Central Valley

Court’s new multimillion computer system creates trouble for inmates, staff

Linda Romero-Soles, chief executive officer of Merced Superior Court, said there are “ongoing discussion” about problems with the new case management system and how to fix them.
Linda Romero-Soles, chief executive officer of Merced Superior Court, said there are “ongoing discussion” about problems with the new case management system and how to fix them. Sun-Star file

Glitches in the Merced Superior Court’s new $2.3 million computer software system caused at least one jail inmate to be kept in custody nearly a week longer than his court-ordered release date and allowed another man to post bail on a lower amount than the court set, the Merced Sun-Star has learned.

Many of the issues with the Odyssey Case Management System from Tyler Technologies have been seen as routine “bugs” or “glitches,” officials have said, ranging from an inability to accept credit card payments or attorneys and clerks not receiving emails of daily court schedules.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke acknowledged the incidents, calling them “unacceptable,” but was quick to note court authorities have “made significant progress in correcting and improving the system recently.”

“It’s of great concern to me as the sheriff,” Warnke said. “We can’t have a person’s freedom taken away or messed with because of a computer glitch.”

One problem cropped up Feb. 2 when Judge Marc A. Garcia ordered a robbery defendant’s bail to be increased from $50,000 to $150,000, court and Sheriff’s Department records confirm.

But the judge’s order, which was supposed to have been communicated electronically from the court to the John Latorraca Correctional Facility through the new case management system, didn’t arrive at the jail on time, Warnke confirmed.

Jail records show Gustavo B. Canal, who has pleaded not guilty to strong-armed robbery, was released from custody just after 3 p.m. Feb. 2, after his appearance earlier that day before Judge Garcia. Canal posted a $50,000 bail bond and was released.

Canal, 29, is accused of assaulting and robbing a 79-year-old man in December along Highway 59, according to court records.

It’s unclear what caused the delay in the judge’s order, but the Sheriff’s Department tracked down Canal the next day and took him back into custody. He was out of custody on the wrong bail amount for just over 27 hours, according to jail records.

Canal is not accused breaking any laws while he was out of custody, the sheriff confirmed.

His attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, acknowledged experiencing “some frustrating moments” with the court’s new system, but said he’s also noticed significant improvements in recent weeks. He said it would be unfortunate if his client lost the $5,000 bond payment he made posting bail.

“If he’s out the payment to the bondsman, that’s too bad because it’s obviously not his fault,” Tenenbaum said. “There have been quite a few problems with the new system, but I do know everybody is working together to get things worked out and it’s getting better.”

Another problem, the Sheriff’s Department confirmed, occurred when John A. Perez, 35, was kept in custody for six days past his court-ordered release date. Perez was ordered to be released from custody Nov. 6, Merced County spokesman Mike North confirmed.

However, because of a “glitch” in the computerized communication between the court and jail, Perez was not released from custody until Nov. 12, county officials confirmed.

Perez had been in custody on drug and battery charges. Details of the outcome of that case could not be confirmed Friday.

Warnke said his office has been working with the court to correct the issues that led to these problems. “We have seen great progress and improvements recently and we also believe that, once everything gets worked out, it will be a great system,” Warnke said. “They’ve been very willing to work to get these issues corrected and that’s been encouraging to see.”

Linda Romero-Soles, the court’s chief executive officer, said she couldn’t comment specifically on the bail or late release issues, but acknowledged there have been some problems getting orders from the judges to the jail or other attorneys.

“We do have a new case management system that will require some adjustments by both the court and the sheriff’s office,” she told the Sun-Star. “We’re holding ongoing discussions to sort out any issues as we move to a more efficient and paperless system.”

Richard St. Marie, director of administrative services at the Sheriff’s Department, said warrant information has also been an issue since the system was installed.

“We’ve been making a lot of progress together, but it’s true that, since it was implemented, it’s doubled the workload of our staff, who’ve had to double-check all the information coming out on a daily basis,” St. Marie said. “We’ve had to dedicate two people full time to quality control to make sure we aren’t getting duplicate warrants or the warrant information contains the right person’s identity. Those issues have happened and it’s been a problem.”

Romero-Soles said the new system will be more effective than the old one and, on many levels, has already improved the documentation. She said agencies have been given access to the relevant web portals and information is being shared more efficiently.

Eventually, the court will accept credit card payments and allow some cases to be filed electronically. The overall goal, Romero-Soles said, is to move to a paperless system. Merced is among the first counties in the state to move to the Odyssey Case Management System, but others are expected to follow, she said, including Monterey, Kern and Fresno counties.

Warnke said he, too, believes the new system will eventually improve efficiency and make it easier to communicate. “But, yes, a few of the problems that we’ve had have interfered with people’s lives and we just simply cannot have that,” he said. “We’re dealing with the lives of real people.”

Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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