In this web post, we provide an overview of the judicial branch and the level of funding proposed in the Governor’s 2017-18 budget. We also assess and make recommendations on two specific judicial branch proposals. The first proposal consists of a $4.1 million augmentation to replace case management systems in nine trial courts. The second proposal consists of a $842,000 augmentation to support various court interpreter-related activities, including a video remote interpreting pilot.

LAO Contact

Anita Lee

February 14, 2017

The 2017-18 Budget

Judicial Branch

Overview of Judicial Branch Budget

The judicial branch is responsible for the interpretation of law, the protection of individuals’ rights, the orderly settlement of all legal disputes, and the adjudication of accusations of legal violations. The branch consists of statewide courts (the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal), trial courts in each of the state’s 58 counties, and statewide entities of the branch (the Judicial Council, Judicial Council Facility Program, and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center). The branch receives revenues from several funding sources including the state General Fund, civil filing fees, criminal penalties and fines, county maintenance-of-effort payments, and federal grants.

Total Funding Proposed to Remain Relatively Flat in 2017-18. Figure 1 shows total funding for the judicial branch from 2012-13 through 2017-18. Total funding for the judicial branch has steadily increased between 2012-13 (year in which the judicial branch last received a significant reduction in General Fund support) and 2016-17, and is proposed to remain relatively flat in 2017-18 at about $3.9 billion. Of the total budget proposed for the judicial branch in 2017-18, about $1.7 billion is from the General Fund—nearly 43 percent of the total judicial branch budget. This is a net General Fund reduction of $119 million, or 6.7 percent, below the 2016-17 amount. This net reduction primarily reflects a $108 million decrease related to the expiration of various one-time expenditures in 2016-17 (such as $25 million for the Court Innovation Grant Program).

Figure 1: Total Judicial Branch Funding

Slight Increase in State Funding. As shown in Figure 2, the Governor’s budget proposes $3.7 billion from all state funds (General Fund and state special funds) to support the judicial branch in 2017-18, an increase of $13 million, or 0.3 percent, above the revised amount for 2016-17. (These totals do not include expenditures from local revenues or trial court reserves.) Of this amount, roughly three-fourths would support state trial courts.

Figure 2

Judicial Branch Budget Summary—All State Fundsa

(Dollars in Millions)




Change From 2016-17



State Trial Courts






Supreme Court





Courts of Appeal






Judicial Council






Judicial Branch Facility Program






Habeas Corpus Resource Center











aDoes not include offset of trial court expenditures from excess local property taxes.

Sustain Justice System Edition Case Management System Replacement

LAO Bottom Line. The Governor’s budget proposes $4.1 million from the General Fund in 2017-18 to replace the existing case management systems for nine trial courts. We recommend that the Legislature modify the Governor’s proposal to only provide funding for the judicial branch to conduct a more detailed “fit-gap” analysis to ensure that the costs estimates for replacing existing case management systems are accurate. We also recommend that the Legislature direct the judicial branch to revise its cost-benefit analysis to accurately reflect the costs and benefits for the proposed project.


California Case Management System (CCMS). In 2002, the judicial branch initiated the development of the statewide CCMS to replace numerous case management systems used by individual trial courts to schedule, process, and track court cases. The goal of CCMS was to develop a single, statewide, modern case management system that would have various benefits, such as increased electronic access to court records and greater efficiency from less work associated with paper-driven filings. CCMS was developed in iterations with a small number of courts deploying and testing either the criminal module (CCMS V2) or the civil module (CCMS V3). The final version (CCMS V4) was intended to be a statewide system that covered all case types.

The CCMS project was ultimately terminated in 2012 without being fully deployed statewide. Between 2002 and 2012, the judicial branch reported spending about $530 million on CCMS—a significant increase over the initial $33 million cost identified by the State Auditor in a 2011 audit. (We note that individual trial courts may have spent additional funds on CCMS V2 and CCMS V3 as well.) The State Auditor raised various concerns about the project—including inadequate planning for the project, a lack of cost-benefit analysis, a failure to develop accurate cost estimates, and an inability to structure the development contract to adequately control for cost and scope.

Replacing Case Management Systems After CCMS. A number of trial courts delayed replacing existing case managements systems while waiting for the completion of CCMS. After the termination of the CCMS project, a number of trial courts used their reserves (unspent funds from prior years) to replace all or parts of their case management systems. (We note that current law significantly limits the ability for trial courts to build up their reserves for such projects.) As of January 2017, 31 courts reported completing the replacement of all or a part of their case management systems. Numerous other replacements are currently in progress. Additionally, as part of the 2016-17 budget, the Legislature approved $25 million in one-time General Fund support over three years to replace CCMS V3 for the four courts still using the system.

State Oversight of Court Information Technology (IT) Projects. The California Department of Technology (CDT) is the state’s central IT organization and generally has broad authority over all aspects of technology in state government. CDT’s most notable responsibilities involve reviewing and approving projects proposed by state departments, conducting project oversight, and taking action to remediate poor performance. In 2016, CDT implemented a new four-stage IT project approval process—business analysis, alternatives analysis, procurement analysis, and solution analysis. CDT must approve the project at each stage before the IT project can move forward. The purpose of this new multistage process was to create a collaborative process between the department and CDT to ensure that the proposed project is the best technical solution to address well-defined programmatic needs.

The judicial branch is one of the few departments not required under current law to follow the above process. Instead, only judicial branch projects with total costs estimated at more than $5 million are subject to CDT reviews and recommendations. However, the judicial branch is not required to follow the department’s recommendations (unlike other state departments). Moreover, judicial branch projects that are not requesting state funding are not required to justify their projects to the Legislature or undergo CDT oversight in the same manner as other state IT projects.

Governor’s Proposal

The Governor’s 2017-18 budget includes $4.1 million from the General Fund in 2017-18 and $896,000 in 2018-19 to replace case management systems for nine trial courts: Humboldt, Lake, Madera, Modoc, Plumas, San Benito, Sierra, Trinity, and Tuolumne Superior Courts. The courts would each replace their existing Sustain Justice Edition Case Management System with the more modern eCourt system offered by the same vendor.

Currently, these courts and Judicial Council spend about $3 million to support the existing systems. Of this amount, $210,000 is from the General Fund, about $1 million is from the Improvement and Modernization Fund (IMF), and the remaining $1.7 million is from trial court operations funding. Upon full deployment of the new systems, the judicial branch estimates that the courts will spend about $1.7 million from their budgets to support the new systems. Judicial Council will no longer provide fiscal support to these systems.

LAO Assessment

New Case Management Systems Merit Consideration . . . New case management systems merit consideration as the current Sustain Justice Edition Case Management Systems prevent the nine courts identified from processing, accessing, or providing court documents more efficiently. For example, these courts cannot make use of a data exchange developed by Judicial Council to streamline the process for processing protective orders as the existing case management cannot accept the data exchange. Additionally, while the vendor indicates that it will continue to provide support to keep the existing case management systems operational, the vendor also reports that there will be little to no enhancements to the existing systems. This could make it difficult for these courts to update their systems, such as to address changes in court processes.

. . . However, Cost Analysis May Not Be Accurate. The nine courts formed a consortium to develop and issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a new case management system. These courts collectively identified their general business, network, training, and infrastructure requirements in the RFP and ultimately selected a vendor after reviewing written responses and vendor product demonstrations. However, it does not appear that the individual courts conducted a “fit-gap” analysis, which identifies how closely the selected technology meets the needs of system users. A fit-gap analysis includes a detailed analysis of the existing business processes, operational deficiencies of the existing system, and potential opportunities for improved operations and efficiency. This detailed analysis is used to determine whether a new case management system is needed and what changes or modifications will be required of the proposed new system to meet the specific needs of each court. (State departments typically conduct such an analysis throughout the four-stage CDT process prior to requesting funding from the Legislature to begin the project.) Conducting this analysis is important as each court likely has its own processes and procedures that could require the new system to be modified in different ways. Failure to have an adequate fit-gap analysis can result in a mismatch between the functionality offered in the newly implemented court management systems and the needs of the system users—such as court staff and members of the public. The courts would then face a difficult decision—they either would have to make do with new systems that did not fully meet their needs and expectations or invest in potentially costly and time-consuming system enhancements. Because these changes can result in costs, they should be identified before entering into a contract to ensure that the scope and cost of the project are appropriately calculated and documented. Therefore, the proposal could be understating the costs of the new case management systems.

Additionally, in reviewing the cost-benefit analysis for the project we identified a number of apparent inconsistencies, raising questions about the accuracy of the cost and benefits estimated by the courts. For example, some of the ongoing cost to maintain the new eCourt systems does not appear to have been factored into parts of the cost-benefit analysis. This means that the cost-benefit analysis may be overstating the benefits and understating the costs of the project. Not having the estimated costs and benefits accurately documented makes it difficult for the Legislature to determine whether the Governor’s proposal merits approval.

LAO Recommendation

Only Approve Funding for Fit-Gap Analysis. Given the concerns raised above, we find that it is premature to consider approving funding to replace the case management systems for nine trial courts without a fit-gap analysis. Accordingly, we recommend that the Legislature modify the Governor’s proposal to only approve funding for the judicial branch to conduct a more detailed fit-gap analysis to ensure that the cost estimates for replacing the existing systems with the newer eCourt systems are accurate. We estimate that the cost of such an analysis is not likely to exceed the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This would ensure that the Legislature has adequate information to assess the proposed project in its future budget deliberations. This is particularly important as the judicial branch has historically had difficulty successfully implementing case management systems and does not go through the state’s regular IT review process. (Please see the nearby box for a recommendation we made previously about requiring the judicial branch follow the state’s IT process.)

Prior LAO Recommendation to Require Judicial Branch Follow State’s Information Technology (IT) Process

In prior years, our office recommended that the Legislature require the judicial branch follow the state’s IT process. This would help ensure that the projects appropriately demonstrate the problem that needs to be addressed, identify potential programmatic opportunities that can improve operation and delivery of services, identify estimated costs and quantifiable benefits for various alternatives, and clearly outline the final scope and cost for the project. The state’s new four-stage iterative process is designed to allow departments and the California Department of Technology to work together to ensure that the proposed project is justified and that final project details—such as project scope, schedule, cost, and resource needs—are defined as accurately as possible. These details then serve as a baseline for monitoring the project’s progress and performance.

Direct Judicial Branch to Revise Cost-Benefit Analysis. We also recommend that the Legislature direct the judicial branch to revise its cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project to accurately reflect the estimated costs and benefits, including any changes due to the fit-gap analysis recommended above. This would help the Legislature and the judicial branch determine whether the new eCourt systems are the most cost-effective alternative to the existing systems.

Implementation of Language Access Plan and Support for Court Interpreters

LAO Bottom Line. We recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposed $352,000 and two positions to complete a video remote interpreting (VRI) spoken language pilot project. The judicial branch initiated the project on its own last year with existing resources, which suggests that it would be willing to use existing funding on a one-time basis in 2017-18 to complete the project. We also recommend the Legislature direct Judicial Council to submit a report evaluating the pilot upon its completion. In addition, we recommend the Legislature approve the proposed $490,000 in one-time funding from the Court Interpreters’ Fund for various activities to improve the provision of the state’s court interpreter services as the request appears reasonable.


Court Interpreter Program. Federal and state law generally require the provision of court interpreter services in court proceedings. The judicial branch is currently in the process of expanding the provision of interpreter services to all civil case types, while continuing to provide such services in criminal and juvenile cases. As of September 2015, 37 courts (about two-thirds of all courts) reported providing spoken interpreter services in all, or nearly all, civil case types. The judicial branch estimates that about $103 million (General Fund) will be spent on interpreter services in 2016-17. (This amount includes an ongoing $7 million General Fund augmentation approved as part of the 2016-17 budget.)

Judicial Council Support for Court Interpreter Program. State law also authorizes Judicial Council—the policy making and governing body of the judicial branch—to conduct various administrative activities to ensure that competent and consistent interpreter services are available in court proceedings. These activities include (1) maintaining a list of certified court interpreters, (2) operating a statewide interpreter testing program, (3) adopting standards for certification and discipline, (4) collecting data on the use and need for interpreters, and (5) adopting programs for recruiting and training interpreters. State law authorizes the Judicial Council to charge fees, such as application and certification fees, to support such activities. These revenues are deposited into the Court Interpreters’ Fund. For 2016-17, the judicial branch estimates that nearly $165,000 will be spent primarily to offset court interpreter spoken language testing costs. In addition to these funds, the judicial branch spent about $145,000 from the IMF for court interpreter testing and outreach activities in recent years.

Language Access Plan. In January 2015, the Judicial Council approved a strategic plan to improve the language access services available to court users across the state. The goal of improving and expanding such services is to ensure that court users with limited English proficiency can understand, utilize, and fully participate in court proceedings. Examples of activities the judicial branch hopes to pursue to achieve these goals include implementing and maintaining a statewide recruitment effort for qualified court interpreters and bilingual court staff, improving signage in trial courts, expanding translations of Judicial Council forms, and conducting a VRI spoken language pilot. (VRI is the use of video equipment to allow a court interpreter to provide service without being in the room.) The judicial branch hopes to fully implement its strategic plan by 2020.

VRI Spoken Language Pilot. The judicial branch began its work on the VRI pilot project in March 2016. The purpose of the VRI pilot is to measure the effectiveness of various available technologies and identify potential challenges with using VRI. To date, the branch has funded the pilot using existing staff and fiscal resources—including one-time funding from operational savings. The judicial branch will also be contracting with San Diego State University to help evaluate the VRI pilot. The judicial branch currently estimates that courts will test the use of VRI for six months in 2017-18 and that the evaluation will be complete by the summer of 2018.

Currently, three vendors of remote interpreter equipment and three courts—Merced, Ventura, and Sacramento Superior Courts—have been selected for the pilot. The vendors have agreed to provide the equipment at no cost to the trial courts for the purpose of this pilot. The pilot courts are currently in the process of determining which courtrooms will test the vendor equipment and which case types will make use of the equipment during the pilot.

Governor’s Proposal

Funding for VRI Spoken Language Pilot. The Governor’s 2017-18 budget provides $352,000 from the IMF and two positions on an ongoing basis for the VRI pilot. Specifically, these resources would be used to support various activities related to the implementation and evaluation of the pilot, such as project management and the development of training materials. Upon completion of the pilot, the judicial branch indicates that these resources will be used to expand VRI to interested trial courts, monitor the implementation of VRI, manage statewide agreements for purchasing VRI equipment, and provide subject matter expertise.

Funding to Benefit Court Interpreters Program. The Governor’s 2017-18 budget provides a $490,000 one-time appropriation from the Court Interpreters’ Fund to support various activities to benefit the court interpreters program. This funding will support six activities including: expanding the interpreter testing program to include American Sign Language, providing training to help individuals become certified court interpreters, and conducting outreach to recruit individuals to become certified court interpreters.

LAO Assessment and Recommendation: VRI Pilot

Pilot Already Started by Judicial Council. As discussed above, Judicial Council has already started the VRI pilot by selecting the participating courts, selecting and identifying the participating vendors, and redirecting funding for San Diego State University to evaluate the project. It is unclear why the judicial branch started the project and entered into agreements before receiving legislative approval of the project and the additional funding to support the total cost of the project. Including the Legislature so late in the process limits the Legislature’s options. For example, the Legislature will likely have little input in how this pilot is structured. Additionally, if the Legislature had been involved in the project before the judicial branch began work on the project in March 2016 , it could have directed the judicial branch to include this project in the one-time $25 million Court Innovations Grant Program that was approved as part of the 2016-17 budget. (This program provide grants on a competitive basis to support trial and appellate court programs and practices that promote innovation, modernization, and efficiency.)

The judicial branch has already made significant progress in implementing the project. For example, the judicial branch indicates that it is currently recruiting for the VRI Project Manager position—one of the positions that would established and funded under the Governor’s proposal. This suggests that the judicial branch believes this project is a high enough priority that it would be willing to use a relatively small portion of its existing funding to support it if the Legislature does not approve the proposal to provide state funds.

Premature to Request Ongoing Funding Before VRI Pilot Is Completed. The general purpose of the VRI pilot is to determine whether the technology is a cost-effective way of delivering court interpreting services and if it should be implemented statewide. As the VRI pilot has not been completed, we find that it is premature to provide ongoing funding at this time. This is because ongoing funding may not be necessary if the planned evaluation of the pilot finds that VRI is not a cost-effective method for providing interpreter services and should not be implemented statewide.

Proposed Fund Source Is Problematic. Additionally, the Governor’s budget proposes to provide this ongoing funding from the judicial branch’s IMF. A large portion of the revenue supporting this fund is from collected criminal fines and fees, which have been declining in recent years. This has resulted in the fund struggling to remain solvent. Committing additional IMF resources to ongoing program expenditures could make it more difficult for the fund to maintain solvency—particularly if revenues continue to decline.

Reject Governor’s Proposal. While VRI could be a cost-effective method for providing interpreter services, we are concerned that the judicial branch did not seek legislative input before starting the project. Given that the progress made to date by the judicial branch suggests that it would be willing to use existing funding on a one-time basis to complete the pilot project if the Legislature does not approve the proposed funding, we recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposal. To the extent the judicial branch chooses to fund the project with its own resources, it could request additional resources in the future to maintain or expand VRI use to the extent the pilot demonstrates that VRI is a cost-effective way of delivering interpreting services. We recommend that the Legislature direct the judicial branch to provide it with the planned evaluation of the pilot project, to the extent the branch chooses to move forward with it.

LAO Assessment and Recommendation: Support for Court Interpreter Program

One-Time Funding Could Benefit Program. As discussed previously, trial courts continue to expand the provision of court interpreter services into civil cases. Investing one-time resources to recruit, test, and train additional qualified court interpreters could help expand their availability in trial courts, while still ensuring that services are delivered competently and consistently across the state.

Approve One-Time Funding to Benefit Court Interpreters Program. We recommend the Legislature approve the request for $490,000 in one-time funding from the Court Interpreters’ Fund for various activities to benefit the court interpreters program. The proposed use of the funds appears to be reasonable and could help increase the availability of certified court interpreters. Additionally, the Court Interpreters’ Fund has sufficient resources to provide the requested funding on a one-time basis.