Thousands for Airfare, Hotel and i-PadsBy Mike Luery

By Mike Luery

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — On the heels of a critical audit about overspending, California court bureaucrats are in the spotlight again.

A growing number of Sacramento judges are in open revolt – and speaking out to CBS 13 – about what they say is additional waste of taxpayer dollars.

This time it involves a trip to San Francisco, where 52 hotel rooms were recently booked at the San Francisco Holiday Inn for court officials from across California. And guess who paid for it?

You did.

“It was a two-day infomercial,” stated Maryanne Gilliard, a judge in the Sacramento Superior Court. “They weren’t seeking input. They weren’t voting. They weren’t proposing new ideas. It was a quote – ‘dog and pony show’,” Gilliard told CBS 13.

Gilliard is one of several judges angered by a two-day San Francisco conference held by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Three judges who spoke to CBS 13 called the conference wasteful – an event “that could have been conducted over the Internet at a greatly reduced cost to the taxpayers and people of California,” Judge Gilliard stated.

The conference was held to discuss California’s court computer system. Expense records for the conference obtained by CBS 13 show the AOC spent $13,220.10 for the hotel, meals and airfares.

The AOC spent the money to discuss a new computer system that is already six years behind schedule and more than a billion dollars over budget, as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin McCormick noted with irony:

“For the price that they put on the computer system, you could buy a space shuttle,” McCormick told CBS 13.

That’s no exaggeration. With a $1.9 billion estimated price tag for the California Court Case Management System, CCMS is more expensive than building the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which cost $1.7 billion according to NASA.

Given the cost overruns, CBS 13 wanted to know why court administrators opted to spend additional money on the two-day conference. I directed my question to Terry Bruiniers, an Associate Justice with the First District Court of Appeals. Bruiniers chairs the CCMS Governance Committee.

“And in this case you had hotel and airfare and meals. Couldn’t that have been done more simply by teleconference?” I asked.

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“Well not with the number of people we had involved,” the Associate Justice told me.

“We had our executive committee. We had three subcommittees. We had over 60 people involved in that,” Bruiniers stated.

He then added, “I think it was absolutely essential. I think it was money well spent.”

As for the judicial critics, Bruiniers told CBS 13, “I think some of them would criticize regardless of what it is we do. I think they would criticize if we hadn’t done it.”

But those critics are fuming over another recent purchase by the AOC – 14 top of the line iPads with full accessories at a cost of roughly $1,000 each.

“I think that is a Marie Antoinette let-them-eat-cake-moment,” noted Steve White, the Presiding Judge for the Sacramento Superior Court.

Judge Kevin McCormick agreed. He told CBS 13: “These people all make over $100 thousand dollars and some of them over $200 thousand a year and they’re handing out iPads as if they need them. They don’t,” McCormick stated.

I asked the judge if the iPads are an appropriate use of public funds.

“Absolutely not,” Judge McCormick stated emphatically.

In response, Associate Justice Terry Bruiniers told me, “Well I’m not sure how it qualifies as excessive spending. I’m sure we could use legal pads and pencils as well. But it’s far more efficient to use the technology we have available to do the job that we’re supposed to be doing.”

The iPad controversy adds more fuel to the fire for critics. The battle over future funding for CCMS continues, with millions of dollars at stake.

Supporters of the computer system point to a new cost-benefit analysis showing savings of $300 million a year.

However, lawmakers remain skeptical and some are threatening to cut off funding entirely.

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