggregate manner, which, as a result, “may not have informed decision makers about the true cost of the project.”)
The judge went on to question why Bruiniers cited the “AOC line that the project will cost $1.3 billion” when the auditor stated a figure of $1.9 billion—which does not include $44 million already spent to implement interim systems and “unknown but likely significant costs the superior courts will incur to implement CCMS”—was more accurate, demanding to know “[w]hat study have you done that leads you to conclude the auditor is wrong?”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company