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Panel OKs review of California courts computer system despite protest

A joint legislative committee on Wednesday approved auditing a costly statewide court computer system despite lobbying by top judicial branch administrators, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court of California.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee directed the state auditor to look into the Court Case Management System, a massive information technology project to link all courts on one system.

“It is critically important we have taxpayer accountability for all branches of our government,” Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, R-Moorpark, said after the hearing. “We are looking at somewhere between $1 (billion) and $2 billion that would be going to this computer system.”

Chief Justice Ronald George discussed the proposed audit Tuesday with several lawmakers – including two on the committee – along with a host of other issues such as the budget and traffic cameras, he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

George said he opposes the audit because the state’s chief information officer will complete a review of the project in March. An audit would divert limited staffing and resources, George added, calling the additional review “premature.”

The judicial branch’s leaders have faced unprecedented scrutiny this past year as they chose to close the state courts one day a month for budget reasons. Some judges and union officials have been particularly vocal, questioning judicial spending on projects such as the computer system.

Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, who voted for the audit, praised the purpose of the computer system: to unify outdated case-management systems that have trouble communicating with each other.

Currently, there are more than 70 systems statewide, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to get information.

Ducheny said “the point of the audit is not to say why we should not do this. It is to say how we do it more effectively and how we proceed to spend our tech dollars more wisely.”

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