Court computer snafu : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

High tech at justice center: Slow speed ahead

By Blair Anthony Robertson Bee Staff Writer (Published March 31, 2000)

The new computer system at the Carol Miller Justice Center was installed in time to avoid a Y2K calamity.

But it ended up taking frustrated employees back to the dark ages. There's more paperwork than ever. Temporary employees have been hired to handle the deluge. Others are working overtime.

And worst of all, hundreds of arrest warrants originating at the new court facility near Folsom Boulevard and Howe Avenue have gone into something of a bureaucratic black hole because the new system is no longer compatible with the crucial database at the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. At one point, even cleared-up traffic tickets weren't being properly processed.

After $400,000 worth of high-tech bells and whistles, court employees are now making a simple plea: Can you at least get it do the stuff that our 15-year-old system did?

The answer: with a lot of extra effort, maybe.

The computer snafu has caused all kinds of problems since it went online Dec. 7, in time to meet a Y2K deadline. Tests showed that the old system might have crashed when it rolled over from 1999 to 2000.

But several employees say the new replacement software hardly works at all. And it is performing so poorly that the boss at Sacramento Superior Court is refusing to pay for it.

"We're at the point where we've had to restore all the functionality we had in the old system, and warrants was one of those issues," said Michael Roddy, the Superior Court's executive officer. "We've been working feverishly to try to get it done."

The new software, called Integrated Case Management System, is a product of ISD Corp. based in Riverside.

"We have not paid the company for their product," Roddy said. "We don't believe they have performed their contract, and we're holding their feet to the fire."

ISD sees it differently. Randy Altman, the company's chief executive officer, said the software works but that it is not completely up and running because local court employees have not implemented it properly.

One way or the other, the program is misfiring in all kinds of ways.

Traffic tickets have data entered into the wrong fields, or boxes, on the computer screen. At one point, traffic citations cleared by Superior Court were not being transferred to the Department of Motor Vehicles, causing some people to be turned down for driver's licenses, Roddy said. That problem has been solved.

But the arrest warrant problem has not been so easy to fix. With the old computer system, misdemeanor warrants would be issued, logged into the computers at the justice center and almost immediately be in sync with the Sheriff's Department database.

That way, when police officers on the street ran a background check, all outstanding warrants would appear. But the newer misdemeanor warrants are not showing up in the database, and older warrants that were recently cleared up are not being recorded. Officials say that means the innocent could get arrested and the guilty could go free.

"We're just now feeling the backlash," said Patty Massengale, a supervisor in the warrants department of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. "It's very frustrating for us and the public."

For example, she says, people arrive at the clerk's counter insisting they have served their time for the county work project, but the Sheriff's Department computers show nothing of the kind. That could cause people who have cleared up their warrants to still be required to work off their penalties, cutting weeds or picking up trash, according to Massengale.

Asked about the new system at the justice center, Massengale said, "I don't think they thought of everything before they jumped into it."

Officials could not find any examples where this actually happened -- but their computers wouldn't know for sure anyway.

The bail bonds industry is also feeling the pinch.

"It's asinine, whoever designed this," said Mark McLaughlin, co-owner of Ace of California Bail Bonds.

Charles Pomares, an agent with Alex Padilla Bail Bonds, said business is down about 10 percent since January.

"The only thing we can attribute it to is the decline in the number of warrants being served," he said.

Darci LaRoe, who supervises the bail bonds department in Sacramento Superior Court, said she is not requiring bail agents to pay the normal $97 processing fee on bonds because of the warrants problem.

"It has turned into a very large headache," she said. "Everything they have done with the new system has not worked."

Altman, the software executive, said his company has invested 1,500 work-hours installing and testing the new software, twice what the company normally does. He says recent test cases have been completed and the compatibility problem should be solved by today. Asked if his company has lost money on the project, Altman said, "No comment."

Roddy says the new system was supposed to cost far less to operate than the old system's annual $1 million operating budget. But at this point, he admits, the new software may be scrapped altogether if the bugs are not worked out soon.

-- - (, March 31, 2000

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