Just one day before today’s California Court Case Management System (CCMS) audit hearing in Sacramento, the massive court IT project was the subject of yet another volley of debate. This time the debate of the merits of CCMS isn’t between the Judiciary and the Legislature. This time it’s between the judges themselves.
According to today’s Courthouse News Service, a memo stating “The judges who actually use CCMS uniformly, and enthusiastically support CCMS” by appellate justice Terence Bruiniers sparked a flurry of responses. Not moved by the spirit of Valentine’s Day, San Diego judges did not respond with cards and candy.

“I dispute the contention that CCMS (version 3) works,” wrote San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Cline in response to Bruiniers, as reported in Courthouse News.

Another San Diego judge, Judge Runston Maino, took it a step further by asking for an all out retraction of the statement by Judge Bruiniers. “It is clear to me and it should be clear to you, that you have been misinformed,” said Maino. “You have made a statement about the judges of the San Diego Superior Court which is not true.”

This isn’t the first time Judge Maino has gone on the record about his concerns about CCMS. In an e-mail to Courthouse News last week, Judge Maino said, “The present CCMS system as developed by the (Administrative Office of the Courts) reminds me of Howard Hughes and his Spruce Goose. The Spruce Goose, as the present CCMS project, was an ego driven project that did not satisfy the needs of its customers.”

The stage is set for a very lively audit hearing in Sacramento tomorrow. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has already gone on the record strongly supporting CCMS. In a press release issued earlier this month by the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, the Hon. Cantil-Sakauye stated, “When I am asked why we continue to invest in CCMS even in the face of budget reductions, my response is that I cannot think of a better investment in the future of our courts, or for that matter our courts here and now.”

Today, the AOC also issued a press release titled “AOC Adopts All Recommendations of State Audit of CCMS.” This release states that the AOC will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of CCMS, update cost information and estimates on a regular basis, develop a realistic funding strategy, take steps to address courts’ concerns about implementation and conduct an independent review of CCMS before full deployment in three early adopter courts.

Quoted in the AOC press release, Bruiniers said the program management office will collaborate with the California Technology Agency, formerly the Office of the State Chief Information Officer, to select the vendor that will conduct the independent review of the CCMS application or DNN .net CMS.

Bruiniers added that statewide product acceptance testing has begun with 70 testers around the state and will continue.

“Now we have to demonstrate that we have met our goals, and focus on the implementation of a system that will bring the California courts into the 21st century,” said Bruiniers.

For the vendor who takes on the task of independently reviewing CCMS and gathering input from its users as debate continues around CCMS, two words come to mind: hot potato.

Not ready to let the AOC have the last word, Los Angelese Superior Court Justice yesterday sent a letter to Justice Bruiniers that, among other things, calls for new leadership of the CCMS project. If the letter was a private communication between judges, it wouldn’t be remarkable. But the Hon. J. Stephen Czuleger of the Los Angeles Superior Court chose to copy Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye along with three other judges and the court’s executive officer. A copy was also provided to The Courthouse News service, which posted it on its website today:

“What I do know, is that there is a crisis of confidence at work here — one that is having a corrosive effect on the entire judiciary,” wrote Judge Czuleger in the letter. “Much more than some worn out defense of the sullied CCMS project must occur. Real change is necessary or we shall all suffer the consequences. I believe that it is time for maturity, competence, honesty and new blood be brought finally to this project. A viable and honest plan, serious minded managers, and a change of leadership is warranted now. The alternative is to march on into a growing uncertainty for the entire judiciary.”