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Consultants bearing bad news about Georgia’s court technology are drawing fire from skeptical judges and clerks. Court officials from around the state have been criticizing last week’s $174,000 report by BearingPoint, formerly KPMG Consulting, that found the judiciary was “failing” in its efforts to integrate court information around the state, especially with regard to Georgia’s criminal justice database. “I don’t think there was enough research,” said Thomas C. Lawler III, clerk of Gwinnett County Superior Court. “Some of the findings trouble me a little bit.” BearingPoint presented the report to the Judicial Council of Georgia, a 24-member body that reports directly to the Georgia Supreme Court. The council — composed of representatives from appellate, superior, state, juvenile, probate and magistrate courts — is responsible for administering and improving the courts. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) implements the policies created by the council. AOC Director David L. Ratley said he ordered the report because various groups trying to automate court operations didn’t have the money or the enforcement power to make courts comply with the state’s reporting needs. “We expected [the report] to generate discussion and it seems to be doing that,” Ratley said through his spokeswoman, Billie Bolton. The report states four organizations have failed to fully update and integrate court information technology: the Georgia Courts Automation Commission, the Georgia Superior Courts Clerks Cooperative Authority, the Georgia Technology Authority and the AOC. BearingPoint consultants concluded the state needs a “fresh start” and recommended a new technology governance structure that would charge a $5 technology fee for all civil filings and criminal fines. BearingPoint also suggested the state sell court data. The new revenue sources would fund several staff members who would oversee technology coordination and improvements. One member of the council, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Martha C. Christian, was especially critical of the report. Christian, who is the president of the Council of Superior Court Judges, wanted to know when her group could have access to the consultants’ raw data and notes, so she could see for herself how they came to their conclusions. Christian said a committee of her council also is reviewing technology issues. She questioned the consultants’ “carrot and stick” approach to force court clerks to follow standards that could be adopted by the new governance structure. One BearingPoint consultant, Aaron Estis, responded that the solution is to give more money to clerks who send their caseload information electronically and heap “embarrassment” on clerks whose court systems aren’t fully automated. REPORT CHALLENGED One clerk has challenged the findings in the report, which said that 14 superior court clerks still have manual docketing procedures, including two metro counties, Henry and Rockdale. Rockdale Superior Court Clerk Joanne P. Caldwell said the report’s statements about Rockdale are “all wrong. We’ve had integrated justice since 1990. We send electronic reports to the clerks authority [GSCCCA] then to the AOC.” Caldwell said she’s proud of her county’s system. “You just can’t get the state of Georgia to listen to what you tell them,” Caldwell said. “We flow [information] from the sheriff’s office to the Magistrate court and we don’t do double entries.” She said no one from BearingPoint had contacted her about her county. Bolton, the AOC’s communication director, announced Tuesday that it supplied the incorrect information to the consultants. Bolton said Rockdale Superior Court has a state of the art system that received an award from the Georgia Council of Court Administrators. COMMISSION SET UP IN ’91 The 11-member Georgia Courts Automation Commission, created in 1991, was established to automate the courts, but the BearingPoint report said it has fallen short of its goals. Lawler, the Gwinnett clerk, disagreed, saying he thought that panel had made progress under its former chairman, Douglas County Superior Court Judge David T. Emerson. Lawler added that the panel hasn’t had a full board and, prior to releasing the report, the AOC slowly had been diminishing GCAC’s funding and staffing. Lawler also criticized the proposed $5 fee and the user’s fee. He said if the state receives the revenue from selling data, which his local taxpayers have funded, then the local taxpayers should get a tax refund. Furthermore, the revenues the $5 fee would create wouldn’t cover the staff support needed for a large county like Gwinnett. His courts (Magistrate, State and Superior courts) have about 15,000 filings per year. Multiplying $5 for each filing, he said $75,000 wouldn’t be enough to cover the six staff members who handle the Web and tech support. Lawler also said he was worried about the global impact that new proposed fees and surcharges would have on the court system. The Legislature also is entertaining ways to pay for a new public defender program and the Jury Patriot Act, which Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said he’ll introduce next session to compensate jurors for sitting on long trials. “Everyone wants to take a bite of this apple and there may not be anything left,” said Lawler. “Many people can’t pay their fines already. I don’t want it raised to the point where people can’t have access to the courts.” Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher, who chairs the Judicial Council meetings, diffused criticism of the report by delaying action on the proposal. He said at the Thursday meeting that he’ll appoint a subcommittee to review the report’s proposals. He said the Judicial Council probably won’t act on the proposal until next year, when it will prepare a request for the Georgia Legislature’s 2005 session.

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