Data Dives - Episode 2: Order in the Digital Court

By Erik Oehler, Global Digital Content Marketing Manager

Digitizing justice is difficult. Today we look at California Courts latest attempt to digitize, several years after the cancellation of CCMS, as well as a conversation with County Clerk Mike Jankowski from Wayne County, NY, whose courts have gone digital. 


Today we feature a breakdown of the California Court System's latest attempt to digitize, several years after the cancellation of CCMS, as well as a conversation with County Clerk Mike Jankowski from Wayne County, NY, whose courts have gone digital.

Documents referenced in this episode:

California Courts' 4 year strategic plan

California Courts' 2 year tactical plan

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Erik: It’s March 2012, members of the SEIU that's the Service Employees International Union holding a rally outside of a meeting in San Francisco of the Judicial Council of California. The rally really only has one goal in mind. Alameda County Superior Courts chapter president, Debbi Pearson.

Debbi Pearson: If we hadn’t gone to CCMS, our doors wouldn’t be closing at 2:30. We would have full services in the courts. Stop CCMS. Fund the courts!

Erik: CCMS or the California Court Case Management System was a decade long project intended to automate California Court operations, taking it all digital with a common system used throughout the state and replacing seventy different legacy systems. In 2004, when it was initiated, was projected to cost 260 million dollars, but it suffered like many projects of that scale from scope creep. It turns out, it's trickier than you'd expect to digitize the court system of the biggest state in the country. Fast forward to 2011, and California made a sweeping round of budget cuts that left a lot of smaller courts without the staffing and resources they needed to even stay open full time. CCMS was more than halfway complete, but it wasn't as advertised. End users were reporting extremely slow response times saying it made their jobs harder than without it. An audit in 2011, projected the total spend to complete the rollout statewide would be close to two billion, nine times over budget. Another speaker Larry Bradshaw SEIU Vice President,

Larry Bradshaw: Never I have seen court rooms close people waiting hours to get help with the court. Access to the judicial system has always been seen as the foundation of our democracy and I guess what's most infuriating about it is that these cuts are unnecessary, and when we see the nearly two billion dollars are wasted on this computer system. And then to see the cuts that happened on top of that is truly, truly disgusting. And we want to call the publics attention to that.

Erik: Meanwhile, inside a different side of the story was being told as Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses the council about CCMS and the budget challenges they're facing.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye: As to CCMS, first, I want to thank you for the pivotal role that you played in informing our decision on how to go forward with CCMS. The audit that you requested that I received last year in the first few weeks of my administration helped to inform us about how to go forward on oversight. And we know now we have a system that works. But we haven't changed fiscal reality a changed landscape reduced resources.

Erik: Later that day.

Newscasters: New at 6:30, it is the largest cost overrun the state auditor has ever seen. A core computer system projected to cost billions of dollars as KCRA’s, Mike Lorrie tells us the state is pulling the plug on the California Court Case Management System.

Erik: The Judicial Council voted unanimously to defund CCMS. Today on our episode, we talked code digitization, as California takes another swing and making their workforce and citizens lives easier. And across the country from Wayne County in upstate New York.

Mike Jankowski: That's science fiction stuff, but that's here already.

Erik: A jurisdiction which has completely digitized their court system. We'll have a conversation with county clerk Mike Jankowski who saw the project through. You are listening to data dives from Alaris, a Kodak Alaris Business. My name is Erik Oehler, stay tuned. Here's California State Auditor Elaine Howell.

Elaine Howell: There was not a lot of upfront planning, a lot of upfront oversight as far as okay, what do we really want this system to accomplish?

Erik: As a November 2018, article from put it. Quote, the project divided the judiciary between those who saw it as an outrageous waste of money that would never work as intended, and those who saw its potential to streamline court services, if only the judiciary could convince the legislature to pump more money into it. After the project had been in development for years, it was used in only a handful of courts, and only successfully by those who had customized it beyond recognition. Fast forward again to today and California is trying again to modernize its courts. Late last year, they released a four-year strategic plan based on three principles, accessible and easy to use systems for all those who seek to use the state's courts, the maintenance of a well architected, secure and reliable technical infrastructure and the fostering of a culture of innovation through planning, collaboration and education to enhance court services and operations. On paper, it seems great, will link to the full plan in our show notes. In December, Heather Pettit took over as Chief Information Officer inheriting the new strategic plan and tasked with executing it through a tactical plan that breaks it down two years at a time. She presented it to the Judicial Council in May here is how to addressing the council speaking to the objectives of the plan and how it's going so far.

Heather Pettit: This first set of initiatives starting with our very first strategic goal, which is promote the digital court.

Erik: Promote the digital court. What exactly does that mean? the plan summarizes it as increasing access to the courts administering justice in a timely and efficient manner, and optimizing case processing by supporting a foundation for the digital court. And by implementing comprehensive digital services for the public and for justice partners. If that sounds like it covers a lot, it does. It includes things like language and access improvements to serve the more than two hundred languages spoken in the California Courts, and seven million limited English proficient residents include self-help functionality to assist the more than 4.3 million people per year in California that represent themselves in court, Heather is here to highlight two initiatives specifically.

Heather Pettit: The first is the branch wide identity management. This is a complicated, but yet incredibly important initiative that needs to be addressed. It focuses on court users, how they access our systems, how they access our data, and what rights they have to access our data. This will actually go through the process using technology to validate who has what has access to our systems, Justice partners, courts public. The second initiative that I think is absolutely critical to call out is the data analytics and business intelligence initiative. As we all know, and we've seen from the presentations earlier today that we have moved from a paper-based environment to now a digital data based environment. And it's with this information and this change and how we do business. It's absolutely critical that we look at the type of data we collect, who has access to it, how it is being used.

Erik: Looking at those more in depth and the plan. It's clear this is much more thought out than CCMS they have very well written summaries of how they're going to approach Information Security remote court appearances. The approach seems agile, localized, focused on delivering value adds to the courts making their lives easier, rather than trying to supplant everything they're doing with one unified system. Later, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye goes as far as to call out the differences and commend Heather's team on their approach.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye: I have to say, to see the goals in this way and to see them updated. The tactical plan the strategic plan, it's tremendous because this is homegrown from the branch it is our probably our greatest populist movement that we have, where we use the talent and the communication of the branch to create it. I mean, I won't delve into history, but this is far different from how we talked about technology ten years ago, and this has come on with strength, and I would say fire and it's getting supported, and it's getting financed, because other branches of government recognize the good work that's being done here. And when it's put into a format that we all know and keeps us on track for our goals. It's very important to us. I call for a vote to adopt the update the tactical plan update.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye: And finally, the moment of truth.

Speaker 7: All in favor, please say, I any opposed? any abstentions? we adopt the plan. Thank you see you in another two years.

Erik: The postmortem on CCMS is obvious in retrospect. Technology was an easy scapegoat in 2012. When your coworkers are being laid off, and you're prevented from purchasing items you need to do your job, one billion dollars feels like a lot, even if it's spread over the span of a decade. Technology is this double-edged sword in that regard. When times are good, it is seen as an investment that can make things better. When times are bad. It's easy to blame. People take first priority. It doesn't exonerate the many multitude scope creep that brought down CCMS. But it does speak to the long-term nature of technology investment that's a tough pill to swallow in government. Gains in productivity don't occur for years. In some cases, once systems are rolled out and users are adopting them and then becoming proficient in them. The return on investment horizon isn't congruent with election cycles. As far as the four-year technology plan, time will tell.

Mike Jankowski welcomed me into his office with a warm smile, asked how much room we needed for the interview. I told him the table across the room from his desk was fine. It makes room for my microphone pushing some boxes of paper files aside, behind his desk lies evidence of exactly who he is, framed photos of Lincoln, Roosevelt, a well-worn book. The Tao of leadership. A Maneki Neko, the Japanese cat figure that symbolizes good luck, the one with the paw in the air and on the desk itself, several hour glasses. Wayne County Clerk Mike Jankowski’s duties cover a lot of ground.

Mike Jankowski: I handle all the land records court records for the county and supreme court filings relating to like pistol permits, which is a court function, passport applications, for fun run the department of Motor Vehicles for the county and the county historian’s office.

Erik: Oh, is that all? Several years ago, New York State enabled the electronic filing of court and land records. It was up to county municipalities to be ready for it, but also to start moving on digitizing their courts. Wayne County was already ahead; they had started digitizing paper records in 2001.

Mike Jankowski: They are in the process of trying to get counties to start E filing, we have, of course, embraced that process.

Erik: Wayne County embraced it quickly moving to the digital workflow and working with an outside vendor to develop an indexing scheme.

Mike Jankowski: We've got million images in my system right now. So, if you don't have a good indexing system, those images are pretty worthless in last December, we then shifted, and you need a court order for this, we went to mandatory electronic filing of court documents. So, everything is now, virtually everything's coming in. The transformational aspect of it is the elimination of handling the paper. And the amount it takes the staff to process that paper. I mean, when it came in, you had to have somebody take it in, they had to review it, make sure it's correct in form, cashier it, issue receipts, scan it in, verify it, and then ship it out.

Erik: The time saved has been huge, it's freed up his staff to start scanning other types of records like deeds. Their solution is aided by field extraction automation, which is still, as Mike tells it, prone to errors.

Mike Jankowski: The time savings is that they don't have to manually type everything. But as they go in and they verify to make sure that everything is correct because once it goes into the record, it's out there into the wild. And so our process is still, the verification is still a very important step in terms of making sure you have the right number of pages, it didn't skip pages, the number of pages that it was expecting to go into the system.

Erik: The system itself sounds a lot like what California is attempting to do this time around. A central system for all records that still allows individual jurisdictions and the freedom to choose solutions most applicable to their work.

Mike Jankowski: In the state constitution, the county clerk is the clerk of the county and Supreme Court. So, I am the official keeper of the records, but they still want their own copies. And it's a check and balance built into the system. That's why we don't have a state database and that's the only thing everyone uses. You've got sixty-two counties, and all of them handle it differently.

Erik: Reaction from the public has been great. But Mike says once they interact with it, it's an easy sell.

Mike Jankowski: The public is most you know, they're all about like what makes their life as easy as possible through some pain in the neck processes. And if you're able to give them their information quickly and accurately, you know, the improvement that I'm able to look up somebody documents on a terminal and we're able to tell them what we got and then push a button to print it out for them, as opposed to sending people back to the books where they would have to go through the indexes manually to try to find something and then they get a citation and we try to pull it out of there. I mean, it's just huge, I think it very much improves the life of the customer. And now we're going to try to move stuff online. And that will improve their lives even more.

Erik: For funding the projects themselves, all credit goes to his county board who have been supportive, no doubt with some help from Mike sense of showmanship in his pitches.

Mike Jankowski: One time when I was pitching this last project, I was working on with the back scanning, I actually took one of the deep books over and threw it on the table with the committee meeting and to show them what I was talking about.

Erik: Find this.

Jane Kaliski: Well, it was almost a two-hundred-year-old book. And it was, you know, falling into pieces. And when you get the paper, it's creating a lot of wear and tear on the books. And when it's digitized, all that goes away.

Erik: I asked if anything surprised him about the transformation.

Jane Kaliski: One is the managing the development aspect of the of the indexing system, you know, there's little pieces that things don't always work the way they're supposed to work. I mean, these are incredibly complex animals. So, you're always going to be getting speed bumps and something that work today isn't working tomorrow when they put another patch in. So, that's not a problem, it's just something that you work through as you do these things. The biggest surprise that I've had, and I mean, I knew it on one level, but when I'm actually seeing it, it’s another, is the impact on the workflow in the office, the improvement of what their productivity is out there, because we've shifted to the digital so much.

Erik: What do you see the courts of 2025 to 2030 looking like?

Mike Jankowski: A lot fewer people are going to be directly participating in the administration part of the process, getting to the point where things are born digital, and you're sending a digitally you won't, you'll create a situation where people don't have to come into the office, they can just go ahead and ship the stuff to us online you know, down in New York City, they're already experimenting with automating with AI and algorithms justice. Bail is being handled by computers down there right now and that's science fiction stuff. But that's here already. And I see more and more functions like that.

Erik: Finally, do you have any advice for other county clerks around the country that might be struggling with this.

Mike Jankowski: Be the most informed person in the room. Know everything, read everything, know more than anybody else about the digital images, the mechanics of the digital images, what the law is, what other states are doing. I'm right now starting to get into the issue of cyber security more and more because that as we become more hundred percent digital, we have to be paying attention to the cyber security aspect. There's been a number of attacks on midsize and smaller municipalities lately. So, I'm just really trying to get up to speed on what that means and how we approach those issues. My goal is to make sure that I've done my due diligence, and I've done everything I can, and be able to demonstrate that I've done that, and that's what a lot of officials are going to have to worry about.

Erik: On my way out I catch a glimpse of the hour glasses on his desk again. Mike values time. Time for county employees’, judges’, citizens’ time that he's helping Wayne County back one scan at a time My thanks again to Mike Jankowski, the Wayne County Clerk. You can check them out at Data Dives can be found wherever you download your podcasts. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, share, get it out there. If you have an interesting data story about you or your company and want to be a part of the podcast, please reach out to us at Alarisworld on Twitter or LinkedIn. This and every episode of data dives would not be possible without the support of Alaris, a Kodak Alaris business, delivering scanners software and services that can lead your company's digital transformation. Find out more at My name is Erik Oehler. Thank you for listening. We'll see you next time.

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