RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Several months after the software eCourts pilot launched in Wake, Johnston, Lee and Harnett counties, a class action lawsuit was filed claiming the new software system led to wrongful arrests and unlawful detainment.
As the launch has now expanded into Mecklenburg County, so has the original lawsuit.
“These are people who either paid a bond or for some other reason were authorized to be released from jail but weren’t for in some instances up to two to three days extra time,” said Zack Ezor. Ezor is based in the Durham office of Tin Fulton, Walker and Owen Law and is a lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the class action complaint.
Part of what Ezor referred to is spelled out in a newly amended complaint. It alleges that during the first four days of the Mecklenburg County launch, technical defects led to 66 people being detained for three to four days when they shouldn’t have been.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, magistrates were unable to schedule future court dates because of issues with the software.
“From the prosecution side, not being able to issue warrants… you know, we’ve got public safety concerns about that. Also think about not being able to issue things like restraining orders or protective orders,” said Ezor.
Sunday’s issue led to district court judge Elizabeth Thornton Trosch’s authorization of the use of paper. By the time court opened Monday morning, the issue was resolved.
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, which is overseeing the project that Tyler Technologies was contracted to do, said in a statement:
“Our understanding is that Mecklenburg County did not revert to paper and court sessions are operating normally this morning. Following a regular software update, the eCourts vendor had to conduct additional maintenance to resolve an issue in which magistrates could not select a future court date while completing criminal processes in eWarrants. This issue lasted from approximately 6 p.m. to midnight and no other eWarrants functionality was impacted. For those processes that required entry of a next court date, those processes had to be completed in paper during that timeframe and were later entered into the system.”
Eventually all county courts in the state will transition to eCourts. The contract for the software and its implementation comes at a price tag of $100 million and is largely funded by tax dollars and court fees.
Ezor said with the long history of problems since the original eCourts pilot launch in February, NC AOC should have been better prepared, but still praised the judge’s order for a backup system.
“That’s exactly the sort of backup that we’ve been jockeying for since we filed this lawsuit. It strikes me as entirely reasonable that as we’re experimenting with the new system statewide and working out the problems that we would be able to pivot back to a paper system if we need to so that our court system doesn’t just grind to a halt,” said Ezor.
The amended complaint added several defendants. Wake County Clerk of Superior Court Blair Williams, Lee County Clerk of Superior Court Susie Thomas, Executive Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts Ryan Boyce and NC AOC Chief Business Officer Brad Fowler. NC AOC said it could not comment on the pending lawsuit.