Indigent clients held in jail without charges during Lubbock County software transition

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 10:28 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2021 at 2:57 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock County officials admit a countywide software transition caused several low-level offenders to be held in the detention center longer than legally necessary because the software delayed communications between attorneys and the jail.

The delay in justice occurred as the county went live with a new software system called Odyssey, from Tyler Technologies, which manages all legal documents for the county’s justice system, including jails, the District Attorney’s Office, and the public defender’s office. Attorneys depend on this system to manage cases and connect with their clients.

Since the county software transition, KCBD has reported the system made expungement records available to the public and attorneys have addressed their frustrations with the software to county Judge Curtis Parish during a commissioners’ court meeting a few weeks ago.

Our investigation found a homeless man named Michael who was arrested and taken to the Lubbock County Detention Center in July. He was not released from custody until September, well after his charges had been dropped.

Without an attorney assigned, there was no way he could be properly discharged. State law requires indigent clients to be assigned an attorney quickly.

Law student Alicia Mpande was assigned to his case four days after his charges were dropped, but the Odyssey program would not display his case status. After making several calls to the jail, Mpande filed a habeas corpus writ for his release.

“There were no charges pending against him, and he ultimately had been sitting in the Lubbock County Detention Center for 12 days for no reason. And it was all because of the fact that it did not reflect on the computer system,” Michael’s representative said.

Our investigative work discovered a homeless man named Michael was arrested and taken to the...
Our investigative work discovered a homeless man named Michael was arrested and taken to the Lubbock County jail in July. He would not be released from custody until September, well after his charges had been dropped.(Michael's timeline)

Mpande said she typically files a PR bond for low-level offender clients, which guarantees her client’s release after 15 days of jail time. Michael’s case was unusual because he was held in jail beyond 15 days.

“It is so difficult having to talk to clients every week and tell them, ‘Look, I don’t know what’s going on with your case, the computer system is down, things are going slow.’ And it’s just creating a lot of frustration, I think on all ends,” Mpande said.

Within the Texas Tech law student clinic, Alyssa Douglas also resorted to filing a habeas corpus writ to release her client arrested for criminal trespassing. Her client was held 15 days without charges.

“But when you look online, it just said that the case was still open and nothing had been rejected. So there was no way of us finding out that his case had been rejected. And now he’s been sitting in jail for a whole seven days with nothing holding him there,” Douglas said.

Mpande said there are long-lasting effects to a person who is held in jail longer than necessary.

“You’re not able to pay your bills, you’re not able to take care of your kids, you’re not able to your job, you could lose your job, there are so many things that could fall apart for somebody while sitting in jail,” Mpande said.

President of the Lubbock County Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, Chris Wanner said attorneys across the county were frustrated by the transition.

“So when the new system kicked in on August 1, it was a mess. We couldn’t look up clients, we couldn’t find them. We type in their names and wouldn’t show up,” Wanner said.

After filing an open records request, we learned that several people were not assigned an attorney within a timely matter the week the Odyssey program went live.

Court administrators said since the attorney referral option was unavailable, they began temporarily assigning attorneys on paper. It is unclear how long they used paper or how many indigent clients were assigned by paper.

In an email from Sept. 1, the Lubbock Private Defender’s Office noticed they were low on attorney referrals and began to communicate possible issues and solutions with court administration.

“We have had two weeks of 117 assignments whereas we usually run no less than 150 and usually in the 170s or so. I am betting there are eighty to a hundred or so sitting around without an attorney,” Chief Defender Phillip Wischkaemper said.

An email between court administrators and LPDO reveals some issues they discovered.

“We have pinpointed some of it related to the computer conversion and transition, but also some with processes and reporting,” Court Administrator Dan Stanzione said.

In a statement, Tyler Technologies told KCBD to refer to the county for answers to our questions: “Judge Parrish has stated publicly that these are not Tyler software issues. For that reason, the county is the best resource for answers to your questions.”

County Judge Curtis Parrish told us the software was not the issue after attorneys gave a presentation expressing their frustration with the new system.

“I think once the system becomes fully integrated, once the conversion is fully functional, I think we’ll have a good system. The problem is, we do have problems now. And so our job right now is to see the problems when they come up, correct those issues as quickly and as efficiently as we can,” Parrish said.

Court administrators said in a statement that they assigned an attorney to everyone who needed one by the end of September.

“As a result of this notification, our team reexamined the entire process and reports used to make referrals and assignments. Additionally, our office also began combing through the entire jail roster to ensure no other in-custody individuals lacked an appointment they requested and were qualified to receive. "

However, attorneys remain frustrated by the system. Attorney Ben Garcia said in a presentation to commissioners that every extra hour spent working on a case could cost taxpayers.

“The bill is being put in by taxpayers at the end of the day. They’re having to spend more time to do their work than they should, which cost the taxpayers more money,” Garcia said.

Mpande said every extra hour adds up to extra days a person is held in confinement.

“You’re not able to pay your bills, you’re not able to take care of your kids, you’re not able to do your job, you could lose your job, there are so many things that could fall apart for somebody while sitting in jail,” Mpande said.

Lubbock County paid about $7 million for this switch in software in 2018.

A class-action lawsuit was filed in Tennessee against multiple co-defendants, including Tyler Technologies and Shelby County. The suit was brought by people who were wrongly detained, who alleged, among other things, a failure to train staff for the transition. After nearly five years of litigation, the parties reached a nearly $5 million settlement, which is pending approval by the court. Tyler Technologies released a statement to KCBD that Shelby County provided the largest portion of the settlement agreement. Tyler reports its contribution to the settlement caps out at roughly 16.66 percent of the total settlement amount. In the settlement agreement, Tyler denied the plaintiffs’ claims and liability in the case but stated it settled to avoid the costs of further litigation.

No suits have been filed in Lubbock County at this time.

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