Lawsuit: North Carolina’s ‘eCourts’ system led to unlawful detainments
The state Administrative Office of the Courts awarded Tyler Technologies a $100 million contract in 2019 for a package of software applications known as eCourts.
RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV/AP) – North Carolina’s electronic “eCourts” system has led to hundreds of people being unlawfully detained, caused others to spend unnecessary time in jail and seen some be arrested multiple times on the same warrant.
That’s according to a federal lawsuit filed against two county sheriffs and a Texas-based company hired to transition North Carolina’s court systems from paper to digital. The plaintiffs are two North Carolinians arrested earlier this year who say that the company’s system kept them unlawfully detained.
“There is broad support for modernizing the state’s court system. But the rollout of “eCourts” in four pilot counties – Wake, Lee, Harnett, and Johnston – has been at the expense of North Carolinians’ constitutional and other legal rights,” the complaint states.
After years of discussions about how to modernize the state judiciary’s archaic filing system, the state Administrative Office of the Courts awarded Tyler Technologies a $100 million contract in 2019 for a package of software applications known as eCourts.
The program launched on Feb. 13 in four pilot counties and is supposed to be expanded to all 100 counties by 2025. But several attorneys and lawmakers have criticized its rocky rollout, pointing to numerous glitches, system lags and expansion delays.
“Almost everyone supports digitizing our state’s court system. But the effort cannot come at the expense of people’s constitutional rights,” Gagan Gupta, attorney for plaintiffs Timia Chaplin of Wake County and Paulino Castellanos of Lee County, said in a statement. “The courts are meant to protect our fundamental civil liberties. Since the adoption of eCourts on February 13, 2023, the courts are no longer competently carrying out that sacred duty.”
The complaint states Chaplin was arrested on March 4 in Wake County for failure to appear for a previous court appearance. She was released on bond.
Days later, Chaplin appeared for a rescheduled court date and the charges against her were dismissed. Her case was designated as “resolved,” court documents state.
According to the complaint, on April 9 Chaplin was arrested a second time on the same failure-to-appear warrant, even though her case had been dismissed.
“Ms. Chaplin still does not know for sure whether the warrant has been fully expunged from eWarrants and related systems,” the lawsuit states.
On Feb. 10, Castellanos was arrested in Lee County and could not afford the bond he was held on. Due to a disability, attorneys tried to secure his release that same day, according to court documents.
“But Mr. Castellano’s counsel’s efforts were thwarted. In anticipation of the February 13, 2023, transition to eCourts, Lee County had already begun digitizing case files. Court staff informed Mr. Castellano’s counsel that, amidst the transition, his case ‘could not be located in the system,’” the complaint states.
According to court documents, Castellano was not released from jail until Feb. 23. Attorneys alleged that had “due care in the adoption and implementation of eCourts” been exercised, he could have received a bond reduction on the day of his arrest.
The lawsuit — a proposed class action — suggests there are likely hundreds more affected residents around the state.
“This class action seeks to remedy past harms and — as eCourts is soon expected to be implemented in North Carolina’s remaining counties — prevent future violations,” Chaplin and Castellanos said in the complaint.
A spokesperson for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office said the department has not been served at this time and officials are working now to gather the facts.
Graham Wilson, communications director for the N.C. Judicial Branch, said the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts is not a named party to the lawsuit and has no comment on its merits at this time.
“Since launching eCourts, NCAOC has consistently solicited court officials, attorneys, and the public to report any issues like those alleged in the complaint,” Wilson said in a statement. “We have investigated each report we have received and have not substantiated that any allegation of wrongful arrest or incarceration was caused by Odyssey (eCourts).”
According to Tyler Technologies, company officials do not comment on pending litigation.
WBTV has also reached out to Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes seeking comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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