State’s busiest courthouse ‘running smoothly’ on first day switch to eCourts

State’s busiest courthouse ‘running smoothly’ on first day switch to eCourts

October 10, 2023 07:00 AM

(The Center Square) – A transition to electronic court records at the state’s busiest courthouse on Monday “has gone well,” according to court officials, despite widespread concerns and calls to halt the rollout of the troubled eCourts system.

“We are pleased to report that the eCourts launch in Mecklenburg County has gone well today,” Charles Keller, spokesman for the North Carolina Judicial Branch, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “The system is running smoothly and the response from users and staff has been positive. We are continuing to monitor the system and have plenty of staff and resources on site to assist staff and users as needed.”

Keller did not respond to The Center Square’s questions about how the Administrative Office of the Courts has addressed a slew of problems with the state’s $100 million transition to electronic court records in four pilot counties since it launched in February. He offered links to prepared statements on the Judicial Branch website, some that returned “invalid.”

“Improvements to system speed and stability, refinements of programming integrations, and standardization of new business processes have been key accomplishments during the pilot phase that prepared the platform for deployment to Mecklenburg County,” the website read.

In the pilot counties of Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake, attorneys have complained for months. They say there have been longer than necessary court appearances for routine requests; delayed protection orders; wrongful arrests; delayed jail releases stemming from the complications; and other issues with accessing the system.

The point of going to electronic has been to streamline proceedings and expand public access to records.

In the weeks leading up to the Mecklenburg County launch, calls to delay the move came from Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, and plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s software vendor, Tyler Technologies. Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings, and Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden have also expressed concerns and anxiety about the transition.

“We have trained intensely, but we join other court partners in asking for patience as we all adjust to these technology changes in our justice system,” Merriweather posted to social media on Sunday.

Messages for comment from The Center Square left with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Office were not returned prior to publication.

John Brockwell, spokesman for the Division of Motor Vehicles, promised to “get responses” to questions about Goodwin’s concerns, but later wrote in an email that the commissioner was unavailable to respond.

Goodwin has highlighted ongoing issues with pilot counties concerning how driver’s license data is shared between the courts and his department that has required extensive manpower to correct, and concerns with adding more to the system. Many of the errors, which a department spokesman said totaled around 19,000, involved eCourts data registering fatalities that didn’t happen, and missing dates for license suspensions and revocations.

Attorneys representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Tyler Technologies and sheriffs in Wake and Lee counties, meanwhile, requested more time from a federal court last week to bring additional plaintiffs into the case.

The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million in damages and aims to delay further rollout of the system. Plaintiffs say there are constitutional violations involving delayed jail releases and multiple arrests from the same warrant.

“Plaintiffs intend to amend the Complaint to add additional plaintiffs and additional defendants as more counties adopt ‘eCourts,’” attorney Zachary Ezor wrote in the motion filed Wednesday. Ezor did not respond to a message from The Center Square.

The eCourts rollout is expected to continue with more counties added every 60 to 90 days until all courts have transitioned by 2025.