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Judicial Council approves possible private
funding for case management system

The Judicial Council agreed last month to explore accepting private grant money to help deploy its computerized case management system in three superior courts. It executed a letter of intent between the Administrative Office of the Courts, the State Bar and the Patrick Soon-Shiong Family Foundation to begin a 12-week discussion and planning period to determine if the parties wish to enter into a collaborative relationship.

The foundation is headed by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire philanthropist and developer of a breast cancer drug, who is working on developing a health-care information grid. Although the letter does not specify the amount of money Soon-Shiong will contribute, judicial officials said it could total $20 million and will allow deployment in the San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Fresno county superior courts. Deployment has been stalled because of statewide budget cuts.

The computer program, the California Case Management System (CCMS), is controversial primarily because of its hefty price tag. State Auditor Eileen Howle estimated in February that full implementation of the system will cost almost $2 billion and criticized what she called poor management and a lack of oversight. Supporters of CCMS, however, dispute that figure and insist the courts cannot operate without modernizing technology, too much money has been spent to turn back now, and ultimately the system will save money.

Development of the system, which is completed, came in around $600 million. Implementing it in the three counties will cost an estimated $60 million-$70 million.

First District Court of Appeal Justice Terence L. Bruiniers, head of the Judicial Council’s CCMS committee, said the offer by Soon-Shiong to provide funding and technological assistance “presents, in my view, a unique and historic opportunity that allows us to do significantly more in collaboration with a private nonprofit foundation and with the assistance and support of the State Bar.”

“A door has opened to us,” said Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge James E. Herman, a council member and head of an internal committee overseeing CCMS, who noted the similarity between CCMS and Soon-Shiong’s vision of a health-care grid that will provide real-time information to doctors and patients. “That vision is parallel, and he is willing to put his money where his mouth is in order to help us to go forward with this effort.”

State Bar executive director Joe Dunn said some aspects of CCMS could serve the bar’s internal technological needs, particularly with efforts to speed disposition of complaints against attornyes. The bar, he said, could be both a contributor and a beneficiary of the overall proposal. State Bar President Jon Streeter said CCMS “could prove to be especially valuable in the bar’s continuing drive toward a more rapid and efficient handling of discipline cases. The system as a whole offers much to the administration of justice and public access to the courts in California.”

CCMS is designed to support courts of all sizes through one central technology operation. Interim versions of the project are in use at seven trial courts and process more than 25 percent of the state’s civil cases. In legislative budget hearings last year, the Judicial Council agreed to scale back deployment of the system to just three courts over the next two years.

Soon-Shiong has also informally offered his assistance in finding other funding sources to fully deploy CCMS to all 58 California trial courts.

According to the letter of intent, the parties will explore hosting CCMS at foundation-provided data centers instead of commercial centers now used by the AOC. In addition, they will explore “the viability of using the foundation’s fiber optic and network related services,” also as an alternative to commercial services used now.

CCMS includes electronic filing of documents, electronic calendars, self-service case inquiries and payments, and improved statistical reporting and scheduling of court reporters and interpreters. The system will also enable state agencies that partner with the courts — such as the state Department of Justice, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Child Support Services and the Department of Motor Vehicles — to interact with a single case management system, thus improving efficiency, eliminating redundant data entry and reducing system costs. According to the AOC, the public and attorneys will have easier and faster access to case filings.