OAKLAND, Calif.—A local judge has ruled against the Alameda County Public Defender’s demands to revise, and possibly even halt, usage of a flawed case management software that is in use here and in many other counties nationwide.
As Ars reported in December 2016, the Alameda County Superior Court switched from a decades-old courtroom management software to a much more modern one on August 1, 2016. Known as Odyssey Court Manager, the new management software is made by Tyler Technologies.
However, since then, the public defender’s office has filed approximately 2,000 motions informing the court that, due to its buggy software, many of its clients have been forced to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, or even wrongly registered as sex offenders. As recently as this month, the Portland Press Herald reported on similar difficulties in Maine.
In a 13-page ruling issued last week, which Ars was only made aware of on Thursday, Judge Morris Jacobson denied the public defender’s office insistence that the court provide accurate records within 24 hours, and whether someone should be arrested or not be accurately marked by the end of the business day. If the court was unable to meet those requirements, Public Defender Brendon Woods argued, it should halt its use of Odyssey entirely and return to its old system.
Judge Jacobson noted that while a state law that mandates that such court records be kept “forthwith,” it does not specify that such records be processed within 24 hours, but rather, within an unspecified “reasonable” time.
As he wrote:
There is no authority to support the Public Defender’s demand that clerks input data related to court proceedings into case management systems used by other criminal justice agencies by the end of the business day or within 24 hours. However, as illustrated below, the court recognizes that clerks working in criminal departments have certain time-sensitive duties as it relates to the reporting and transmission of criminal case information to other criminal justice agencies. Significantly, none of the reporting requirements establish an end of business day or 24 hour deadline for the transmittal of such information.
Although the court recognizes that Odyssey has resulted in unlawful arrests and searches, clerical errors that affect a defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy will occur regardless of the case management system used by the court.
On Thursday afternoon, Woods told Ars that as soon as next week, his office would be proceeding on two legal fronts, including an appeal of the March 3 ruling.
“One is challenging the court’s decision, and one is an original writ of mandate, basically where we’re suing the court, and asking for injunctive relief,” he said.
Alameda County Court Executive Officer Chad Finke, who oversaw the court’s transition to Odyssey, declined to respond to the specifics of the judge’s ruling but told Ars that instances of people being wrongly arrested “have largely been resolved, or possibly entirely been resolved.”
Woods disputed the assessment that the problem had been “resolved” but acknowledged that the situation was improving. “I think [problems] have been reduced, but they are still occurring,” he said. “And they are occurring at a higher rate than they did prior to Odyssey. It’s not as bad as it was the first three or four months when it started, but it’s still occurring.”
Finke noted that due to budgetary constraints, the county is stuck with this new software, despite its admitted flaws. “I don’t think there’s been any significant change to the software, but operationally we have figured out ways to deploy our staff and prioritize their work,” he said. “We have created a triage model, so that any information pertaining to warrants or incarceration is ultra high priority, and we’re now developing backlogs in other places, which is fine—ideally we wouldn’t have any backlog in data entry.”
The court executive also noted that other counties have been able to alleviate similar problems simply by hiring more staff, but that is not possible for Alameda. “I think if that was an option for us, which it’s not, we would explore that,” Finke said. “I don’t think the software is a great fit for our court.”
Public Defender Woods also reiterated his call for Tyler Technologies to help. “I do put some sort of onus on Tyler to help fix it, and not just lip service,” he said. “Not just technical support via a phone call, we need to get a bunch of bodies down here to fix it.”