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Travis County, Texas, Cuts Ties with Court Software Project

After spending $3.3 million, county taxpayers have little to show for the project, which has been in jeopardy since the vendor went bankrupt last year with little warning.

by Sean Collins Walsh, Austin American-Statesman / April 1, 2015

(TNS) -- Travis County, Texas, commissioners last week pulled the plug on a beleaguered court system software project it had been developing with Dallas and Tarrant counties.

After spending $3.3 million, county taxpayers have little to show for the project, which has been in jeopardy since the vendor, American Cadastre, went bankrupt last year with little warning. The “integrated justice system” software was supposed to handle document filing systems for criminal courts in the three counties.

After the bankruptcy, the nonprofit Conference of Urban Counties, which handled the procurement of the original project through its TechShare program, hired former AmCad employees and is attempting to finish writing the software in-house. A Dallas County-commissioned report last year, however, found that the source code was error-ridden and should be abandoned.

The Travis County commissioners’ 5-0 vote to leave the project, which followed a closed-door session update on its status, means the county will go back to the drawing board in its effort to replace the case management system.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said in an interview Tuesday that the county has had successful projects with TechShare in the past but said the courts project was beyond repair.

“The premise of the project was to get a better product, better tailored to our needs at a lower cost, but that doesn’t seem to be possible now,” Eckhardt said. “The good news is we got out early enough. Our sunk costs are relatively low.”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez said she was reluctant to abandon the project because she believes collaborations like the one with Tarrant and Dallas counties help save money.

“I will support this motion because that’s what Travis County wants to do,” she said last week. “However, I would say that we need to continue meeting the goal that the collaborative with CUC has had — and that is to save money for the taxpayers.”

Roger Jefferies, the county’s executive manager for justice planning, said that to finish the project, the commissioners would have had to pony up another $1.2 million to continue developing the code and $1.4 million to implement it.

Last month, the Dallas County commissioners voted to plow forward with the project despite an extraordinary move by all 31 of the county’s criminal court judges, who signed a joint letter calling for the project to be abandoned.

Dallas and Tarrant counties are still on board, and Potter County is joining the project, said Don Lee, executive director of the Conference of Urban Counties. Lee has maintained throughout the ordeal that his organization will be able to complete the project within the original budget.

A major factor in AmCad winning the TechShare contract was the company’s agreement to let the counties own the software. Other proposals from firms with more experience in the field of case management systems, like Tyler Technologies, required the software to be owned by the companies.

AmCad’s bankruptcy, announced in September, shocked local and state governments across the country that had contracted with the firm. It was triggered by the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s termination of a $13 million contract with AmCad, according to court documents.

Travis County Chief Information Officer Tanya Acevedo said the county did not come away from the project with nothing because it will own the part of the software code that has been developed to date. It may be used for a smaller system, like the Office of Parental Representation, that doesn’t need to be linked into the larger criminal case management system, she said.

Additionally, Acevedo said, the project prompted the county to go through months of meetings and consultations on how it handles cases and how its processes can be improved. Those lessons, she said, will be valuable when the county solicits bids for a new software provider for the criminal system this year.

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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