Dallas County courts system awaiting system upgrades while cases get lost

The wheels of the justice in Dallas County are missing a key component: computer software.

A FOX 4 investigation has found that even after the county spent tens of millions of dollars on computer software six years after development began, the system still is not ready. While judges wait for the software, victims are getting lost in the system.

Rather than buy commercial software for the county's justice system, Dallas County decided to try to create its own.

Two years after FOX 4 reports about massive delays, all the county has managed to do is spend more than $22 million with only chaos in the courts to show for it.

A Dallas County criminal court judge asked FOX 4 to disguise her voice and not show her face. She's concerned about political repercussions for speaking out against the county's multi-million dollar Techshare project.

“What's the most worrisome are the victims of domestic violence, where their cases sat and languished,” she said.

Techshare is still not ready for use, despite the commissioner's court approving the development of the software six years ago.

In the meantime, the Dallas County judge says the county's antiquated computer software has caused some cases to slip through the cracks. That system went online more than 30 years ago. She feels like some people have been denied justice because of the lack of technology.

“I think some victims of crimes, their cases have been dismissed,” she said.

FOX 4 obtained an audit completed last fall that found out of 1,600 cases, about 1,400 defendants were unaccounted for. They got lost in the system.

The audit found in 326 of those cases, “many of these cases have been unresolved with no court setting for months and or years."

“You've got victims of domestic violence, victims of burglaries of vehicles, criminal trespass, criminal mischief — all sorts of offenses where victims aren't getting justice and aren't going to get justice because of it,” the judge said. “That's because we don't have a case management system.

With no case management system, judges must rely a lot on paper, and paper does get lost.

The audit found "most case notes are handwritten and documents are kept in a paper file. Some case lists are entered by hand on a spreadsheet.” Victims may not be the only ones losing their day in court. 

“If one piece of paper can result in someone sitting in jail for a week or two past when they should have gotten released, your viewers can answer that question for themselves,” the judge said.

The problem isn’t just isolated to criminal courts.

Justice of the Peace Judge Al Cercone says his court's software implemented back in 1987 does not allow electronic filing. And once a case is paper-filed, each detail must be entered by hand.

You can tell the system's age by the font.

“We have developed jet engines. We have jet airplanes. We have put people on moon with technology,” Cercone said. “The technology that we have for JP courts in Dallas County today is horse and buggy.”

Judge Cercone says a new computer system would eliminate the need for all these paper files.

Dallas County got into the software business to try to save money. The business plan is to own its own source code and then sell it to other counties.

The Techshare computer systems have worked for the juvenile court system and the DA’s office. They are much simpler and smaller to operate. But the Texas Conference of Urban Counties has struggled with the more complicated court and justice of the peace programs.

A 2014 proposal shows another technology company said it could have had software up and running for a fraction of what the county has spent. That same company operates court programs all over the country.

Dallas Commissioner Theresa Daniel is over IT and Techshare. Back in 2016, she told FOX 4 the deadline to have the problem fixed was in May 2017. Now more than a year later, judges are still waiting while crime cases slip through the cracks.

“Who knows if they are still in danger of being abused,” the Dallas County judge said. “That's a tragedy.”

While the criminal side of the Dallas County court system may be treading water, the civil side is another story. Their system runs on software from an outside vendor with electronic filing and without any major issues.

Techshare's latest deadline to begin testing the court system software was three days ago. Judges say that is still not underway.

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