Superior Court Downplays Access Difficulties With Its Online Case File System

The San Bernardino County Superior Court remains committed to putting Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey case management and information system in place despite the considerable problems that have resulted in making the changeover from the previous on-line data base containing information relating to lawsuits and prosecutions being heard at the county’s six courthouses.
The decision to revamp San Bernardino County Superior Court’s online case information system was made by by former presiding judge Marsha Slough in accordance with a bidding process authorized by the California Judicial Council some two years ago. Tyler Technologies’ version Odyssey system was selected and Tyler Technologies was given a $4 million contract to effectuate the change. While the previous information system pertaining to the county’s civil cases remains in place, on February 11, the criminal side of the Superior Court of San Bernardino’s open access website went offline to make way for the initiation of the Odyssey version.
What happened thereafter has been described, variously, as a massive computer crash or a series of recurrent and persistent mini-crashes. One report was that half of a million files which were transferred out of the old system’s data banks into version were erased. Overnight, access to the digitized minute orders on criminal cases, which had been routinely and easily navigated to on the old system, ended.
Officials nonchalantly gave assurances that what was occurring was a normal byproduct of making such a digitized transition and that in short order technicians would “get the bugs out of” the new software and all of the information previously available in an even more easily accessible format would soon be available. But a month and then two months and now three months has passed and the minute orders are yet unavailable, and further deficiencies in the new system have become apparent. Court records for hearings of criminal cases are no longer available. Follow-up information pertaining to fines paid or restitution made by defendants is no longer being entered into the system or otherwise can not be retrieved. In March, Superior Court officials acknowledged that not all elements of the information that had gone into the case management system was at that point available but that Tyler Technologies was working with court personnel “to make the criminal cases component fully operational as soon as possible.”
On April 14, Christine Volkers, the executive officer for San Bernardino County Superior Court, was placed on administrative leave, but there has been no official statement in response to suggestions that her abrupt exodus was related to the failure of the Odyssey system.
A report has persisted that approximately 500,000 digitized criminal case files loaded into the Odyssey version were permanently lost, that is, are unrecoverable, and that when an effort to scan just a fraction of those missing documents into the system was begun, they were “eaten,” that is, rendered into a scrambled digital form that could not be translated or unjumbled back into any semblance of their original form. It was further reported that when the court’s clerical staff was tasked with the painstaking process of reentering court documents individually into the system, several simply quit, making the pending workload ever more unwieldy.
Dennis B. Smith, the risk and safety administrator with the San Bernardino Superior Court whose tertiary assignment is media relations, this week acknowledged to the Sentinel that a dozen court personnel had recently left their assignments, but he suggested this was no greater than what occurs as a consequence of normal attrition. “We have had clerks retire in the last few months as is typical turnover for any business,” he said. “A comparison of retirements for the first quarter of this calendar year compared to the first quarter of the last calendar year indicates identical turnover with 12 employees retiring in each of the quarters mentioned.”
Smith sidestepped questions relating to the superior functionality of the previous system but said the decision to undertake a complete transition to Tyler Technologies’ program was one that was driven by practicality and need. He indicated that the decision to go with the Odyssey version was an irrevocable one and that there is no prospect current San Bernardino County Superior Court Presiding Judge Raymond W. Haight III will reconsider the decision to transition to Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey system and decide to jettison it and return to the previous system.
“Our court made the decision to migrate to the Tyler Odyssey case management system because our current vendor has notified us that they will discontinue support of the system,” Smith said. “The Odyssey system is operational throughout the court’s criminal and traffic courts. The court has experienced challenges such as the minute order functionality. However, we are addressing this and working towards continuous improvement of the product. As is the case with any new technology, the system was developed to grow to accommodate our ever-changing needs.”
Without getting drawn into a discussion about whether the transition to the Odyssey system had resulted in the wholesale deletion of the criminal court’s digital files, Smith nevertheless asserted that the court yet maintained hard copies of all court records.
“The court maintains a paper case file as the official record of the court,” he insisted. “For the convenience of our users, we do make available an electronic version of our records that complies with statute. All converted documents within our electronic records inventory are in place at this time and viewable as authorized by statute. No documents were lost.”
Of moment in the current difficulties besetting the on-line system is that at present not it does not offer documentation of whether those adjudged guilty and sentenced have paid fines or met other restitution requirements. Defense attorneys have expressed concern that some individuals have been returned to jail or prison because the system has not allowed the judges they have appeared before to ascertain whether those required to do so have met those obligations. While he did not speak to the possibility or actuality that some individuals who may have indeed complied with sentencing requirements had been re incarcerated because of the glitches in the system, Smith said there are alternate means of both paying fines and documenting their payment to the on-line registry.
“We answer inquiries each day regarding questions on payments of fees, fines and restitution,” Smith said. “These inquiries are made in person, by phone and by letter. Although we offer payment options on line, we are available by many means of communication to our public.”
It is up to the individuals paying fines or making restitution to keep the documentation of such and to assert their compliance with those orders when questions come up, Smith said. The court will accommodate those who do, he said.
“Our mission, as a court, is to preserve and protect the rights of our constituency,” Smith said. “Our case management system may have changed, but our business processes for serving the community remain the same. The court has and will always thoroughly research any discrepancies in payments or to the record brought to our attention, and we will address discrepancies if found to be sustained.”
The court has yet to have Tyler Technologies embark on having the court’s digitized civil case records migrated into the Odyssey system.

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