Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

Glitches worry judicial officials

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CLEARWATER — With only 47 days before its roll-out, officials are finding significant glitches in a $10 million court case management system which, if not fixed, could result in such bizarre scenarios as the wrong person getting arrested on a warrant.

“These are very legitimate concerns,” said J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which covers Pinellas and Pasco counties. “We are trying to address all of these issues.”

The software system, called Odyssey, manufactured and marketed by Tyler Technologies Inc. of Texas, is paperless and designed eventually to make obsolete the mountainous files and vast warehouses Pinellas courts have used for decades in its role as recordkeeper.

Defense attorneys, for instance, will be able to e-file motions in criminal cases, a less time-consuming task than having to drop off a hard copy at the Pinellas County Justice Center. If a particular document has been imaged into the system, a clerk can call it up and make a copy, instead of trudging to the stacks and pulling the entire case file, which can comprise more than one volume.

Odyssey already is used in cases where people file lawsuits against each other and in probate court where wills are disputed, said Ed Hansen, the liaison between Odyssey technicians and the county officials, such as the chief judge and the clerk of courts, who will rely on it.

The criminal court part of the system is scheduled to go live March 31, according to the contract with Tyler Technologies signed in 2010. Clerk of the Court Ken Burke raised a host of concerns in a letter on Jan. 23 to Tonya Rainwater, the project sponsor.

“Obviously, Tyler must take corrective action to resolve these outstanding issues,” Burke wrote.

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For instance, Odyssey can’t seem to configure a correct schedule of court fees for matters ranging from the penalty for running a red light to fines paid by convicted felons, Burke wrote.

“If fee schedules are not created correctly, customers may suffer by being overcharged, driver’s licenses could be suspended incorrectly or not reinstated promptly,” Burke wrote.

“Warrants may be issued in error causing false arrests, which would impact the arresting agency, state attorney, clerk, and judiciary, and more importantly, the individual who may be falsely arrested,” his letter said.

In addition, separate computer systems already in use haven’t been interfaced with Odyssey, leaving Burke’s office with the prospect of entering information manually.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s office also has some concerns, according to a report his staff submitted Jan. 17.

For instance, the Odyssey system does not have an easily accessible space to let a clerk know that someone who has been arrested on a warrant outside Pinellas County is free on bail.

“The chances of an individual being re-arrested greatly increases if this information is not easy to locate,” the report states.

Another glitch is that a clerk has to click a box marked “secret” if a deputy does not want everyone, including the criminal, to see what the sheriff’s office knows about a fugitive. The deputy, for instance, may not want to let on that he knows the fugitive is using an alias.

“For notes from deputies, tips, etc., if they accidentally were not made private and released to the public, it could result in compromising the integrity of a case, an officer’s safety could be at risk, and a citizen’s safety (who called in a tip) at risk,” the report states.

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One problem, according to Hansen, is Tyler Technologies is devising a system that integrates all the systems used by the major players in the criminal justice system in Pinellas: the state attorney, the public defender and the judges, in addition to the sheriff and clerk of courts.

When Gualtieri’s staff members checked with five other Florida sheriff’s offices using Odyssey, they found that wasn’t the case. Those offices maintained a separate system that was better suited to their needs, the report said.

“In most other areas, it’s the clerk only,” Hansen said. “That’s what makes it unique. That’s what also makes it harder.

“If you talk to any IT type of person, they will tell you when you do something this big it’s not going to be perfect,” Hansen said. “If you wait until everything’s perfect, you will never go live.”

Judge McGrady echoed the point: “This is a pretty massive undertaking we’ve been planning for years. I have no doubt there will be bumps along the road.”

 

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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