Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Court Won't Act on Computer Glitch That Generates Bad Orders and Warrants

You could call it a glitch in the system, but this is criminal.

The Alameda County Superior Court's computer system has caused countless numbers of people to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, and wrongly registered as sex offenders. The public defender's office has filed about 2,000 motions challenging legal process due to the faulty software.

While judges dealt with the problem in the courtroom, public defender Brendon Woods petitioned an appeals court to order the county to fix the software. But now there is a problem with the paperwork.

Out, Standing

California's First District Court of Appeal said the public defender has no standing because he is acting on his own, not for any particular defendant. In addition, the court said the petitioners should have filed first in the superior court.

"Moreover, respondent court was not named as a party in the proceedings below, and it thus had no opportunity to present evidence or offer its views on the legal issues raised by petitioners," the appeals panel said.

The ruling has exacerbated a problem that has been festering since last year, when the superior court switched from old courtroom management software. The new program, Odyssey Court Manager, is the problem.

According to ArsTechnica, the program runs on court computers across the country. When a judge makes a ruling, such as issuing a warrant, it goes through Odyssey.

Software Suits

Tyler Technologies, which sells the software, has been in embroiled in legal action over the program in at least three states. Plaintiffs in Tennessee and Indiana have sued over problems just like those in California.

In one California case, a 24-year-old Fremont man was arrested and jailed until his father posted $1,500 bail. They discovered later that it was due to the computer problem. The system failed to show that a judge had recalled a warrant for a non-appearance.

"It's affected my relationship with my parents," said the man, who spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle on condition that his name not be used. "They're not going to believe that four cops came to the door and messed up. It's affected my relationship with my neighbors, because I'm assuming everybody saw."

Until the courts fix the mess, the problem will continue to publicly plague the criminal justice system. In the meantime, the Alameda County public defender said, county administrators aren't ready to give up on a computer program that cost $4.5 million.

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