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Newsom’s Proposed Spending on Courts’ IT Upgrades Gets Qualified Backing

The Legislative Analyst’s Office supports part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal for modernization of state courts’ technology, but it suggests more oversight by lawmakers on the bulk of his plan for the judicial branch of California.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) is giving qualified approval to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed $34.7 million budget allocation for state courts to modernize their technology, but it wants lawmakers to have more sway over whether and how most of that money is spent.

In his proposed fiscal 2022-23 budget released last month, Newsom allocates $34.7 million to the judicial branch of California to fund the state courts’ IT modernization. Of that sum, the judicial branch would get $3.7 million for a new information security office, and $7.3 million for state and local courts to spend on modernization as they saw fit. The LAO says those allocations are reasonable.

But, in a report issued Thursday, the analyst’s office questions whether there’s sufficient oversight of the remaining $23.5 million in Newsom’s proposal. In the governor’s proposed budget, the judicial branch would have that money to spend on branchwide modernization projects. The LAO says state lawmakers should have more direct oversight of how – and how much of – that $23.5 million is spent.

“To the extent that providing $23.5 million in discretionary funding for branchwide modernization projects allocated at Judicial Council’s discretion is a legislative priority, we recommend modifying the proposal to increase legislative oversight,” the LAO says in its report.

Newsom’s proposed $34.7 million allocation for the nation’s largest court system would fund 27 positions in 2022‑23. That would rise beginning in fiscal year 2025-26 to $40.3 million in funding to include 50 positions for tech modernization projects.

The $3.7 million that Newsom proposed to spend in 2022-23 for the information security office would grow to $6.2 million annually beginning in 2025‑26, LAO says in its report.

“This office would monitor judicial branch assets statewide, assists courts in addressing any incidents (such as hacking or phishing incidences), and educate staff on this topic.”

Of Newsom’s proposed $7.3 million for state courts’ and trial courts’ technology modernization efforts, $3.2 million would go to support new state trial court technology staff and program costs, the LAO report notes.

“The remaining $4.2 million would be allocated to trial courts for technology modernization efforts to be identified by the individual courts," LAO wrote. “According to Judicial Council (the judicial branch's policymaking arm), annual allocations would depend on court size, with 15 courts each receiving $50,000, 35 courts each receiving $75,000, and eight courts each receiving $100,000. The intent of this funding is to provide courts with the necessary staff and funding to conduct local technology modernization projects based on local priorities.”

Those two elements of Newsom’s plan, totaling about $11 million for the coming fiscal year, “appear reasonable,” LAO says.

But for the $23.5 million, “We recommend that the Legislature modify the proposed Judicial Branch Modernization Program to increase legislative oversight,” LAO says.

“Specifically, we recommend the Legislature specify limits on the types of projects that can be funded, or set a total per‑project cost limit on projects that can be funded,” the analyst’s office says in its summary. “This would limit the number or types of projects that could be pursued without legislative oversight through the annual state budget process. We also recommend requiring annual reporting from Judicial Council on what projects are expected to receive funding through the program each year and how program funds were actually used in the prior year. This would allow the Legislature to conduct regular oversight of the program, provide input prior to allocation of program funds, and identify areas where legislative action could be merited. Depending on the specific modifications made to the governor’s proposal, the Legislature will want to adjust the amount of funding accordingly.”

The LAO report also addresses building more courts, examining future funding and solvency of state courts, and assuring equity in funding among the state’s courts.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.