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Top California courts administrator to step down

Under fire over a California courts computer modernization project whose costs have skyrocketed, as well as over leadership issues, William C. Vickrey announces he will leave in September.

March 23, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento -- The top administrator for California's courts announced Tuesday that he would step down, a month after two state lawmakers urged that he be fired for his handling of a computer modernization project that has skyrocketed in cost from $260 million to $1.9 billion.

William C. Vickrey said he would retire as administrative director of state courts effective Sept. 9.

The announcement came a few months after the project manager on the troubled computer program was replaced. Vickrey's leadership had also been challenged by a group of about 350 judges who are seeking more say in how state courts are operated.

The retirement has been in the works since last August, said a statement by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who last month rebuffed calls for Vickrey's ouster from Democratic Assembly members Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach.

"He will be sorely missed and difficult to replace,'' Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement Tuesday.

Philip Carrizosa, a spokesman for the chief justice, said the retirement had nothing to do with the lawmakers' recent criticism.

Lowenthal said the departure "gives the chief justice a chance to set a whole new level of responsiveness and accountability."

Vickrey had been under fire for months from a group called the Alliance of California Judges, which has accused the court administration of wasting money on poorly planned projects, including the computer modernization effort, while budget cuts have forced them to shut down some courtrooms.

"It has become obvious to everyone that serious changes need to be made in the governance structure of the judicial branch, and now is the time,'' said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, a director of the alliance. "We need accountability, transparency, democracy and judicial oversight.''

Later Tuesday, the chief justice took actions that address criticism from judges and lawmakers. Cantil-Sakauye announced in a video message to judges that she is appointing a Strategic Evaluation Committee to conduct a "top to bottom'' review of the Administrative Office of the Courts that Vickrey has headed. That will "help reset priorities and goals'' of the office to focus on core services to the courts, she said.

She also said she planned to make changes to the 31-member State Judicial Council, which oversees the office, including an expansion of the group of judges and attorneys. She said she would take input on the expansion from judges and others before deciding how to proceed.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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