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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Courts - Plan to link 400 courts hits a wall

"Plan to link 400 courts hits a wall: Costly software glitch halts effort to computerize records statewide" is the headline to an amazing story today by Staci Hupp in the Indianapolis Star. Some quotes:

The $74 million project to computerize and link all of Indiana's courts has ground to a halt after more than two years, millions of dollars and a major software glitch.

Now, after recent layoffs and a management overhaul, project leaders are trying to calculate their next move. What was to be a six-year project now is on hold as state officials reassess plans.

If successful, the project would link Indiana's labyrinth of roughly 400 civil and criminal courts, a system recognized as one of the most complicated in the nation. Today's system is so antiquated that in one county, strips of paper are drawn from a bucket to assign cases, and in another, a criminal can inadvertently be released because of a computer glitch.

The Indiana Supreme Court's venture has eaten up at least $7.5 million so far, although officials say they aren't sure how much they've spent overall. * * *

Software development was scheduled to wrap up this year and be run on a test basis in a handful of counties, including Clay and Marion.

The problem: Software designed by contractor Computer Associates International Inc. -- already paid more than $6 million by the state -- doesn't work. No one knew it would fail until 21/2 years into the project, said members of the Indiana Supreme Court's Judicial Technology and Automation Committee, which is in charge of the project.

"We very much hoped that by this point in time we would have at least an initial version of the case management system up and running," said Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan, who heads the committee. "It is disappointing that we do not. We're working very hard to try to get there."

The breakdown surfaced in December, as Marion County officials tested a piece of software designed for Indiana civil courts. They found it lacked a critical element -- the ability to keep tabs on court fines and costs. * * *

For its Indiana contract, Computer Associates used a software package the company had developed for five criminal courts in Florida. Programmers tried to adapt it to Indiana's web of courts, many of which follow different business practices. "It was difficult for them to get their arms around the way business is done in Indiana," said Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias, a member of the Supreme Court automation committee, which also oversees other technology projects.

Like those in Indiana, programs to computerize courts in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Massachusetts have faltered because of software problems, budget cuts or other troubles.

Members of the automation committee, which includes Supreme Court justices and trial court officials, have backed away from a timeline for launch, which originally was six years.

They expect some answers in the next six months -- the "time out" that project managers have taken for some soul-searching. "This is a very comprehensive reassessment, but it is not starting over," Mathias said.

Meanwhile, the state has stopped paying Computer Associates. The company could lose the Indiana job, officials said, although it has offered to build a whole new software system at its own expense.

Expenses don't stop

In the meantime, the state continues to pay software licensing and other fees to the state's information technology department. That's totaled about $319,000 since 2003.

Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC, a consultant paid $271,000 by the state to assist with the new courts system, will take on a larger management role. The shift likely means that firm will get a higher fee. Crowe Chizek also has collected about $340,000 for helping Marion County courts revamp their work structure in advance of the new system.

With the halt of the project, some have lost jobs. Last month, the automation committee laid off seven of its 19 employees who worked on the case management system. Their duties would have included installing the software for counties and training court workers.

The project's former manager, Kurt Snyder, was directed to other duties within the committee.

Ironically, Snyder is featured in the March issue of Government Technology. The headline: "Kurt Snyder, Indiana Supreme Court -- One of Government Technology's 25 'Doers Dreamers and Drivers'." Some quotes from that story:
Kurt Snyder started with a clean slate when he took over IT operations for the Indiana Supreme Court in 2000. That's because Indiana's judicial branch was in the Dark Ages when it came to technology.

Now, thanks to Snyder, judges statewide have Internet and e-mail access, free computer training should they need it, and a modern case management system. And all judicial employees have access to an online legal research system.

[See also Richmond attorney E. Thomas Kemp's prescient commentary Sunday based on Snyder's award and the court project, in his blog, Kemplog.]

More from the Star story:

The state committee overseeing the project has turned to the woman who started to clean up the scandal-plagued Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Mary DePrez, to salvage the courts project. * * * Sullivan tapped DePrez, who once worked for his wife at the state's Family and Social Services Administration.

DePrez, a former trial court judge, is no stranger to broken government projects. Last year, she stepped into the top job at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, where an identity-fraud ring led to guilty pleas from four ex-employees accused of helping illegal immigrants get licenses.

DePrez was out of the job by January, when Republican leadership took over at the Statehouse.

"Because her experience fits so snugly with the vision of our project, we considered ourselves lucky to get her," said Sullivan, who first pitched the case management system in 2001.

Apparently the committee made no effort to advertise for this position. The only position posted on the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee webpage is that of External Relations Liaison - and it was posted in May of 2004.

Sidebars to today's Star story give the names and salaries of the court employees working on the case management system, the committee members (all judges), and this estimate of expenses so far:

Here is an estimate for the amount spent so far, based on figures supplied by the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee:
• Payments to the state Department of Information Technology for licensing and other fees: $319,357
• Daniel Associates Inc.: $562,660
• Deb Arnett, a former clerk of court, for consulting work: $42,800
• Judge John Kellam, a senior judge and part-time Supreme Court employee who has been a "subject matter expert" on the project: $21,614
• Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC, consulting firm: $271,011
• Computer Associates International Inc., software developer: $6.3 million
Total: $7,517,442

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 8, 2005 06:55 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts