Gift horse

Nov 1, 2011

The endless fiscal woe of the mismanaged overhaul of the California courts' computer system -- now carrying a $1.9 billion price tag -- took another odd turn with the offer of a $20 million gift from a physician who critics say may hope to exploit the huge trove of court records by selling access. The hapless Judicial Council, which runs the court system, already has spent $500 million in what rapidly appears to be a bottomless pit.


From the Bee's Dan Walters: "Supposedly, the money would come without strings from his foundation, but skeptics, including many judges, worry that it's a forerunner of efforts by Soon-Shiong to exploit court records for profit by selling access. That's happened in other states, and commercial data banks have made no secret of their desire to control access to California's huge trove of legal records."


"Fueling suspicions about the offer's potential strings is that it would include use of Soon-Shiong's data center, which he has developed for a medical records system similar to the legal records system that the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts have been trying – so far unsuccessfully – to install in California."


"Soon-Shiong is a very controversial figure in the medical field for how he has exploited expensive treatments. He's also a part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and has been lauded by politicians, especially in Arizona, for investing heavily in medical technology."


"The only member of the Judicial Council to express skepticism about the offer was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burt Pines, who noted that the $20 million is a relatively small amount."


Speaking of bottomless pits, cost projections of California's nascent high-speed rail system are pegged at $98.5 billion, which is more than double earlier projections. As Sam Spade said in the Maltese Falcon, "That's a lot of dough."


From the LA Times' Ralph Vartabedian: "The estimate includes possible future inflation that will drive up the cost of the line, which would send trains at up to 220 mph from Southern California to the Bay Area."


"The cost growth results in large part from a major revision in the construction schedule. In the past, the state assumed the system would be completed by 2020 but now assumes construction would be finished in 2033. That stretched-out schedule and an assumption that future inflation would average 3% per year are two key reasons the overall estimated cost of the system almost doubled in the new business plan."


"In the past, the California High Speed Rail Authority has estimated the cost of the system would be $43 billion, based on construction being finished in 2020."


If donations to a lawmaker never made it into a campaign account, the donations can be solicited a second time, according to a legal opinion from the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is examing the case of Democratic fiscal operative Kinde Burkee.


From KQED's John Myers: "But now, the multi-million dollar question in the allegations of embezzlement against Durkee: which donations were actually deposited... and thus are now final... and which were not?"


"With the criminal investigation into Durkee's activities still ongoing, the many Democratic candidates and groups that used her accounting services are wondering how to make up the dollars that are now missing from their political bank accounts."


"This afternoon, the state Fair Political Practices Commission released an analysis from its staff attorney that says some donors may, in fact, be able to write another check -- even if they assumed they had maxed out under campaign contribution limits."

From the port to the schools to municipal government, Oakland is bracing for a general strike sparked by Occupy Oakland. The Chronicle's Kevin Fagan, Demian Bulwa and Matthai Kuruvila have story.


"Major goals will be protesting at banks or corporations that refuse to shut down for the day, then marching in the evening to the Port of Oakland to try to shut down the night shift."


"Some employees and businesses downtown, where the core activities are scheduled, intend to participate, while others plan to carry on as normal - hoping there won't be a resumption of last week's violent clashes between protesters and police."

"The entire world is tired of the greedy corporations controlling everything, and now is the time that people are doing something about it," rapper Boots Riley, an organizer of the strike day, said Monday. "All over the world, people are looking to Oakland."


More on Occupy Oakland: A photo that went viral on the Internet doesn't show that Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen's injuries were caused by a San Francisco sheriff's deputy, authorities contend.


From Kristin J. Bender and Matthias Gafni in the Oakland Tribune: "A picture of the deputy, his photo and video of him on downtown Oakland streets last Tuesday night has gone viral with hundreds, if not thousands of Twitter messages, a posting on Facebook and on numerous websites."


"We have seen what everyone else has seen on the Internet," said spokeswoman Eileen Hirst. "So, we're investigating. However, we're quite certain that anyone involved with our department was not responsible for anything that hit Mr. Olsen." Hirst said the department is treating the Internet debate as a citizen's complaint and is investigating."


"Between the pre-dawn raid on the Occupy Oakland camp at Frank Ogawa Plaza last Tuesday and the after-dark clashes between police and the hundreds of protesters, 17 police agencies, including the Oakland Police Department, were involved in police action."

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