RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — On any given day at the Wake County courthouse, you might find a long line or a sign that says the system is down or maybe a shorter line but long enough you may be inclined to bring in a chair.
“It has slowed down what we do by, I couldn’t give you a percentage, but it’s drastic. I spend a big portion of my day standing in line,” said criminal defense attorney Trey Fitzhugh.
Seven months after the court computer system switchover to eCourts. CBS 17 continues to hear complaints that include the same issues like people receiving a notification that has the wrong court date. That’s what happened to Gloria Freeman who took off work only to find out her court appearance was scheduled for a different day.
“So, everybody’s getting mixed up especially with computers and stuff, so I came down here for nothing, you know,” said Freeman.
Criminal defense attorney James Jackson said he’s had trouble accessing case files, including records being arbitrarily changed and the wrong calculations for court fees and fines have been posted.
“We spend more time fighting with the system than we do fighting on behalf of our clients,” said Jackson.
“We’ve got clients being arrested, we’ve got cars being seized, we’ve got all sorts of problems that didn’t happen, and certainly not at the volume we see now, before this system came into play,” Jackson added. “We have made every effort to try to make it work and try to help it along and what we’ve found is that I’ve got my office staff crying when they’re leaving the office in the afternoons over the frustrations of a system that just doesn’t work.”
Wake County is the most populated county in the state and is one of four counties chosen to pilot the software before the $100 million eCourts system launches statewide.
“If we’re a pilot county and the system doesn’t work, what are we doing? We’re flying the plane to destruction and headstrong to a system that just doesn’t work,” said Jackson.
As CBS 17 has previously reported, Johnston County, also part of the pilot program, has seen vast improvements since its launch. But their volume level is not as large as Wake’s.
Mecklenburg County, with Charlotte as its county seat, was scheduled to launch eCourts earlier this year. That launch has since been rescheduled for October due to technical issues experienced in the original pilot counties.
Trey Fitzhugh was one of the first lawyers to approach CBS 17 expressing his worry and frustration. This many months later—he’s far from satisfied.
“You find out because your clients got a letter in the mail from DMV saying that their license is revoked, through no fault of mine and no fault of theirs, just simple data entry error. Because it takes so many steps to conduct this process. I think people have gotten more proficient with the system, but you can’t fix this but so much,” he said.
Fitzhugh also said speed is a major obstacle.
“It’s still extremely slow, it is still extremely prone to errors whether they are software based or whether they are a result of human error, there are so many more opportunities for there to be errors that it’s a disaster every day of the week,” Fizhugh said.
“The real dilemma is that the court personnel cannot hit the buttons fast enough, click the clicks fast enough, move from screen to screen fast enough to keep a line moving. Now we’ve become a slave to the system is what’s happening. We’re a slave to this computer program that wasn’t built for this sort of environment, and it just doesn’t meet the bill,” said Jackson.
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts is overseeing the transition. NCAOC also speaks for eCourts software developer Tyler Technologies. In response to CBS 17’s most recent request for comment, NCAOC released this statement:
“North Carolina’s court system is replacing paper records with a multi-platform, cloud-based, integrated case management system – statewide – unlike other states that have a non-unified patchwork of applications that vary across jurisdictions. The comprehensive scope of the eCourts project in North Carolina connects law enforcement, courts, and the public, to move our state from a laggard to a leader with long-term benefits for a generation.
Systemwide speed and stability have improved throughout the eCourts pilot phase, with respect to both application performance (software programming) and infrastructure performance (database servers/hosting). Tremendous change management efforts for administrative processes occur simultaneously to user adjustment to software systems, during the programming and infrastructure refinement of a pilot phase. The confluence of these transitions in a pilot phase do present challenges that are necessary and consistent with the scope of a project this vital for the public, and AOC and our partners continue to improve performance to deliver digital accessibility for court filings and records searches.
Replacing paper processes with case management software increases transparency and accountability in our legal system. We are grateful for the dedication of local court officials, state government partners, legislators, attorneys, and other stakeholders, to deliver 21st century digital solutions that transform our state’s paper-based court system for the benefit of all North Carolinians.
The eCourts pilot phase has saved citizens countless trips to the courthouse by providing electronic filing and remote records access. The project has saved more than 1.5 million pieces of paper by processing an average of 10,000 remote records searches per day, over 350,000 total electronic filings, and over a million criminal processes statewide.
For the first time, self-represented parties who previously had to navigate complex legal matters alone can complete and file documents electronically through user-assisted interviews in eCourts’ Guide & File system. More than 39,000 interviews have been completed to create a court filing in Guide & File.
Much success has been achieved over the last six months. This pilot period has enabled the vendor to resolve software issues and make enhancements to digital court processes, resulting in a much-improved system for statewide use…The launch of Odyssey ICMS will break down many barriers to public access to the courts. It will place court files at the fingertips of lawyers and litigants. It will empower Judicial Branch employees to work more efficiently, and it will create greater transparency and increase access to justice.
In addition to courthouse walkthroughs, trainings, and learning resources provided to the public on nccourts.org/ecourts, the NCAOC is providing live eFiling training and Portal records search trainings for attorneys, judicial partners, and members of the public in Mecklenburg County in preparation for October 9, 2023. Over 1,200 individuals have registered for or completed Mecklenburg County trainings since the announcement of its go-live date, and over 1,500 individuals registered for in live and in-person trainings for the pilot counties.“