Justice delayed, justice denied: Lawyers say county software issues hide records, wrongfully jail clients

Local News

LUBBOCK, Texas — Local lawyers with cases in Lubbock County say a recent software switch in the county’s records portal has made it difficult to obtain necessary records and stalled their cases since early August.

“It’s very frustrating. We can’t do anything,” said Professor Dwight McDonald, who runs a criminal defense clinic at Texas Tech University School of Law. He says his eight law students assist 50 clients, and all of their cases have been delayed since August due to difficulties in obtaining records through the county’s new system.

“We weren’t able to have any hearings,” he said. “From the first week of August until the middle of October… we had four police reports.”

McDonald said those delays kept at least four of the clinic’s clients wrongfully jailed for between three and 14 days after the district attorney already rejected their case. McDonald said the new system failed to alert the Sheriff’s office to release them.

On Aug. 1, Lubbock County entered into a $10 million contract with Tyler Technologies for software that would host their court records access portal. Six weeks later, the Lubbock County Defense Lawyers Association alerted the public that the county’s portal had made public confidential information previously kept private in sealed court documents.

Local criminal defense lawyer Chris Wanner says after the county shut out lawyers’ access to those records, they never restored it.

“The information that we were receiving on cases was no longer available to us,” he said. The county shut down the access to those computer portals that we use to access information.”

Mr. Wanner said he cannot access police records or jail rosters, delaying contact with his clients and costing their case critical time.

“We don’t know which of our clients are currently in jail,” he said. “Right now my list is sitting at close to 200 people who were arrested and then they were in jail longer than 48 hours before being given an appointed attorney. There’s certain protection in the laws where if you’re indigent and you can’t afford an attorney, and you’re asking for an attorney, you’re to be appointed an attorney. And the laws provide timelines for that… some of them are [in jail for] two or three months. A lot of them from around July, right before the new system took over on August first.”

Mr. Wanner said he has also seen some of his clients wrongfully kept in jail due to communication issues in the county jail.

“There’s been people who have sat in jail for a couple of weeks after their case was rejected and they didn’t have an attorney, and somewhere the system didn’t notify the jail to let these people go … that’s a big deal,” he said.

Other law practices have been frustrated by the new computer system, too. Melissa Simpson practices family law in Lubbock County and says she has had difficulty accessing records.

“We’re flying blind,” she said. “I’m making phone calls trying to get access to documents that I should be able to get with the click of a button, then they’re trying to charge me a dollar per page for a service I should be able to get for free… by the time I get copies of records from the district court’s office, the other side has already set a hearing.”

Each lawyer complained of a lack of transparency from the county and expressed dissatisfaction with the county’s response to their concerns.

“They are trying to justify spending nine and a half million dollars on a system that doesn’t work,” Mr. Mcdonald said (our records indicate the software contract totals $10 million). “You can’t fix a problem if you won’t acknowledge that it’s there… this system doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.”

“I keep hearing they’re going to have meetings and they’ll give us a timeline, but they are not including us in them. They’re just not getting us information,” Mr. Wanner said. “There are certain people who are in power and Judge Curtis Parrish is one of those people… he’s the administrative person of the county government… the buck stops right there with him. He needs to do something about it.”

Defense lawyers worry this issue may end in a lawsuit for Lubbock County.

“This little snafu that they are having is going to wind up costing the taxpayers a lot of money,” Mr. Wanner said.

KAMC News attempted to speak to County Judge Curtis Parrish on this matter. He was unavailable for comment Friday. We intend to speak with him next week and update this story as we learn more.

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