Chief justice: 'We were forced to think differently'
One of the biggest challenges for California's judicial branch has been the statewide deployment of a computerized case management system that will, it is hoped, make it quicker and easier for the public to file and find documents and quicker and easier for courts to share files and data among themselves and with law enforcement, child welfare and other agencies.
But the California Case Management System is a sore point. Its cost and slow development have angered many trial and appellate judges, who cite it as a reason for local courts needing greater budget and policy autonomy from the state Judicial Council.
A February 2011 report by the Bureau of State Audits sharply criticized the management of the CCMS project. Deployment of the project is on hold due to budget cuts and concerns expressed in the audit.
Last fall, the Judicial Council considered an offer from a charitable foundation to make a grant that would pay to deploy CCMS in San Luis Obispo, Fresno and Ventura counties. After examining and discussing the offer from Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Foundation, the council shelved the plan.
The Times' editorial board asked Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, during a Jan. 6 visit, whether court resources were so strapped that she and the rest of the Judicial Council should entertain offers from charities to fund essential court functions. Click to hear her response, and read it below:
I hope on my watch the judicial branch does not go begging. But what you say -- how you characterized it is a fair characterization. There are a lot of different ways to characterize it, but it was a philanthropic effort. We were forced, and I really mean it, forced to think differently about how we could bring technology to the branch.
Is it in our future? I hope not. Are we novel thinkers? Yes. Will we think of different ways if we can't get general fund funding? Yes. But that will be transparent and everyone will know and everyone will get a shot at us. That's what we're doing.
We asked Cantil-Sakauye about closing courtrooms that deal with lawsuits and other non-criminal matters due to budget cuts. Listen to her response:
Courts have tried to prepare the best they can…. We've also heard other courts say … and other courts have reduced the courtrooms that hear civil cases because they have to use their reduced staff, and reduced hours, to hear the constitutionally obligated cases, which are criminal cases.
We asked the chief justice about whether courtroom closures could affect public safety. Listen to her response:
You're talking about a potential backlog of people who have a proclivity or have driven under the influence and they get a court date somewhere out there and we're just going to take it on faith that they're not going to do it in those intervening months before they come back. There's definitely a public safety factor with the courts being backlogged.
Photo: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks with the editorial board on Jan. 6. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times