Software company pulls the plug on courts’ computer system

LISBON – First the launch of the new computer system purchased by the county courts was pushed back in May. Now it appears it will never happen.

Deputy Clerk of Courts Shane Patrone said Columbiana County was recently notified that AMCAD, the Virginia-based company which developed and sold them the computer software, will no longer be involved in justice-related court software systems.

Patrone, Clerk of Courts Anthony Dattilio and Columbiana County Municipal Court Judge Mark Frost met in Columbus on Friday with officials from other counties and municipal courts, as well as officials from the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Judicial Conference to look at what remedies there can be for those courts which chose the AMCAD software.

The Ohio Supreme Court had looked at the AMCAD software and considered it for their own uses. So had many courts across Ohio and in several other states.

“The (Ohio) Supreme Court had vetted these folks,” Frost said, “And listed them as their preferred vendors.”

Frost said the state court’s decision was considered in the Columbiana County courts’ decision to go with AMCAD. There were even plans to place the records from all the courts across Ohio using the AMCAD software into the same cloud, giving all the courts access to the information statewide. By going with the AMCAD software, county court officials had hoped to be part of that unification project from the beginning without having to purchase new software down the road.

The new system had other advantages also. Frost said it would have allowed defendants to pay their fines and court costs online and would have allowed traffic tickets and other court documents to be filed electronically.

Columbiana County has paid $470,000 for the software program, money Patrone said came from court costs. Frost said if anything, the company appears to be in breach of contract, and the county courts would like to get as much of the money spent on the program back as is possible.

“We haven’t determined how to attack the problem,” Patrone said, adding local Attorney Andy Beech is looking at the county courts’ legal options.

Columbiana County Municipal Court employees already were trained during their regular work hours to operate the new system. Patrone said training did not cost the courts additional money for overtime. Only productivity was lost, as the court had to continue to operate with some clerks missing due to training.

But despite months of work, the launch did not happen because there were still some issues needing to be worked out. At one point, the county municipal courts had considered launching in June, but then it was decided to wait until the fall.

Eventually, the program was also supposed to be launched at the Columbiana County Common Pleas Court too, and employees from that court also attended some training sessions at the municipal court to begin getting familiar with the program.

Frost credited Dattilio and Patrone for taking a good look at the issues with the program in the spring and determining they were not comfortable it was ready to launch.

“In a way we are lucky,” Patrone said. “We hadn’t switched to the new system yet.”

Other courts are not as lucky. Some had switched all of their court records to the AMCAD software, which is no longer being supported by the company. Some of the other courts affected in Ohio reportedly include Union County, Shelby County and Loraine Municipal Court, as well as courts in Warren and Medina.

The AMCAD website has press releases showing courts are also utilizing their programs in Florida, Missouri, Arizona and Texas. The loss of a contract with the courts statewide in Oklahoma was part of the reasons listed in an email notifying courts in Ohio of the company’s decision to get out of the justice software business.

The email dated June 23 from AMCAD CEO Rick Lowrey alerted the courts to the fact that the company was exiting that division of its business effective immediately.

Patrone said the county courts will continue to operate with the old software, which is still functional. He hopes to begin looking at other software programs for the county.

Frost also noted the current system is workable, and the employees know it well. It just does not have all the features the courts would like to offer. However, the courts will continue to function as usual.