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Lost In Transition: Lubbock County's Software Issues Have Left Some Wrongfully Jailed

Lubbock County Jail
Rob Avila
/
Texas Tech Public Media

Alicia Mpande didn’t realize the extent of her jailed client’s issues when she first met him at the Lubbock County Detention Center on August 23.

Mpande is a third-year law student working in the Criminal Defense Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law. Under the supervision of licensed attorneys, she works indigent cases, representing those in Lubbock County accused of a crime who can’t afford an attorney.

Her client was a homeless man accused of a low-level trespassing offense. He had spent a month in jail before she had been assigned to work on his case, and while she worked to get him a hearing to be released on bond, she ran into an issue that would prolong his stay:

She didn’t have access to the court information on her client’s case.

When an indigent case is received, attorney’s only get initial identifying information. They get the main details of their client’s case from the County, through a web portal on the County’s record-keeping, case management software system.

The county had just switched to a new software system in August, however, and the transition has caused problems that have made it difficult to obtain client’s case information.

Mpande Software Use
Rob Avila
/
Texas Tech Public Media
Third-year law student Alicia Mpande accesses Lubbock County's new Odyssey Case Manager computer software by Tyler Technologies.

After a week of emails requesting hearings and making filings to the court on his behalf, on August 31 she finally heard back from prosecutors on his case.

His charges had been dropped on August 19. Meaning her client had been wrongfully jailed for two weeks.

“We had absolutely no idea,” she said.

The reason Mpande didn’t know her client’s situation was because no one did. Her client had been lost in transition as the county implemented their new Odyssey Case Manager computer software system by Tyler Technologies, this August.

“I know that this never happened under the old system”

Criminal Defense Clinic director, Dwight McDonald, said what happened to Mpande’s client is just one of many issues they’ve seen since the software transition.

One issue has affected all attorneys who rely on the county’s software system—accessing client’s case information in a timely manner.

The county’s previous software system with local vendor, Ki Corp, had a discovery portal where attorneys could view client’s case information—such as police reports and other information prosecutors had on their clients—often within at least 24 hours of request.

Tyler's computer software does not have an equivalent portal, something McDonald said severely limits their ability to help clients.

“Because of that, I'm not in a position to negotiate with prosecutors to discuss any kind of way to clear or close their case,” he said.

Attorneys can still request discovery through the same email they did previously, but the process takes much longer, with an uncertain timeline for how long it will take.

“All of this is caused by this transition that has not worked very well for anybody,” he said.

Criminal Defense attorney, Chris Wanner, said Mpande’s client is just one of nearly a dozen people the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyer Association had identified as wrongfully jailed past their time of release during the software transition.

With the county in charge of the system, defense attorneys can only speculate as to what occurred internally to deny their release.

“I'm not sure exactly the mechanics of how it would happen,” said Wanner, “But I know that this never happened under the old system.”

“I don't know if it's the software program or exactly what happened”

Melissa Merz is the assignments coordinator at the Lubbock Private Defenders Office. Lubbock County contracts with LPDO to coordinate the appointment of area attorneys for indigent cases.

“What happens is, someone gets arrested,” she said. “They are screened then they fill out a form and on their financial situation, if they qualify for a public defender, then that is sent to me.”

A few months ago, their office became aware that they had been sent multiple cases—including Mpande’s client—that ended up rejected leading to wrongful jail stays.

The problem, she noted, was that cases were being sent to their office well past the person's initial time of arrest. She did not give an exact amount of cases, but said they’ve seen multiple ranging between two to eight weeks past arrest.

“In that amount of time, it's gone through the legal process and the case was closed, dropped, dismissed, for whatever reason,” she said. “Once it was sent to me, I assigned it…because why would they send a closed case to me?”

Since the problem occurred before arriving to their office, LPDO is uncertain of how it occurred.

“I don't know if it's the software program, and how or where people were being processed, or exactly what happened,” she said.

At this point, their office believes the issue stopped around early October.

She also added, though, “They thought they had taken care of it before then. But on further review, they found some more.”

County Response

District Attorney Sunshine Stanek said their office had heard speculation of the wrongful jail cases but could not speak to how or where the issue occurred. The office is still inputting rejected cases as they did before, just through the new system.

County Judge Curtis Parrish—who oversaw the county’s transition to Tyler Technologies computer software system—said he hasn’t received any reports or evidence of people directly affected by rejected cases leading to extended jail stays, including anything addressing rumors that the issue may have been caused by human error.

Square County Judge Parrish
Rob Avila
/
Texas Tech Public Media
County Judge Curtis Parrish speaks during the announcement of the new Laprino Foods manufacturing facility to be built in East Lubbock, on October 1

Parrish acknowledges there are some "growing pains" but said, most issues are generally a part of any transition process, related to transferring data from the old system to the new.

“If you look at it like an alphabet, A through Z, along that alphabet you might be having issues with the letter L,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the whole alphabet, the whole conversion is bad.”

He said if there were an issue, it would not be related to Tyler Technologies.

It would more likely be an administrative issue related to the backlog of cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said out of 1400 inmates currently in jail, 777 are still awaiting trial.

“More than half of our inmates at the detention center are there because of a pretrial felony, so that ought to clue you in,” he said. “It's not a software issue, it's a courts administration issue.”

Tyler Technologies

Tyler Technologies declined to comment for this story. But the company has dealt with transition issues leading to wrongful jail before.

Tyler Technologies Office in Lubbock
Rob Avila
/
Texas Tech Public Media
Tyler Technologies Office in Lubbock

In Memphis, Tennessee, they’re currently settling a $4.9 million federal class-action lawsuit as co-defendants alongside Shelby County officials. Tyler’s payout in the proposed settlement is $816,668. The Shelby County Commission has already approved $2.45 million for the settlement.

The settlement is set for a final approval hearing on Nov. 10.

In an article by The Daily Memphian, members of the settlement described what they lost while in jail: some lost their jobs, cars and homes.

Dozens of similar stories can be found listed in an amended complaint for the lawsuit.

Moving Forward

Judge Parrish said there’s no exact timeline for fixes to the transition issues they’re aware of.

While the county resolves these issues, they’ve restricted certain access to the case management system, such as the jail roster, which has been closed since mid-September. The LCDLA had warned publicly that the roster web portal had made certain private court records publicly accessible.

Parrish said Tyler Technologies has stepped in to work on creating a new discovery portal for attorneys to access client information.

Time Lost

Mpande could not disclose the name or status of her client, as she has not been able to contact him since his release from jail.

Prior to his arrest, she said he had been getting his life together with help from homeless outreach centers.

That’s the part that frustrated her the most about the situation.

“It really displays what demographic these things are happening to,” she said. “Imagine how many things you can lose in that time period?”

It remains unclear whether the wrongful jail issue has been fully resolved in Lubbock County.

Have a news tip related to the jail, courts or any issue mentioned in this story? Email Rob Avila at rob.avila@ttu.edu.

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Rob Avila, J.D, is a reporter at Texas Tech Public Media. You can follow him on social media @Robavila_TTUPM.