Missoula County Justice Court: New system brings 'chaos, confusion'

2014-04-25T06:15:00Z 2014-04-25T06:21:48Z Missoula County Justice Court: New system brings 'chaos, confusion'By KATHRYN HAAKE of the Missoulian missoulian.com

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.”

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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(8) Comments

  1. Dubs
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    Dubs - April 25, 2014 3:38 pm
    Isn't this crazy?? What else could possibly go wrong with the county? I think everyone needs a good old fashion "time out" to reflect on just what is causing such chaos and expensive errors by everyone in the court house. Maybe not EVERY person is to blame but there is something definitely wrong. I have a friend that lives near Detroit and over the years he has watched this once great city collapse into a huge pile. He shared some stories of how a one party government city finally fell on it's face because there were no checks and balances between departments and offices and excessive spending with no oversight spun out of control and finally went bankrupt. If our commissioners, county department heads, and city political leaders starting with the mayor, do not get a grip on things, Missoula will suffer the same fate as Detroit.
  2. mslaitgurl
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    mslaitgurl - April 25, 2014 11:40 am
    This may explain why someone I know was arrested for 4th DUI in 2012 and still hasn't been notified of a court date.
  3. Sukey
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    Sukey - April 25, 2014 7:42 am
    Rolling out huge new software systems is usually done redundantly (using both systems at the same time). This sounds as if it went out with very little testing. I'm sure they'll work the glitches out as was done with the Obamacare web site. Good luck to all the county employees struggling to do their job with a less than perfect system. This too shall pass (hope you don't lose any inmates in the meantime).
  4. walter12
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    walter12 - April 25, 2014 7:04 am
    Sounds alot like ObamaCare madness. Typical government operation, state, county, city.
  5. Salish
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    Salish - April 25, 2014 6:26 am
    Shades of the mess with the Obamacare software. Seems like no matter where new software gets pushed on people, major SNAFU's crop up immediately. Why?
  6. msonelson
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    msonelson - April 25, 2014 5:49 am
    At least the chaos and confusion is computerized now.
  7. golfpro65
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    golfpro65 - April 24, 2014 11:29 pm
    Sheriff Ibsen, As the "highest" law enforcement figure in Missoula County, should there not be some forethought (proactive questions) prior to implementation of this kind of software? You very obviously did not have any oversight on who you appointed this 'project', nor did you get any input from Judge Orzech or her clerks. For if you did, you would not have induced such public reaction from Judge, who is much more competent and successful in her position, than you in yours.
  8. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - April 24, 2014 10:30 pm

    Kind of seems like a waste of money, but maybe this will work better when the glitches are ironed out, or if.

    This is from the article earlier in the month, on where that money's coming from:

    "New World Systems is paid for by a combined city and county grant from the Department of Justice and the asset forfeiture account from high-impact drug cases.

    Lounsbury explained the DOJ grant covered the majority of the expenses – $800,000 worth – while the asset forfeiture covered the remaining costs. The contract with the company will span five years. After those five years, all costs will come directly from city and the county budgets."

    So I sure hope this thing is working right 5 years from now.
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