CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather expects there will be hiccups with the rollout of the new eCourts system based on problems with the switchover in other counties in the state.
The Mecklenburg County Court system is about to get a major overhaul.
For the first time ever in the county, people will be able to search and file court records electronically without having to take a trip to the courthouse, but the switchover has not gone smoothly in other counties.
Undoubtedly, the North Carolina court system needs an upgrade, but the technology used to make the switch in Mecklenburg County has already caused problems in and around Raleigh.
“There’s no way I can look at what happened in Wake County, Johnston County, Lee County, and Harnett and think that somehow in Mecklenburg County we’re going to get off scot-free,” Merriweather, a Democrat, tells Queen City News. “There will be hiccups, there’s no question. Based on the experiences that we’ve seen in the pilot counties, there will be hiccups.”
Mecklenburg County was supposed to launch the new eCourts system in May, but that was delayed until Oct. 9 because of issues with the system in other parts of the state.
The state hired Tyler Technologies and is paying them more than $85 million for the new eCourts software to upgrade courthouses in North Carolina.
Wake, Harnett, Lee, and Johnston Counties began piloting the eCourts software in February.
Queen City News’ sister station, WNCN-TV in Raleigh, reported issues with the system, including court date mix-ups, people left in jail for days after posting bond, and an inability for attorneys to access cases, saying records were changed and the eCourts software posted the wrong calculations for court fees and fines.
“We spend more time fighting with the system than we do fighting on behalf of our clients. We’ve got clients being arrested, we’ve got cars being seized, we’ve got all sorts of problems that didn’t happen, certainly not the volume we see now before this system came into play,” James Jackson, a criminal defense attorney in Raleigh, told WNCN-TV.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts says it found no instance when an eCourts software defect resulted in a wrongful arrest or incarceration.
As of this past Friday, WNCN-TV was still reporting issues with eCourts in Raleigh.
Merriweather says his office has had only about eight weeks of training on the new system, and he wishes they had more.
The Trial Court Administrator’s office in Mecklenburg County says they have been preparing for the switchover for more than two years, and they’ve been doing mock and tandem court sessions since June, with another tandem session scheduled Wednesday.
Queen City News asked the AOC why they moved forward with plans in Mecklenburg County, and spokesperson Graham Wilson, with the N.C. Judicial Branch sent us the following statement Tuesday:
Thank you for your outreach regarding eCourts. We appreciate your interest in the benefits for the public of being able to search and file court records electronically for the first time in Mecklenburg County beginning Oct. 9. All digital transitions of this scope face challenges in the early going – software refinement and process improvement are the purposes of a pilot phase – and expanding access to justice for all citizens by upgrading paper files to digital court records is a vital and shared priority for the public.
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 court 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.
North Carolina’s court system is replacing paper records with a multi-platform, cloud-based, integrated case management system – statewide – unlike many 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.
Currently four pilot counties – Wake, Lee, Harnett, and Johnston – have implemented the eCourts system, and Mecklenburg will become the fifth on Oct. 9, 2023.
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). The AOC has found no instance when an eCourts software defect resulted in a wrongful arrest or incarceration.
Replacing paper processes with case management software increases transparency and accountability in our legal system. As the attached joint letter from Mecklenburg County’s Chief District Court Judge and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge stated announcing the go-live date to local stakeholders:
“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 Oct. 9, 2023.
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