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Lawsuit alleges glitches in N.C. court filing system caused wrongful detainments

The Associated Press//May 24, 2023//

Lawsuit alleges glitches in N.C. court filing system caused wrongful detainments

The Associated Press//May 24, 2023//

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A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in North Carolina alleges an electronic state court records system rolled out this year in four counties has caused some people to be arrested multiple times on the same warrant and has delayed the release of others from custody.

Two North Carolina residents who were arrested earlier this year are suing their county sheriffs and the Texas-based technology company responsible for designing the electronic filing system, which they say led to their unlawful detainment.

In their complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Timia Chaplin of Wake County and Paulino Castellanos of Lee County are asking a federal judge to bar their local sheriffs from continuing to use the system. They argue that it subjects the public to “unconstitutional deprivations of liberty.”

The lawsuit — a proposed class action — suggests there are likely hundreds more affected residents around the state.

“This class action seeks to remedy past harms and — as eCourts is soon expected to be implemented in North Carolina’s remaining counties — prevent future violations,” Chaplin and Castellanos said in the complaint.

After years of discussions about how to modernize the state judiciary’s archaic filing system, the state Administrative Office of the Courts awarded Tyler Technologies a $100 million contract in 2019 for a package of software applications known as eCourts.

The program launched Feb. 13 in four pilot counties — Wake, Lee, Johnston and Harnett — and is supposed to be expanded to all 100 counties by 2025. But several attorneys and lawmakers have criticized its rocky rollout, pointing to numerous glitches, system lags and expansion delays.

Chaplin, who said she was arrested twice on the same warrant for failing to appear in court, claims those system malfunctions violated her constitutional right to be free from unlawful search, seizure and detention.

Although a judge dismissed her case when she appeared in March for a rescheduled court hearing, Chaplin said her arrest warrant remained outstanding for nearly a month because its “resolved” status had not been communicated across eCourts applications.

Castellanos alleges his release from jail was delayed about 14 days due to issues in digitizing his case file.

Their lawsuit names Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe and Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes. They could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Graham Wilson, spokesperson for the North Carolina Judicial Branch, said the administrative office has encouraged residents, attorneys and court officials to report any issues like those alleged in the complaint since it first launched the new system.

“We have investigated each report we have received and have not substantiated that any allegation of wrongful arrest or incarceration was caused by” the eCourts system, Wilson said Tuesday.

Tyler Technologies declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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