The company hired to bring Maine’s courts into the electronic age has had serious technology problems in other states, including complaints that it led to dozens of people being wrongly arrested or held in jail longer than their sentences.

Teon Wiley, a 34-year-old man from Memphis, Tennessee, said that was exactly what happened to him.

Wiley was arrested and jailed after a traffic stop last July for violating probation and failing to pay court costs for theft of household items from a Home Depot store in Tennessee. He was due to be released in mid-November, but his release date came and went – and he remained in jail.

Teon Wiley, a 34-year-old from Memphis, said he remained in jail longer than he should have after being arrested for violating probation and failing to pay court costs for theft. Memphis officials said they had problems with computer software used by Tyler Technologies to update court records. Photo courtesy of Teon Wiley

When he asked jail officials why he was still being held past his release date, he said he was told that they were having computer problems and he would “have to wait until the system comes back up” before they could let him go. He was finally released in late November, after serving two weeks longer than his sentence dictated.

That extra time in jail “was worse than the (original) four months,” Wiley said. “I was ready to go home and those two weeks were like a whole year.”

Wiley’s was not an isolated case. Dozens of defendants in two states have been wrongly arrested or been held in jail longer than their sentences called for, and officials have blamed problems with Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey computer program, which manages cases and facilitates electronic court filings for court systems all over the country. It is the same program that will be installed in Maine courts over the next five years.

Lawsuits have been filed across the U.S. on behalf of those defendants, both against law enforcement agencies that use Odyssey, and against Tyler Technologies itself.

In California, the public defender for Alameda County cited dozens of defendants who were victims of computer problems after Odyssey was installed, including one who was held for 16 days after the computer system erroneously said he was to be held without bail. In another case, a sentence was improperly entered into the system and a defendant had to spend 20 extra days in jail. In yet another, a warrant that was supposed to be recalled was not, leading to the defendant being arrested erroneously.

In each case, the public defender blamed incomplete case files that had not been updated or had missing documents.

“Minute orders, filings and other documents are frequently missing from the paperless files,” according to a motion filed by Brendon Woods, the public defender in Alameda County, in November. “The calendars generated by the system are also persistently incomplete and … regularly conflict with the calendars produced by the sheriff, the public defender and the district attorney. This appears to be the result of both inputting errors and Odyssey’s inability to interface with other case management systems.”

Tyler officials blame antiquated government computers and electronic systems and a poorly run interface between the Tyler software on court computers and jail systems.

John Marr, Tyler’s CEO and chairman, said the Odyssey system has been rolled out in 21 states, including 11 where it is used statewide, as it will be in Maine.

“They’re all successfully implemented,” he said, adding that problems other states are seeing are due largely to difficulties that localities have had in linking court and jail systems. Odyssey is only installed on court systems, he said, and doesn’t run the jail systems, even though they are often linked.

“We’re not at the root or cause” of those issues, he said. “We are not the jail system or the integrator between the jail and the court system. These are things that happen in our industry, although we certainly take them very seriously.”

COMPANY EMPLOYS HUNDREDS IN MAINE

Lawsuits in Tennessee and Indiana cite similar issues involving hundreds of defendants, all complaining of problems with the Odyssey program.

Wiley, the Tennessee man, is now part of one of those lawsuits, a class-action lawsuit against the Shelby County sheriff’s office in Tennessee, on behalf of him and other inmates who faced the same situation. Another class-action suit in Shelby County names Tyler Technologies as a defendant.

Tyler’s niche is creating software for local governments, including the city of Portland, which just signed a contract with the company for an upgrade of the software it uses in City Hall.

The company is headquartered in Texas, although its chief executive officer lives in Maine and the company has more than 650 employees in Falmouth and Yarmouth and is expected to expand here in coming years. The Maine operations focus primarily on creating software for administering school districts, while the court software was developed in and is managed from Texas.

Late last year, Maine signed a $16.9 million, five-year contract with Tyler to provide electronic services to Maine courts. The project will enable all state courts to allow attorneys to file lawsuits and briefs electronically and the public will be able to track cases online, instead of having to search through paper records at individual clerks’ offices in each courthouse. Judges’ orders will also be entered electronically, and data such as bail terms and jail sentences will be stored online, so county officials know when prisoners are supposed to report and when they are to be released.

But that’s where officials in other states said Tyler’s software failed to perform. The lawsuits say erroneous records are filed in the computers or no information at all is entered until long delays have already developed.

The incidents vary, but most involve either incorrect information entered into the system or allegations that the system fails to stay up to date.

In Alameda County, California, the public defender’s office is asking the court to order officials to make changes to ensure that record-keeping is up to date. The proposed order cites more than two dozen cases in just over three months in which people have been held in jail too long, were arrested on warrants issued erroneously, remained on probation too long or had misdemeanor convictions listed incorrectly as felony convictions.

In a court filing, Woods, the public defender, said all the problems occurred since the Odyssey system went online last August.

In addition to the lawsuits in Tennessee, county officials have been sued in Indiana over similar allegations. The lawsuits generally target county officials, since they are responsible for making sure court and jail records are accurate and up to date. Only one Tennessee suit names Tyler.

Joshua Spickler, an attorney with Just City, a criminal justice reform advocacy group in Tennessee, said the courts and jails in Memphis operated well until Odyssey went online there in November.

“That’s when everything fell apart,” he said.

‘THEY HAVE NOT FIXED IT’

Wiley, the Memphis man who was held in jail two weeks longer than his sentence, said jail officials threatened to charge him with inciting a riot when he insisted that he be allowed to see a judge to be released. He said other inmates told him that they, too, were being held longer than they were supposed to be jailed.

Tales like Wiley’s “are the story, over and over,” Spickler said. “I still get calls weekly. They have not fixed it.”

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Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch, said the committee that selected Tyler for the state project was aware that problems had been reported elsewhere. She also said state officials are going into the project with their eyes open and know that there will be some difficulties along the way, given the scope of the project.

“We have done our best to learn from the experiences, both good and bad, of other court systems,” she said. “I think it would be the height of either naiveté or arrogance, or both, to suggest we will be immune from hitting some bumps in the road as we implement an entirely new way of doing business. ”

She said that Maine may actually be better off going into the project now, after problems already surfaced elsewhere, because that may allow Maine and Tyler to anticipate any issues here and either head them off or know how to correct them using fixes developed elsewhere.

“We do believe we will benefit from the experiences of other courts, and those ‘problems’ are learning opportunities for us,” Lynch said. “Sometimes it helps to be at the back of the queue in implementing change. We are taking to heart the experiences of others.”

TYLER WON BID BY ‘A LARGE MARGIN’

Tyler’s bid of $16.9 million fell in the middle of six that the state received to convert the courts to electronic filing. The low bid was $9.8 million from Journal Technology, and Thomson Reuters was at the top end, with a bid of $33.6 million.

Lynch said Tyler scored a few more points on the scoring scale used by the six-member selection committee because it already has operations in Maine, but she said the difference was minimal – only a maximum of 50 points on a 1,000-point scale. Lynch said she didn’t have the final scores of the committee, but the points for local operations did not tip the balance.

“I am told that Tyler won by such a large margin that this was not a determining factor,” she said.

She also said the state consulted with the National Center for State Courts on the project and also will benefit from having a unified court system, rather than a system of independently operated county or municipal courts that are sometimes used in other jurisdictions. That can result in systems with different computer backbones and inconsistent funding for the conversion to an electronic format, Lynch said.

Marr said Tyler will learn from issues encountered in other states to try to make Maine’s implementation smoother. And, Marr said, he’s taken a slightly stronger interest in the Maine project because he lives here – for instance, he sat in on the presentation his company made to the selection committee.

“I’m a Mainer, been here virtually my whole life,” he said. “To have an opportunity here in our home state, we’re excited to make Maine a showplace.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:42 p.m. on March 2, 2017 to correct the states where lawsuits have cited problems with Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey software.

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