Politics

California Courts Consider $20M Donation From L.A. Lakers Co-Owner for Computers

June 8, 2011: Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, right, is seen at an event for a new heavy aerospace cutting tool in Los Angeles.

June 8, 2011: Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, right, is seen at an event for a new heavy aerospace cutting tool in Los Angeles.  (AP)

A billionaire co-owner of the L.A. Lakers has offered to donate $20 million to the California courts to help develop a new computer system that already has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The state Judicial Council has agreed to consider the offer, as officials see the proposed donation from Patrick Soon-Shiong as a way to get the troubled project off the backburner. Amid some questions over Soon-Shiong's intentions and lingering concerns over the sheer cost of the computerized record system itself, the state plans to enter a three-month discussion period over whether to move forward. 

"Before Dr. Soon-Shiong appeared, we were kind of on hold because of the state budget and the cuts made to the judicial branch," said Philip Carrizosa, spokesman with the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. "We're very grateful that he's stepped forward." 

Earlier this year, a state audit estimated the total cost of the decade-in-the-making computer system was about $1.9 billion. Carrizosa disputed the statistics, pegging the cost at more like $1.3 billion. But with the state having spent about $350 million on the system so far, that leaves at least another $1 billion needed to get it fully up and running. 

Fiscal constraints had recently forced California to shift money away from the project and into the trial courts, putting the project on hold. Carrizosa said the $20 million donation would help get the project back online, and allow the state to deploy it in three court systems. 

Soon-Shiong, aside from co-owning the Lakers, is a health care mogul who helped develop the breast cancer drug Abraxane. The proposed donation would come through his foundation, the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation. 

Carrizosa said the donation could be a combination of cash and services -- such as the use of the foundation's fiber optic network and its data centers to host the system. These ideas were spelled out in a recent "letter of intent" regarding the proposed gift. 

Some have raised concerns about whether the state should be continuing to fund this project. Los Angeles-area Judge Burt Pines was quoted by Courthouse News Service saying he's "got a real question whether in the end this is affordable." 

One column in the Sacramento Bee also questioned whether Soon-Shiong is setting himself up to profit off the computerized court-document system by "selling access." 

Soon-Shiong could not be reached for comment. 

But Carrizosa said there are "no strings attached" to the offer, and that the donor wouldn't profit off such an arrangement. 

"He is a philanthropist," Carrizosa said.