California Court System’s Data Revamp

When it comes to enterprise demands in the California court system, the numbers are astonishing: The state’s 58 superior courts–one for each county–process more than 9.5 million case filings each year through more than 500 court facilities. And, before an ongoing, ambitious IT consolidation effort took hold, each of these jurisdictions operated on one or more networks that were most often designed and launched entirely independently of the others.

This created bottlenecks in the pursuit of jurisprudence: If a driving-under-the-influence (DUI) defendant attended a preliminary hearing in San Francisco, for example, the judge might have had no idea that the same defendant was wanted for violating a restraining order in San Jose. The scales of justice were not always balanced either, because each county had to accommodate its court IT needs within its own budget.

“This meant that big urban areas like Los Angeles had well-funded courts, with more than enough judges to hear cases and robust technology to handle it all,” says Mark Dusman, CIO of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). “But in rural counties with large geographic areas and very few taxpayers, it was a different story. They could not afford the same tech resources. As a result, you might have an entirely uneven level of experiences in dealing with the individual court systems.”

Tasked with improving the administration of justice statewide, the AOC is working with courts, lawyer groups, law enforcement, social service agencies and others in state government to address this scenario. The multiphased network consolidation plan is a large factor in that success. An AOC veteran since 1996, Dusman recently spoke to CIO Insight’s Dennis McCafferty to reveal in detail how the effort has taken shape and the impact it has made. In an edited version of that conversation, here is what Dusman had to say:


  • Dispersed data systems that don’t integrate well will cost your organization both money and time.
  • A pyramid structure that can be completed in stages is the key to bringing together disparate legacy information systems.
  • Infrastructure is the base of the pyramid, topped by a secure, scalable and effective platform upon which applications can be added as needed.
  • Virtualization, selective cloud computing and videoconferencing are all tools you can use to reduce costs.

CIO Insight: How did the network consolidation begin?

Mark Dusman: It started with the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997, which shifted the fiscal responsibility of the municipal courts from the counties to the state of California and to the Judicial Council, the governing body for the state court system. The AOC is the staff agency to the council. Before that, we provided support to these counties, but we didn’t control the purse strings.

From an IT standpoint, the lack of consolidation created a technology Tower of Babel. Each of the county court systems had its own system. Each had its own network. Each had its own applications. Few of them talked to each other. Even within the same county, if it was large enough, you’d have separate systems. The ability to share information–which is critical for the delivery of justice–just wasn’t there.

Why is this level of information sharing so critical?

Dusman: Our case-management systems became 800-pound gorillas because the data systems didn’t integrate well. A death penalty case, for example, can go on for decades and compile a huge amount of information within a system. And multiple jurisdictions may have needed data to share when, for example, an appeal could come up.

If there were separate charges in different counties for the same person, the public defender representing that defendant in one county might need to get information from a sheriff in another jurisdiction who’s in charge of bringing the prisoner to the courthouse. Too often, this didn’t happen. The legacy systems did not support data exchanges in a timely fashion, whether we were dealing with district attorney offices, [the Department of Motor Vehicles], child support, welfare or any part of our court systems.

Dennis McCafferty
Dennis McCafferty
Dennis McCafferty is a contributor to CIO Insight. He covers topics such as IT leadership, IT strategy, collaboration, and IT for businesses.

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