By Mike Luery
Courthouse delays are more common now because of staffing shortages. But an On The Money investigation has discovered that one government agency -- the Administrative Office of the Courts -- is growing despite a statewide hiring freeze.
"They've gone on a hiring spree with IT consultants and technicians and the totals are in the millions of dollars," said Maryanne Gilliard, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge. Gilliard is also part of a rebellious group known as the Alliance of California Judges.
Judge Gilliard told CBS13 that the money is going to a court computer project that is years behind schedule and already hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The projected costs have jumped from $260 million to $1.9 billion.
Kevin McCormick, another Sacramento County Superior Court judge, blames the Administrative Office of the Courts for hiring dozens of consultants.
"They're being carried under contracts with the AOC so they don't have to be reported as employees. And they don't report them as employees," said McCormick, who is also a member of the Alliance of California Judges. The Alliance told CBS13 the group has some 400 members across the state.
The judges say millions of taxpayer dollars are going to outside firms like the Blackstone Technology Group, All-Star Consulting and Ascent Services Group despite state budget cuts and a hard freeze on hiring.
"It's incredible because they've got over 140 people on staff already responsible for doing IT services," McCormick said. "Yet they're outsourcing huge numbers of contracts, oftentimes well over $100 to $200,00 a year."
The Administrative Office of the Courts declined to be interviewed on camera for this report. But the agency admits it used an employment agency to provide temporary workers for temporary needs. The AOC sent a statement to On The Money, defending the practice.
"This is a common practice in both the public and private sectors and it's more cost-effective than hiring full-time workers, especially during a downturn in the economy," stated Philip Carrizosa, a spokesperson for AOC.
But is it really more cost-efficient?
"What we found was there were at least four AOC employees that were being paid $35 an hour when they were AOC employees, but now they're working for Apple One Temps and they're being paid $50 an hour," Gilliard said.
In response, AOC spokesperson Carrizosa said the four workers, "started with us in July 2010 as temporary '909' employees on our payroll... Even though 909 employees are temporary, they're still eligible for benefits. In July 2011, they became temporary workers through Apple One, so they're no longer 909 temporary employees. The hourly cost for the workers has gone up (because, as an employment agency, Apple One, receives part of a worker's costs) but they are not receiving benefits."
But Gilliard is not convinced of any savings. "I don't see that as a win-win for the taxpayer," she told CBS13.
Gilliard said the money is coming out of the trial court trust fund that keeps the courts open -- and that is troubling to many judges who fear courtrooms may go dark.
In response, the AOC issued a statement saying, "These funds are being used to keep courthouses open and operating. In many cases, temporary workers or contractual services are being used to maintain services for the courts' infrastructure -- their facilities and technology," Carrizosa said.
The AOC spokesperson added, "In 2010, we had 45 temporary workers provided to us by Apple One. In 2011, we have 41 temporary workers provided to us by Apple One."
But how much will it cost taxpayers to hire these temporary workers?
In documents obtained by CBS 13, the AOC reveals it spent $5.2 million over the past two years on IT consultants for the Court Case Management System.
The AOC spent an additional $3.5 million for other court information services during that two-year time span.
Carrizosa stated, "Please remember that it costs about 30 percent less to use temporary workers than hiring new staff because we do not provide benefits to temporary workers. Also, we can remove these workers when the project they are working on is completed."
But the Alliance of California Judges questions the use of additional tax dollars for the court computer system project.
"I think it's irresponsible how money's being spent on an IT project that's already over budget and way behind schedule," McCormick said. "There is no doubt that the overall picture in terms of the expenditure of funds has done nothing but grow -- even in the face of a hiring freeze."
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