Dinosaurs

The California Courts use TCIS to manage their cases.  I don’t know what TCIS stands for, and by the look of it, TCIS has been around so long that no one else does either.  Ok fine, I googled it, because if you can’t rely on this blog for solid information, then where can you go?  TCIS stands for “Tired Computers Impede Success” “Trial Court Information System.”

TCIS was first put into use back when there were Municipal Courts; the Superior Court adopted it in 1993.  It doesn’t look like it has changed at all since then.  It features the lovely black background and unicode white text that home computer enthusiasts came to love when making their own 20-sided dice programs back in the floppy disc age.

Upgrades were once planned.  In 2002, the California Administrative Office of the Courts started the Second-Generation Electronic Filing Specification project.  It was designed to provide the trial courts with a single, statewide case management system to replace 70 different individual case systems in use among California Courts.  The cost was estimated at 260 million dollars.  Over the next ten years, the Courts spent $2 billion dollars on it.  This money went to “primary vendor” Deloitte Consulting.  In 2012, a consulted prepared a report (at a cost of $200,000) asserting that a new system was ready to implement.  The project was abandoned.  According to a report by the independent auditing firm of Grant Thornton, LLP, estimates for deployment of CCMS V4 to 11 courts would be $343 million for one-time and supporting costs through fiscal year 2020-2021.

As of the time of this writing, the new system still hasn’t been implemented.  Many counties in California have turned to their own solutions.  Indeed, pre-made case management systems already exist with no development cost.  Others have not.

The problem of physical files is especially acute in the common situation where a defendant has more than one active case at a time.  For example, a defendant may be charged with robbery in one court location, and be on probation for burglary in another.  While both cases are pending, a new misdemeanor drug possession case may be filed in a third court.  Commonly, lawyers and judges in two of the cases will end up waiting on the third to resolve.  Sometimes, the lawyers assigned to each case end up waiting on the others, each assuming the others will take the lead.  All the case files should be ordered to one location.  But this doesn’t always happen.  Indeed, some courts flatly refuse to release their case files.

Lawyers in many counties are still analog: paper clips, copy machines, binder transcripts, and writing on file folders.  When the judge issues an order, he writes it in the file.  The court reporter writes it down.  The court clerk writes up the minute order.  The defense attorney writes it down, and the district attorney writes it down.  Ineffeciency and waste result.  Back in the office, legal assistants spend their time pulling and replacing files.  They pull and replace the calendar for each day.  They do this for each courtroom covered by the office.  They pull and replace for defendants picked up on bench warrants.  They pull and replace for defendants that walk in without a scheduled hearing.  And when a prosecutor, paralegal, or victim advocate needs to work up a file, they pull it and replace it when she’s done.

Files get lost.  Handwriting can be illegible.  Things fall out of the files, like discs with video evidence, probation reports, amended complaints.  The same problems vex court files.  The court file may be missing a probation report: a prerequisite for sentencing.  Probation itself must physically copy the police report and other documents from the files in order to prepare these reports.  That means they have to actually come to the courthouse and pick them up.

The files themselves take up a huge amount of space.  Each individual office at the District Attorney has files.  And the legal assistants must also store even more files in a central repository.  There are so many files that only the recent ones can be stored.  Even these take up enough space to fit several additional employees, or any number of other fruitful uses.  For example, the space could be converted to a waiting room for victims and witnesses.  Or it could be used as a law library.

All this waste an ineffeciency would be a scandal in any organization.  But it’s a particular scandal in an organization paid for by tax money from people in the community it is supposed to serve.  As trustees of the money of others, those working in government have a duty not to waste what has been dearly given.  And if that weren’t enough, the criminal justice system is chronically understaffed, with real detrimental outcomes for victims and the community.  Obviously, part of the reason that they are understaffed is that employees spend time managing physical files that they should be spending doing substantive work.

Annotations

A long white paper from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office  on “case packaging” to eliminate the problem of multiple physical case files in different locations with different judges.  .

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