December 1, 2011

Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee questions proposed private funding for CCMS

Earlier this week, we noted that Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire, had offered to give the judicial branch $20 million to begin to implement the controversial and over-budget Court Case Management System (CCMS). Soon-Shiong and the judicial branch have signed a letter of intent and entered into discussions to explore the possibility. But in an article in yesterday’s Daily Journal [subscription required], Emily Green reports the Legislature is more than a little skeptical of the proposed arrangement. Green quotes Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a member of the Judicial Council, as saying, “‘I know there are a lot of people anxious to get CCMS up and running, as am I, but I do believe we need to do it with public funds in order to protect the public’s interest.’” (We previously mentioned Senator Evans in this post.)

According to Green, among the significant questions posed by Soon-Shiong’s proposal are the following: “Is the $20 million a gift? Or is it, as critics have charged, a donation with strings attached? If the court docket system were to be hosted using fiber optics that Soon-Shiong owns, would he also own the rights to the content? And if the billionaire investor himself ends up in court, does the entire judicial branch have to recuse itself from hearing the case because of the multimillion-dollar donation?”

Green reports that “[t]he judiciary has so far cut the Legislature out of any role in the negotiations” with Soon-Shiong. This may be symptomatic of the chilly relationship between the judicial and legislative branches since the Legislature imposed $350 million in budget cuts on the judicial branch earlier this year. But Green quotes Curtis Child, Director of the AOC’s Office of Governmental Affairs—and the judiciary’s top lobbyist—as saying, “If something gets put together, then we will have discussions with the Legislature.”

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