A month after Missoula County rolled out a new $1.5 million computer system, Justice Court officials say they still don’t have access to the software and are unable to properly serve the public.
“It really is a shame because we used to provide a lot of services to a lot of people,” Justice of the Peace Karen Orzech said Thursday. “Our ability to serve the public has been crippled by this system.”
Justice Court is the first stop for people who have been arrested and charged with a felony. The court sets bail for defendants, appoints a public defender if necessary, and also makes sure defendants understand the charges against them.
Defendants also must be seen in court in a timely fashion following their arrest.
Previously, clerks were able to access pertinent information from a countywide system. Now, Justice Court doesn’t have access to that information and is forced to rely on Missoula County jail officials for a comprehensive list of who is in jail and what they are charged with – and that list is not always accurate, Orzech said.
Jodie Ingraham, Justice Court office manager, said when she calls the jail to get more information, she’s met with “total chaos and confusion.”
“I don’t get the impression that anyone knows how to use the program,” she said.
The jail list now comes in an Excel spreadsheet, and is usually inaccurate, she said.
Once, a defendant’s loved one informed the court that the defendant was in jail and needed to be seen in Justice Court, she explained. The court had no knowledge of the person’s arrest or charges.
“It’s really alarming to the clerks,” Orzech explained.
Additionally, court clerks are not able to check if someone has been released, or who has posted their bond. Personal information, like someone’s address, is also not listed.
Ingraham and Orzech met with Chris Lounsbury, the system administrator, last week to discuss the court’s frustration.
Lounsbury didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Thursday, but a copy of an email between Ingraham and Lounsbury was provided to the Missoulian.
After Lounsbury said the decision to provide the court with the new program was up to Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen, Ingraham wrote back saying the department was disappointed the administration didn’t seek input from Justice Court before the system’s implementation.
She added that “for the last two and a half weeks, our staff has been unable to answer the most basic questions from the public, the media, the Public Defender’s Office, the County Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice and others while we’ve asked for access to this program without success.”
Ingraham also said the court may cease its efforts to get the program.
But a solution may be on the way for Justice Court.
Ibsen said Thursday they are working on a way to provide Justice Court with the New World System in the near future. He said there was never a decision to exclude Justice Court from the system, but now that the software is installed nearly everywhere, the county is planning on expanding it.
“We’ve all been thinking about it,” he said. “As we the requests come in, we have to figure out how to make that access available.”