RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Among the documents and files that staff sift through, 100,000 cases make their way through the Wake County court system each year.
To say the 1980’s computer system that supports all of that is arcane would be an understatement.
“So as I’ve hired new people coming out of law school, coming out of school that are used to having grown up with a computer in their hand and they come in and you try to train them on this system, that literally for some of them is as old as twice their age, it’s been a challenge to try and keep people engaged and to be able to do the work using the system,” said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman (D).
The entire North Carolina court system is getting not just an upgrade, but a complete overhaul at a cost of more than $85 million dollars. However, before that happens the counties of Wake, Lee, Harnett and Johnston will pilot launch the eCourts program February 13.
But that comes after a delay of more than a year.
“It’s one of those things that as you start to roll out new technology you know there were just a number of points in time that we thought the system would be ready to go, that the technology just wasn’t up to where it needed to be in order to kind of push it out into the public,” said Freeman who co-chaired of the select committee that chose Tyler Technologies and their software program.
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts oversees technology upgrades. The fact that glitches delayed the launch may not come as a surprise if you look at the company’s track record. Tyler Technologies has faced litigation and setbacks in multiple states.
Officials in Shelby County, Tennessee were hit with a lawsuit after inmates who’d posted bond weren’t released and people were allegedly rearrested after their warrants were cleared.
The California State Bar Association had to send out a notice after the public was able to access private case records.
The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California sent out a notice after an issue with traffic tickets.
During a public meeting in the fall of 2021, local attorney Ben Garcia told the Lubbock County Commissioner’s Court “after sensitive data was made public, including dates of birth, driver’s license and socials, the family law cases were taken completely offline.”
Nearly a year later, Lubbock County President of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Matt Morrow told CBS 17 sister station KAMC “Texas criminal procedure law requires that discovery be provided to an attorney in a criminal case as soon as possible. And it’s just not happening. That’s the big thing, we’re not getting things that we have to have that are really not hard to get: police reports, witness statements, body cam videos, things that are really very easy to get turned over that we’ve not had issues getting before.”
District Attorney Freeman said issues like those in other states are part of the reason the pilot launch in North Carolina has been delayed.
“I think one of the reasons you’ve seen this delay is that every possible effort has been made to try to avoid those types of things. Certainly, we will be on high alert to see if we’re having those types of problems and to do what we can to fix them,” she said.
CBS 17 asked Tyler Technologies for an interview or written comment. The company spokesperson replied, “your best source of information regarding the implementations in North Carolina will be someone with the North Carolina Judicial Branch.”
In a Tuesday news release, NCAOC Director Judge Andrew T. Heath called it an “exciting time for the Judicial Branch and for those we serve.”
“The modernization of our courts from paper to digital will help us better serve North Carolinians who have business with the court and help us continue to ensure that justice is administered without favor, denial, or delay. We appreciate the public’s patience and cooperation during this historic transition,” Heath added.
Freeman said Tyler Technologies is providing on-site technical support in the first weeks of the launch. “I think the important thing is that people’s rights aren’t violated, that these cases are able to continue to move and that we are able to address those problems as quickly as possible. I think the resources that the state is putting here as far as boots on the ground, resources that Tyler Technologies is putting here as far as boots on the ground, certainly goes a long way in being able to address those issues, we’re just going to have to see how it goes,” Freeman said.
This is part one of an ongoing series. CBS 17 will continue to dig deeper into how and why Tyler Technologies was chosen, how the new system is funded and whether Tyler Technologies will be liable if any issues arise.