SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Sitting in a law office in Smithfield, three attorneys from three counties knew it may be a rough start. A month in, it still is.
“And then there’s many things we still cannot do in this system. Legally filing paperwork and pleadings and documents, driving privileges, expunctions things of those natures,” said attorney Parrish Hayes Daughtry.
What worries Daughtry, Jack O’Hale and Trey Fitzhugh is that even if problems with the new eCourt software do improve, it’s still going to be problematic because of how many steps it takes for each case.
“There is no way no matter how much we improve, to Parrish’s point, that this will not continue to be an extremely burdensome process for everybody involved,” said Fitzhugh.
The lawyers say that “burdensome process” is delaying case after case because even the simplest traffic citation is taking so long.
“Remember first and foremost that all lawyers, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys are officers of the court and we’re trying to work together to accomplish a common goal which is to do justice under the law. That’s not happening right now,” said John O’Hale.
Then there is the matter of public safety which includes children and victims of domestic violence. Daughtry said “we’ve had clients that have been awarded custody in an order and it takes five days to get the order in hand.”
“The public doesn’t need to wait five days for an order regarding children. I’ve had clients in domestic violence protective order court have continuance orders and had to wait to have that protection. I’ve had orders entered a week later and that means the original order of protection expired,” Daughtry added.
Some of Fitzhugh’s clients are getting a shocking surprise in the mail.
“You go into the court system they amend it to an improper equipment or reduce the speed to something that would not increase your insurance or would not cause you to lose your driver’s license. Well low and behold because of the data entry burdens there are concrete examples of people receiving letters from the Division of Motor Vehicles saying you are convicted of 81 on a 65 your license is revoked,” said Fitzhugh.
Daughtry is also concerned there is not enough security to keep someone from potentially altering an official court document.
“I’m terrified about what I’ve already seen and what’s to come. The constitutional and due process and inequities that this system poses on the public is setting the state of North Carolina up for a great lawsuit against them,” said Daughtry.
Tyler Technologies is under contract for the $100 million project. Tyler has referred all questions to the administrative office of the courts. In response, the agency said:
“Overall, the system is working and getting better each day. Both attorneys and courthouse staff are gaining comfort and familiarity with the system. That said, any new system has a learning curve and requires configuration refinements during the pilot phase. That is the case with this project. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a 24/7 help desk that staff, judges, clerks, DA’s all have access to for any assistance. Attorneys and other members of the public can access guides and other helpful resources at https://www.nccourts.gov/ecourts. NCAOC staff has been on site in each county to assist with using the system.”
Eventually, all 100 North Carolina jurisdictions will switch over to eCourts, which includes Odyssey and eWarrants.
The pilot phase of the overhaul in Wake, Johnston, Lee and Harnett Counties launched February 13. Tyler Technologies has faced litigation and pushback in other states after a list of alleged problems.
“One has to wonder what sort of due diligence did our state government do in entering into this contract when you’re dealing with somebody who had a track record that is substantially less than perfect,” said O’Hale.
Note: According to the NC Administrative Office of the Courts, the original contract for the overhaul, including Odyssey and eCourts software, totaled $85 million. That contract has since been amended to include eWarrants software for an additional $24 million, making it a $109 million project.