RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Over the last seven months, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather has paid close attention to court delays, claims of wrongful arrests, wrong information attached to driving records, incorrect notification of court dates, and the difficulty lawyers have had accessing their client’s case files.
CBS 17 has reported on these issues since the February 13th pilot launch of a computer software system that will eventually be used statewide.
“I do believe there still will be issues, there will be problems and that’s based on the experience that I know that they’ve had in the pilot counties,” Merriweather said. “As you have engaged with other prosecutors and other court staff there are things that still pop up that we learn about with this system as we push ahead.”
He further said, “We can plan for the things that we kind of know that go on and that have gone on in the other counties. It’s those things that we don’t know about, that even seven months into this system, that we are still learning that gives me the most concern.”
Mecklenburg County’s implementation of eCourts was delayed in May due to technical issues with the system. It’s now scheduled to go online Oct. 9.
“It’s been said that when other districts catch a cold Mecklenburg County catches pneumonia. And so, I’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared for the worst, and yet we are preparing as if the best is something that is attainable and we’ll continue to do that,” Merriweather said.
DA Merriweather recognizes that there have been improvements. But he worries the software developed by Tyler Technologies, and purchased by the state for $100 million, will come with a different set of challenges.
While North Carolina has a unified court system each district has its own uniqueness.
“It’s one thing to have something work in Wake County, Johnston County, Lee and Harnett. And all of those districts have their own way of doing things, and it’s not until you drop this system into a particular county are you really able to fine-tune it and figure out how it works for your district,” Merriweather told CBS 17.
He added, “On most days I’ve got one thousand people coming into our traffic disposition court. I know that I could have one hundred people coming into our first appearance court on a daily basis. That may not be true in some of those other places, and we’ve got to prepare in a different way.”
In Mecklenburg County, Merriweather said there are different needs and those come with different concerns.
“It is no less true as we embark upon the greatest expansion of technology in our core system in a couple of generations, and it is true that as you go from district to district, we will all have different needs,” Merriweather said.
The NC Administrative Office of the Courts will have people on the ground to help with the launch, but even that comes with another concern.
“Three years ago, when Tyler first engaged with the State of North Carolina, we were promised that all along the way they would learn a lot about what were the specific needs of our jurisdiction and even the specific needs of my office. I have yet to see that sort of presence in my office or in my courthouse to learn about the specific needs of my jurisdiction. So, it should be no surprise to me or anybody else that now we still have open questions, and we still anticipate some significant issues come October 9,” said Merriweather.
While Wake County is the most populated in the state, Mecklenburg’s courts are the busiest.
“It’s about making sure that people are served without favor or denial of delay. Despite a product that certainly has some challenges, we’re going to do everything we can to make that work,” said Merriweather.
A spokesperson for the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the project, gave the following statement to CBS 17 on Thursday:
“Unlike many states that have a non-unified court system with a patchwork of court technologies that vary by jurisdiction and case type, North Carolina is fully transitioning our unified court system’s technology by replacing obsolete mainframe indexes and paper records with a full suite of cloud-based applications for every case type and law enforcement process – statewide. The comprehensive scope of the eCourts project in North Carolina makes it a unique and exceptionally transformational replacement of paper processes with a network of software platforms connecting all 100 counties.”
As part of CBS 17’s eCourts overhaul coverage on Wednesday, the NCAOC also made a statement in response to North Carolina’s DMV commissioner calling for a delay of the software rollout. See the full statement here.