Criminal law

Lawyers say criminal justice in Dallas is “paralyzed” by promotion woes


Lawyers say the Dallas County criminal justice system has been at a standstill for about two weeks due to problems with a new case management system.

Prosecutors, public defenders, and the county probation office have limited access to county criminal case files. The transition from the old case management system to a new one hampered the ability of prosecutors to process referrals and indictments to the grand jury.

It is unclear how many cases are affected, but lawyers say they cannot verify the date and place of trials because they do not have access to the information in the electronic files.

“We’re in a situation of complete paralysis,” Ellis Lindbergh, the chief jury and prisoner receptionist for the district attorney, said at a recent meeting of the county prison inmate committee.

County officials said Friday that the problems could take at least a month to fully resolve.

County Clerk John Warren said headaches are a normal part of the process of moving information to a new system. The county clerk’s office is the custodian of records and responsible for transferring the software.

“We transferred the data. We started with the latest cases,” he said in an interview. “There was no way it was possible on God’s Green Earth, where you could transfer over 20 million documents overnight.”

He and District Clerk Felicia Peter said that if criminal justice departments had read dozens of emails about the steps to move forward during immigration, there would be only a few current stops.

“It made it more difficult for people to do their work, because they didn’t want to go to the county clerk’s office and the county clerk’s office, where they might have found that information,” Warren said Friday.

The problem is migrating case files from the county’s 40-year-old Forvus criminal case management system to Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey system. Data provided through Forvus included court settings, bond forfeiture, case dispositions, and court judgments and rulings.

However, after May 16, old Forvus states are no longer updated and access to information already in this system is limited. Sttorney’s office spokeswoman Claire Crouch said Odyssey was not brought online to the justice system until May 22, and cases in the old system before May 16 were still slowly being moved over to the new system.

Dallas County Clerk John F. Warren faces the screen while discussing the county’s new criminal case management system as county clerk Latonya Hill (center) and Dallas County Clerk Felicia Peter watch Friday, June 2, 2023, in the Dallas County Clerk’s office. (Shafqat Anwar / Staff Photographer)

Warren said users can still access old files on Forvus, but they can’t get more detailed information about each case.

Attorneys have used Forvus to see the status of current cases and notify the opposing party of suggestions. Now they can do neither, Crouch said.

“At the moment, there is a backlog processing everything that was submitted electronically. Both the defense bar and the prosecution files are not being submitted in the system because they are stuck in the queue,” Crouch said.

Arnold Patrick, director of the Dallas County Department of Supervision and Community Corrections, confirmed that more than 430 employees in her department were still unable to access the information they need as of Thursday.

Criminal defense attorney Edwin “Bubba” King, a former county judge in Dallas County, derided what he said was a decision to scrap the old system before the new one was fully functional. He called it “ridiculous”.

“It’s worse than frustration,” he said.

One of the public defenders, Michaela Haymes, told a prison population committee meeting on 26 May that the problem was leading to more time in prison for prisoners awaiting justice.

“There are actual bodies linked to the cases, and there are people languishing in prison,” she added. “I know the bottom line is there will be more jail days, which is more expensive for the county, but we have citizens’ lives that are being disrupted.”

Dallas County Clerk Felicia Petrie (left), Dallas County Clerk Latonia Hill (center) and Dallas County Clerk John F. Warren discuss county database changes on Friday, June 2, 2023, at the Dallas County Clerk’s Office. (Shafqat Anwar / Staff Photographer)

Petrie said on Friday that she doesn’t think prisoners will be held in jail any longer because of the data relay, because her office processes release requests daily.

“I find it hard to believe,” she said. “If that is the case, the public defender’s office should contact us.”

Warren said that if there are problems, lawyers can contact the courts for clarifications or see documents in his office.

State District Judge Hector Garza, who presides over district court judges, did not respond to a request for comment on how the judges have been affected by the issue.

Government grants are also at stake.

The state provides funding to counties with an arrest closure rate of 90% or higher. Lindbergh said Dallas County funding is at risk if plaintiffs can’t move cases.

“I don’t know if we’re going to hit 90 percent, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Lindberg said at the meeting. “We can’t fix the states… All of our current messages aren’t happening, so we have no way of fixing anything.”

Dallas County receives more than $1 million annually in state grants. The deadline for applications for these grants is Aug. 1, Crouch said, and the county has to hit the 90% threshold by then.

Lindberg said at the meeting that the county has known since October 2021 that moving the system would affect access to case files.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who chairs the commission, said the problems need to be addressed as soon as possible because the county knows the new system is in the works.

“We’re all in a state of flux here,” he said at the May 26 meeting. “We’ve known for a while that this tsunami was coming.”

Warren compared the data migration to building a ship, saying that only so much of it can be built before it is put into use.

“Once you build it, you move into the water, and then you finish building the building,” he said.

Warren said changing criminal case management systems was crucial, because the old system was lax in managing data. Forvus did not restrict access based on the individual user. Any user can access everything in the file.

“They were able to look up information about someone a friend was dating, or a whole bunch of crazy things,” Warren said. “They want to have more access, because they want it, not because they need it.”

In Odyssey, users’ access is restricted based on their functionality.

The paralysis in the court case comes at a time when Dallas County is already under a barrage of technological problems. The county also updated its payroll program in May. Hundreds of employees and contractors were left behind with their wages or without pay.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office said that staff are slowly becoming able to access the new case management system, whereby more detailed records can now be accessed.

“Some members of our team have just started accessing the necessary court information to get it into our system, so cases can be filed,” Crouch said.

Warren said users need to start using the new software so that bugs and problems can be fixed quickly. He hopes the complaints will subside in the next month.

The county isn’t the only local government grappling with the implications of technological complexities. Dallas was hit by a ransomware attack on May 3, however City officials have yet to share full details of how the attack happened.

The attack impeded public services such as filing 311 complaints through the city’s app or residents paying their water bill online.

City libraries Returned books still cannot be processedPolice Department Some data cannot be accessed and the municipal court They cannot hold hearings or process payments for citations. Municipal court services have since reopened, and administrative hearings and community court hearings have resumed, but trials and juries will resume at a later date. per city ad.

Author Maggie Prosser contributed to this report.


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