Texas

Dallas County software that promises to fix problems may have its own

The company that Dallas County is contracting to upgrade its case management system is in trouble with the law across the country, and county officials didn’t appear to be aware of the problems when they signed the five-year contract.

As of 2020, the county has entered into contracts with Tyler Technologies worth at least $17.5 million.

Counties from California to Texas to Tennessee have complained and some have sued Tyler over its Odyssey case management system. Prosecutors, judges and the public say the software is causing cases to be lost on the computer system, delaying the release of prisoners and wrongful imprisonment.

Senior Dallas County officials told The Dallas Morning News they were not aware of other counties’ concerns about the Odyssey. The decision to use the Odyssey follows years of problems with the county’s TechShare criminal case management system. These problems have cost the county millions.

“I just don’t know what happened in these other counties, but I know the judges wanted it,” said senior Dallas County official Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins. “From day one, TechShare wasn’t a viable solution, and then we were going to waste taxpayer money every day if we stuck with it.”

“I didn’t know about it,” Commissioner John Wylie Price said of complaints from other counties.

Tyler Technologies has secured its Odyssey software.

“In all cases, the Odyssey was found to function as intended,” says Whitney Small, the company’s senior director of corporate communications.

In April, committee members voted 4-1 to replace the county’s court management software with Odyssey, and after a phased rollout, it is expected to be connected to almost all court systems by May.

TechShare has cost Dallas County $35 million over the past 19 years, but it’s rife with technology hiccups, delayed deadlines, and broken promises.

Odyssey

Tyler Technologies says more than 90 counties in Texas use its Odyssey software, and more than one-third of the US population lives in the jurisdiction that has implemented Odyssey.

Dallas County has moved to Odyssey in its civil district courts, family courts, probate courts, and truancy courts, but has not yet implemented last year’s contracts to use Tyler Technologies software for its prison management system, misdemeanor, and criminal courts. crimes.

The Dallas County Justice of the Peace moved to Odyssey in October. County Clerk John Warren said the JP data transfer was successful.

“At the end of the first week, we only had about 200 episodes. So if you look at over 50 years of information and all current active cases, it’s not even 1%,” he said.

But several counties have reported serious problems.

In 2016, a class action lawsuit in Shelby County, Tennessee, filed by people who were mistakenly detained, claimed that they had failed to train staff to switch to the Odyssey and alleged that the computer system did not contain relevant information about their cases. The county and Tyler Technologies agreed to pay almost $5 million.

In Alameda County, California, Deputy Public Defender Jeff Chorney told the media in 2016 that since the county went on the Odyssey, dozens of defendants have been wrongly arrested or jailed, and others needlessly required to register as sex offenders. . In 2014, in Marion County, Indiana, inmates who claimed to have been wrongfully imprisoned sued on similar grounds.

In Lubbock County, people have been wrongfully imprisoned due to difficulty obtaining case information through Odyssey, private court records have been made available to the public, and defense attorneys have struggled to obtain evidence from prosecutors, according to media reports from last year.

In 2020, Wichita County officials warned the public of possible delays in accessing case information during the transition to Odyssey, and it was reported that the slow and difficult transition was costing $50,000 per month.

Tyler Technologies said in a statement that such lawsuits are rare and the company takes these complaints seriously. The statement says that when lawsuits are filed against government agencies that use Tyler software, the company is the defendant.

“These lawsuits were frivolous, typically due to misconceptions about our role in the client’s technology landscape and/or misunderstanding of the scope of the contract,” Small said.

Dallas County officials say they haven’t seen any major issues with the Odyssey.

The Dallas County Clerk’s Office maintains court records. Although he didn’t hear about other counties’ problems until The News told him about it, Warren said he’s not worried about the Odyssey software because he considers the reported problems to be user errors.

“Software is only as good as the data you put into it,” Warren said. “It’s not a problem with the case management system.”

He said the county clerk’s office is currently completing its seventh background check to minimize transition errors.

County officials say some changes to the Odyssey software should smooth out bureaucratic bottlenecks in the criminal justice system.

In the current program, cases include free text fields into which users can enter different spellings of a word such as proposition, so anyone looking for proposition will need to include all possible iterations. Instead, Odyssey offers predefined scrolling options.

Judicial signatures in the current system are not electronic. Warrants, final decisions, and release from prison are sent by courier and mail from the courthouse to the prison. Warren said that Odyssey allows the use of electronic signatures, which speeds up the litigation process.

“I’ve been waiting for this day – oh my god – years,” Warren said.

Criminal cases dating back to the 1980s will be transferred to Odyssey.

Panel members are pushing their vote to approve Tyler Technologies software, and most of them are willing to drop TechShare.

Price said he believes Dallas has invested enough money in TechShare but hasn’t gotten good results. Even if the Tyler Technologies software doesn’t provide everything you need, it’s open to a different approach.

“This whole technology is such an evolving field and you think you have it until you look up and realize,” Price said. “But you can’t keep going down that hole. Tyler might be another hole, but what options do we have?

Lewis Jenkins said he had confidence in the employees who reviewed the Odyssey and determined it was the best option out of those who applied for the contract.

“The most important thing is that the end users — the clerks, the judges, the people who were on the review committee for all the products that wanted to compete — felt that this was our best solution,” he said. “We had to back away from a bad decision.”

TechShare

TechShare started in 2004 as a public non-profit organization that provided counties with their own in-house system. It was intended to replace Forvus, a mainframe system created 50 years ago.

The idea was for a consortium of counties to replace slow, outdated, and user-inconvenient software to manage something tailored to the needs of the county government, with constant feedback, and at a lower cost.

But the rollout of TechShare has been delayed year after year. TechShare provided some software to county agencies. A few programs created by TechShare were not enough to convince most county officials of their value.

The District’s March 2020 cost estimate reported that continued participation in the TechShare program by 2024 would cost an additional $55.6 million.

In 2015, all 31 Dallas criminal judges signed a letter against the use of TechShare, stating that the software results in missing paperwork, extended prison sentences for bail-eligible prisoners, and outstanding arrest warrants.

Travis County, one of TechShare’s original co-signers, pulled out in 2016 after software provider American Cadastre went bankrupt.

But Dallas prosecutors, juvenile courts and the defense of the poor still use TechShare products, said assistant county administrator Gordon Hickel. The District plans to continue using these programs, but to hire staff to run them in-house. Dallas County also approved a $91,543 brief renewal with TechShare last month to continue the software service through the end of March.

Because Dallas was a founding member of TechShare, the county retains partial rights to its source codes.

As of May 2022, 47 counties are using at least one TechShare program. One commissioner from Dallas remains loyal to TechShare.

As the only voice against the switch to Tyler’s software, Commissioner Teresa Daniel said she believes the long-term benefits of continuing with TechShare outweigh the switch. She said software companies often require updates throughout the year that are not budgeted for by the county, and updates can cost thousands of dollars.

She said she heard about the complaints about the Odyssey.

“That’s partly why I had questions,” Daniel said.

At least one county is committed to moving forward with TechShare.

Tarrant County has invested in almost every product in its court system, including juvenile software, prosecutors, magistrates, court portal, bonds, jails and warrants.

Tarrant Criminal Court Administrator Greg Shughart said the TechShare Court program, which manages all criminal court cases and will replace the mainframe system, has not yet rolled out in his county. The planned launch date was New Year’s Eve, but Shugart said it was pushed back to the end of January.

The biggest challenge for Tarrant County employees, he said, was integrating TechShare software with the existing mainframe.

“Overall, Tarrant County has been pleased with TechShare’s products,” Shugart said.

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