By Allie Winter, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — A Colorado House panel had many questions last week for Colorado’s Judicial Department about its plan to bring the state’s courts e-filing system in house.
After fighting to get its outsourced services in house, the department already has won a victory. When its contract with Lexis Nexis, the vendor currently handling the state’s public access and e-filing systems, ends this summer, the department has been approved to bring the public access system in house. Now, it wants the same approval for e-filing when Lexis’ contract for operating that system expires at the end of 2012. At last week’s hearing, officials plead their case and their abilities.
“I understand many people think this will work, but what if it doesn’t?” asked Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, chair of the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
A big concern at the hearing was that judicial employees won’t be able to operate the system successfully, as some government systems have failed in the past. But Rep. Mike Ferrandino, D-Denver, assured the panel that the department could handle the task.
“When you look at judicial, every time they have implemented a system, the system has worked,” he said.
Another testifier, State Court Administrator Jerry Marroney, listed many programs and systems that the department has successfully launched.
“I know there’s been talk about failure,” he said. “We run probation, 90,000 people, all through an in-house system that we developed. It has 10,000 transactions a day.”
After listing a few more examples, Marroney said that not only is the department able to do this, it needs to; the system as currently constructed doesn’t do everything the department needs. Currently, the system includes only civil probate, domestic, water and county court collection filings, Marroney said.The department needs it to include criminal, mental health, juvenile and other filings and that would be possible if the department took over.
“We need it to do a lot more,” Marroney continued. “We need it because it’s our business to run the courts.”
But bringing it in house means hiring more people to help. Judicial has proposed hiring 19 information-technology employees to operate the e-filing system. This becomes a hot button for legislators, especially in light of the department’s previous request to cut 266 full-time equivalent positions in the next year. And more recently, the department has also requested permission to cut positions from its probation department.
“When people think of the judicial system, we think of judges and so forth; and the IT section is not the primary role of judicial,” said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. “So, on one hand, you’re cutting 266 legitimate judicial employees and on the other hand, you’re bringing in 19 IT positions. I think we’re all a little bit weary, [especially with the] glowing report of what the outside vendors have done, and now we’re cutting them loose.”
Ferrandino answered saying that just because something has been outsourced doesn’t mean it needs to continue that way. Ferrandino, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, said the JBC prioritized the judicial budget request and felt it was essential to get these 19 FTEs.
“[Judicial] needs judges, but if they don’t have the system they need to function then they’re not going to be able to do their jobs and so by bringing on a system that allows them to do their jobs in a better way saves the state money,” Ferrandino said.
Marroney said the department has estimated a need for $2.6 million to fund the 19 FTE it wants to bring on. But, he also said the department will produce that money from the public access system by the end of 2012 — when it’s time to bring e-filing on board. The judicial department was given permission to run the public access system in house during the session, and it has been busy preparing it, testing it and bringing 12,000 government users onto the system before it is even turned on.
“If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back,” Marroney said. “There’s nothing preventing us from reissuing an RFP.” But should it face problems, Marroney said if it’s in house, at least he can deal with problems directly.
“I’m being held responsible, and I don’t have any authority. When you chew me out about something not working I can do something about it; right now I can’t. I have a vendor to go through, and I have to fit in their mold. I want to be able to walk in and chew [an employee’s] back side if they’re not producing.”
Should the department receive its wish and win approval to operate the e-filing, Marroney said Lexis Nexis will still be a vendor and buy the information, as secondary vendors BIS and Acxiom do now. He said those contracts are being negotiated.