Breaking News
More () »

'It's kind of like the rapture' | Concerns ahead of changes at the courts

Police, jails, and courts will be impacted by the upcoming changes, which have not launched smoothly in other cities.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Major changes are coming to the North Carolina court system and some fear the change could cause major problems. 

The change is a technology upgrade with a history of issues across the country — including the temporary shutdown of some courts and the mistaken release of inmates — and it comes with a $100 million price tag.

George Laughren, a Mecklenburg County defense attorney, is worried about the pending launch. 

"A nightmare, a nightmare," he said.  "Yes, it’s coming. I’m not sure when. I’m not sure how we’re gonna deal with it.”

Another defense attorney, Tim Emry, went so far as to say, “Court could grind to a halt once this gets implemented.”

The change won't just impact defense attorneys. Everyone including police officers, the clerk's office, and prosecutors could feel a lot of uncertainty. 

There is a whole lot of concern about Odyssey, the new computer software set to completely overhaul the 40-year systems currently used in North Carolina courts. 

“Odyssey is coming. It’s kind of like the rapture," Laughren said.
"We know it's coming. We don’t know when but when it comes everybody is going to have to deal with it."

Right now the computer systems don’t really talk to each other, Lauhren explained. 

For the latest breaking news, weather and traffic alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app.

"Clerk's office doesn’t communicate with the sheriffs because of the way they’re configured," Lauhren said. "Odyssey should change that.”

The software is designed and implemented by a company called Tyler Technologies, which has placed this software in communities across the country. WCNC Charlotte researched some previous deployments and learned it’s not always a smooth transition.

One of the first parts of the program already implemented in Charlotte is called eWarrants. There were problems launching eWarrants and there continue to be problems using it.

At an August 2021 meeting, Mecklenburg County’s chief information officer told the criminal justice advisory group, “Tyler Technologies continued to struggle with several defects pushing the [launch] date for eWarrants back from September to October.” At the time, he also said the county was not getting the help it needed from Tyler Technologies, and “there is no indication this pattern will change.”

Continue issues delayed the launch of eWarrants until August 2022, which was more than a year after it was supposed to launch.

You can stream WCNC Charlotte on Roku and Amazon Fire TV, just download the free app.

Now that eWarrants is launched, some say it’s slowing police officers down.

“Officers are taking more time processing people because of the eWarrants," Laughren said.

That delay means police are off the streets longer.

In an emailed statement, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office admitted the new system was “adding extra steps” and “arrest information is not as real-time as before.”

eWarrants is just a small part of this pending statewide overhaul that will impact every part of the court system including speeding tickets, family court, divorce and custody issues, murder trials and more.

In response, Mecklenburg County’s District Attorney released this statement to WCNC Charlotte's Michelle Boudin:

“For many years now, our state's unified court system has attempted to automate many of its court services, culminating in the roll-out of the Odyssey program this year. While the start of this program has been delayed a number of times, we eagerly anticipate any possible improvement that can make processes more efficient and services more accessible to the people of our state. Although we have not had as much interaction as we anticipated with representatives from the chosen vendor in the development of this system to address issues unique to a high case volume jurisdiction like Mecklenburg County, we have heavily relied upon and appreciated our state court system partners for training and coordination as we gear up for a roll-out of Odyssey in Mecklenburg County in May. We expect that there will be significant challenges with the implementation of this program in a jurisdiction with a case volume as large as ours, but we are optimistic that any steps toward innovation in our court system are a move in the right direction. We know this will require patience from court partners, as well as from our citizens, as we adjust to this new reality, but we also hope that we can continue to count on appropriate assistance in meeting the specific needs of a county as complex as ours.”

The new Tyler Technologies system is being rolled out in Raleigh on Monday. It is expected to be fully launched in Mecklenburg County in the months ahead. All 100 counties in North Carolina are scheduled to receive the technology upgrade. 

Click here to sign up for the daily Wake Up Charlotte newsletter

“Years from now, it may be great but there’s gonna be a lot of growing pains,” Emry explained.

Tyler Technologies did not return WCNC Charlotte's request for comment.

The software has prompted lawsuits and millions in payouts

The new software has a history of issues across the country. Some of these previous issues have led to class-action lawsuits and millions of dollars in payouts.

This new technology, which is costing taxpayers $100 million in North Carolina, was supposed to launch more than a year and a half ago. Problems with the technology in North Carolina delayed the launch. It is problems such as these that elsewhere have kept people wrongfully held in jail, allowed the release of sensitive information and more.

“It was a mess, to say the least," said Chris Wanner, the head of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Lubbock, Texas, where the same new technology launched a year and a half ago.

In a heated meeting of Lubbock's commissioners, several attorneys spoke out about their concerns including instances where people were wrongfully held in jail because of glitches with the new system.

"Lubbock citizens are being held in jail longer than they should be," attorney Rocky Ramirez explained.

The glitches are not cheap.

"There are some counties where they’re paying multiple million-dollar lawsuits," Wanner added. 

There are also related lawsuits in Memphis, Tennessee, where Tyler Technologies agreed to a settlement a $5 million class-action lawsuit with people who were wrongfully held in jail. The settlement cost the county and the taxpayers millions.  

In Lubbock, the glitches also meant sensitive info from divorce and child custody agreements, including social security numbers and addresses, were made public. The names of crime victims were also mistakenly made public.

"I just had a case with an individual charged with sex assault of a minor," Wanner explained. "So I took that minor's name and typed it in and - sure enough - this 12-year-old minor came up as a victim in a sexual assault case. That should not happen no matter what.” 

More than a year and a half since launching in Lubbock, he said there are still problems.

"Things are still a little sketchy," he said. "We’re still struggling."

In Wichita Falls, Texas, it’s been more than three years since they switched to Tyler Technologies software and they’re still having issues.

"It’s been a process that’s been very slow," Jeff Watts, a commissioner in Wichita Falls, Texas, said.

In North Carolina, Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County’s district attorney, was on the committee that helped choose the new system for North Carolina in 2019. She admits there are some concerns.

“We know Tyler has had some challenges in other jurisdictions but also know they’ve had many successful projects," she explained. "I think we all expect there are going to be some bumps in the road. There are probably going to be some things that are going to have to be corrected and fixed once the system is put in place.”

Tyler Technology's Odyssey launches in Raleigh on Monday. Mecklenburg County’s launch keeps getting delayed. As of publication, it is slated for May.

"Delays have not been because the state was not in a position to move forward, Freeman pointed out. "I think the delays have been on Tyler’s side."

WCNC Charlotte tried repeatedly to get Tyler Technologies' side of the story but instead they referred comment to the North Carolina Judicial System. 

Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Before You Leave, Check This Out