Dallas County, Texas, Sticks with Case Software Project Despite Judges' Pleas

The software is designed to help criminal court judges manage every aspect of a case, from the time a defendant is booked into jail through sentencing.

by Matthew Watkins, The Dallas Morning News / February 18, 2015

(TNS) -- Dallas County will continue to develop its own criminal court case management system, even though the judges who will use it have unanimously called it a waste of money.

The Commissioners Court voted 3-2 on Tuesday to spend an additional $1.8 million on the project, a joint venture with Tarrant and Travis counties. Dallas County has already contributed about $8.8 million in the past three years.

The commissioners who favored sticking with the project said that it’s on time and on budget, and that complaints about bugs are premature. The system is to be fully in place by next year. A first phase was completed this month, and pilot testing in select courts will begin soon.

“I feel confident that we do have the product that is best suited for Dallas, for Texas,” said Commissioner Theresa Daniel, who joined Mike Cantrell and John Wiley Price in supporting the effort.

The software is designed to help criminal court judges manage every aspect of a case, from the time a defendant is booked into jail through sentencing.

But in a rare display of unity, all 31 of Dallas County’s criminal court judges said they don’t want the program. Judges who tested it during a demonstration last month found it riddled with problems.

In a letter to the commissioners, the judges said there’s already a better case management system available from a local company, Tyler Technologies.

On Tuesday, state District Judge Robert Burns made one final plea to the commissioners, even though he sensed that his effort was futile.

“I don’t know what else to tell you that I haven’t said in my e-mails,” he said.

Afterward, he said he thought the commissioners glossed over the long-term costs of maintaining the software.

“We’re all obviously disappointed,” he said.

The three counties involved in the project teamed up in 2012 through the Conference of Urban Counties. They hired a company, American Cadastre, to build the program, but the company went bankrupt in 2014, leaving the three counties with unfinished computer code. The Conference of Urban Counties then hired some of American Cadastre’s former employees to finish the job.

Despite the past problems and the judges’ reservations, the majority of the Commissioners Court predicted that the project would end up a success. Dallas County has already spent most of the money needed, they said. And the final product will be customized to the county’s needs.

“The concept is that we control our own destiny instead of having our vendors come in and control our destiny for us,” Cantrell said.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia cast the two dissenting votes. Garcia said she couldn’t support a system that is opposed by all the people who will use it.

“I could never do this in my own dental office,” she said. “I could never implement a program that my employees and my colleagues and my staff would not like.”

©2015 The Dallas Morning News