Alameda County Court Dispute With Software Vendor Escalates, Could Spark Litigation

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The René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Nov. 7, 2016. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

The company behind an electronic case management system recently implemented in Alameda County Superior Court is disputing reports that its Odyssey software is to blame for dozens of errors leading to extended jail stays, false arrests and other issues wracking the court since the system went live in August.

Texas-based Tyler Technologies said in a statement issued Tuesday that "sensational headlines and selected quotes are shaping an inaccurate story" about the Odyssey system.


"Media reports have made assumptions about Odyssey based solely on the Alameda court project. The Alameda implementation is representative of neither Odyssey implementations nor the partnerships Tyler typically fosters with thousands of clients," the statement says.

Reports on Odyssey's implementation in Alameda County have focused on what appear to be repeated violations of defendants' constitutional rights since the system went live there. Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods' office cataloged 51 cases of defendants being arrested on cleared warrants, held in jail beyond their release date or ordered to register as sex offenders when that was not a condition of their sentence, among other issues.

"Ultimately I get tired of this kind of finger-pointing game that happens here," Woods said. "Tyler put forth a product and that product was not ready to go live in Alameda County, and they are not providing the proper resources to help fix it."

The company says its Odyssey system is successfully used in 24 California counties, 15 of which are using the product to manage often busier, higher-stakes criminal courts.

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It highlights San Bernardino County Superior Court, which last year began using Odyssey in criminal and traffic courts.

Tyler's statement quotes San Bernardino County Superior Court Presiding Judge Raymond Haight saying that switching from a 20-year-old system was "not an easy transition," but that the company helped the court work through several issues.

But critics say that San Bernardino's court has suffered problems similar to those in Alameda County.

"We know that there have been severe problems in San Bernardino," said Woods, who has been raising alarm about problems with the new system in Alameda County for over six months. "They are completely understating how bad the system has been in other counties."

Those other jurisdictions include Shelby County, Tennessee, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit. That suit, against county and jail officials and Tyler Technologies, seeks to become a class action for all defendants whose posting of bond was delayed, who were held in custody after they had posted bond, who were held after charges had been dismissed or who were rearrested on warrants that had been cleared -- all issues similar to those in Alameda County.

A Tyler Technologies spokesman said the lawsuit's allegations are without merit.

"We look forward to presenting a vigorous defense," the spokesman wrote in a previous statement.

To the extent that it acknowledges problems in Alameda County, Tyler Technologies says its software is not to blame.

"The Superior Court of Alameda County transitioned from a 40-year-old system before they were ready," its statement says, adding that company representatives repeatedly advised court officials about technical issues that needed to be addressed before the system launched. But the court went ahead anyway, the company says.

"We don’t agree with their take on the facts," Alameda County Superior Court Executive Officer Chad Finke said in response to the statement.

Both sides are currently preparing for legal mediation, Finke said. He declined to elaborate on the company's specific claims because the dispute between the court and Tyler Technologies could be headed for lawsuits.

"It's a possibility," Finke said of the court and Tyler Technologies filing claims against each other. "If we are not able to resolve the issues between the court and Tyler through mediation, I think both sides will need to look at whether litigation is the next step."

Finke and Woods both said they've seen slight improvements in the system, which include a rollout of Odyssey's "Clerk Edition" that's currently in process. But the expanding network of workarounds and double-check communications between court staff, attorneys and law enforcement is unsustainable, Woods says.

"I think that our inherent concern is whether or not the Odyssey product itself, the actual software, whether it is an appropriate software solution for a court of our size with the amount of criminal business that our busy criminal courtrooms see," Finke said. "It’s really whether the software is the right fit, not so much the software is full of bugs or technical problems."

Alameda County public defenders have filed motions in 2,200 cases they've handled since mid-November, asking the Superior Court to create an "accurate and contemporaneous" record of the cases it hears. Woods says the court's presiding judge is considering such an order and is expected to act by the end of the month.

"If it’s not a custodial status issue, there’s an issue with court records being uploaded, or there’s an issue with probation terms being placed on there that could cause someone to be arrested when they shouldn’t be there," Woods said. "It’s like peeling an onion, there’s so many layers of issues and issues that keep coming up. It’s almost indescribable."