CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — There have been reports of technical troubles with the eCourts system that is being used in Mecklenburg County. The new eCourts system is at the center of a class action lawsuit that claims people have been wrongfully detained because of system glitches and outages.
The eCourts system was rolled out in Mecklenburg County on October 9, and there was already an outage that forced court staff to return to paper temporarily. The latest outage happened Sunday evening.
A spokesman from NC Courts says a software update caused a glitch that stopped magistrates from inputting future court dates. The glitch also delayed some people from being released from jail.
This new class action lawsuit claims the launch of the system has led to people spending unnecessary time in jail violating their constitutional rights.
Attorney Zack Ezor from Tin Fulton, Walker and Owen represents the plaintiffs that include people from Mecklenburg County.
“What we’ve heard from Mecklenburg thus far, has been disappointing and unsettling,” Ezor said. “The problems that they’re encountering are of a kind that we saw in the pilot counties. You know one would have hoped that with the experience of these counties going earlier, the powers that be would have been able to identify those issues and resolve them.”
The software outage on Sunday lasted six hours, and during that time, administrators went back to the paper system. Ezor says delays for release in Mecklenburg County have been widespread since early October.
“We have it on good authority that something like 60 people were over-detained and just Mecklenburg in the first two weeks of the launch and over-detained for substantial amounts of time,” Ezor said. “Some of those will be 12 hours; some are two or three days; the longest I’ve heard about was like 70 hours.”
Sheriff Garry McFadden is named as one of the defendants in the class action suit. Sheriff McFadden says he has been doing his best to correct problems as they arise in the system.
“This is not shocking, but I wish that we had more time to look at it to see what could happen in this instance. I know that my staff have to go back to some manual stuff to please the people and make sure that we get through it and we are keeping a documented log of all of the issues that we’re having,” McFadden said. “The district attorney, the public defender’s office, the clerk of court, the detention center and my staff, we are working well together. I can at least say that we are working well together. It’s just a system [that] is not working with us well.”
Sheriff McFadden says the magistrates, office is feeling a lot of the burden of the new system. The outage on Sunday stopped magistrates from entering future court dates. Sheriff McFadden says his office is still dealing with staff shortages, adding insult to injury.
“It’s only one magistrate maybe working sometimes and if that magistrate doesn’t have the knowledge of what to do, then that could have caused the delay, but think about that,” Sheriff McFadden said. “The magistrate has to also deal with the general public who’s being arrested and everything else going on and people who coming to seek charges on someone else has to come to the magistrate window.”
Ezor says the software company, courts, sheriff and administrators have an obligation to ensure people are not wrongfully detained because of the eCourts system.
“This is an instance of somebody who pays a bond, you know, their family gets the money together, and the lawyer goes into court and gets them out, but then they’re just not released, because there’s a miscommunication between two pieces of software, both are which are provided by the same technology company,” Ezor said. “So that’s really troubling.”
In the six hours of the outage, magistrates went back to paper to record future court dates. A spokesman for NC Courts tells Queen City News that future court dates were updated electronically Monday morning when the system was fixed. The software company behind the eCourts program is Tyler Technology. The state of North Carolina paid $100 million for the software. A public affairs person from Tyler Technology directed us to the NC court system when asked about why the technical glitch happened.