Three years in, and Indiana’s case management system is plugged into about one-third of the state’s courts.
While that progress is facing heightened scrutiny from Indiana lawmakers and some counties aren’t eager to sign on, court officials say 175 courts are waiting to join in and the implementation is moving twice as fast as it has in the past.
“I’m very pleased with the progress so far,” said Mary DePrez, a former Shelby County judge who leads the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee effort for the state’s highest court. “There may be some difference of opinions out there, but we’re doing very well. It’s harder than anyone thought it would be, but you really can’t know that until you get started. So I think we’ve been successful to date and have a lot to show for it.”
Though this timeline began when counties began connecting in 2007, some see the system’s start date as 2002. That’s the year the state court first approved the idea of a statewide case management system and contracted with a vendor. But a major hiccup delayed that process.
In 2005, the state and original vendor terminated their contract and the money spent was refunded, primarily because the vendor could only offer a regional system rather than a true statewide system the judiciary envisioned, DePrez said. Since technology and vendor capabilities had improved since the original effort began, the state chose a new vendor in November 2006 – Texas-based Tyler Technologies and its Odyssey system.
After creating and fine-tuning the system specifically for Indiana, the Odyssey system went live in Monroe County and two township courts in Marion County in December 2007.
Since then, each year has brought more counties into the Odyssey fold and 77 courts in 26 counties are currently plugged in. Some of the bigger counties, such as Marion and Allen counties, have connected only some of their courts and others have the entire county caseloads online for the state to see, but nearly one-third of the counties are at least introduced to the system in some capacity.
Last fall, Justice Frank Sullivan, who oversees the project, told a legislative interim committee that Indiana could fully implement the system in all county courts by June 30, 2017, if lawmakers increased a key fee to help pay for it.
If that occurs, the implementation timeline would be slightly less than a decade from the 2007 date when Indiana’s judiciary hired Tyler Technologies, but longer than the original six-year period anticipated back in 2002. The cost would also be less than the $92 million originally expected.
One step at a time
Putting Odyssey in place isn’t as simple as just plugging each county into the network. Each local court system has its own case management system, and there were about 23 being used statewide, along with older versions of the same systems. Learning the varying case management systems and converting the data within those other systems presented unique challenges.
For example, Allen County now has some courts on the statewide case management system, but its previous system was unique to the county.
“We sometimes can’t benefit from what we’ve learned in another county,” DePrez said. “It’s great to be able to leverage what we can sometimes, but we’ve had to start over in many places. That is challenging, and probably has made this more expensive.”
As a result of that scattered effort being condensed into one statewide system, DePrez says what Indiana is doing is unique and can’t really be compared to other states throughout the country. Others that have put this type of system in place, such as New Mexico, only have one or two systems they are replacing with one single system.
“It’s not really fair to compare us to anyone else because of that,” she said. “I’d say we’re in the forefront on where some states are, even today.”
Some lawmakers, particularly Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, have questioned the pace of implementation and how much is being spent on the statewide system. He has described the progress as “stagnant” compared to the millions that have been spent, and said lawmakers need to examine whether that system should be funded at a time when the state has little money to allocate.
Meanwhile, county clerks have expressed frustration over the state’s implementation of this system statewide when they have their own local systems that are functioning fine and they’ve spent county funds to pay for them. Private vendors offering case management systems also criticize the Odyssey path, saying it does what their own versions already do and counties can opt to pay for that service if they wish.
A continued effort to increase a court fee used to help pay for JTAC expansion has stalled in recent years, though it’s once again being proposed this year in the form of Senate Bill 301.
As it has in past years, the legislation proposes a temporary $3 increase in the automated record-keeping fee that pays for the JTAC project, changing it from $7 to $10 for the coming years to help expedite the Odyssey deployment statewide.
Court leaders, such as DePrez and Justice Sullivan, say the legislative inaction to increase the fee means that the state can’t more quickly get these counties hooked up to Odyssey.
Justice Sullivan noted that JTAC is working with the Indiana Department of Revenue concerning possible tax refund interception for any unpaid court costs, something similar to what the state agency already does on unpaid child support and license or permit reviews. But aside from that, he discussed how people involved with the Odyssey implementation are contributing economically to the state by using local businesses, and Justice Sullivan says that JTAC is interested in discussing potential revenue-generating ideas with the other branches of government.
In the past two years, one member of the legislative Commission on Courts – former Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson – has been the only commission member voicing opposition to the JTAC project funding and has voiced concerns that private vendors offering these systems don’t receive state funding and could go out of business because of Odyssey.
DePrez counters criticism about the system and says it’s not only connecting court case systems but also automating other related processes – such as statewide protective order notices in domestic violence cases, e-citations by police, and a database tracking when mentally ill adjudications are made to keep firearms out of those individuals’ hands.
Looking at the overall progress in the past three years, DePrez says the state’s approach has been to first try to take care of those counties that have dying systems and don’t want or can’t afford to replace what they have. Some of those systems are two decades old and aren’t being supported by vendors anymore, and DePrez says that moves them up on the priority list.
Some counties that didn’t even have case management systems and were still using scroll books are now online with Odyssey, she added. DePrez said JTAC is also focusing on counties without budgets to pay for current vendors or services that exist locally at this time.
“The sense of urgency isn’t as strong in some of those areas as the caseloads are, but we’re doing the best we can to prioritize,” she said.
This year, DePrez says Odyssey is expected to be hooked up in five counties and implementation will continue in more of Allen and Marion counties’ courts. In the next two years, at least eight more will be participating, she said.
During his annual State of the Judiciary speech, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard praised the JTAC efforts and Odyssey implementation as he updated lawmakers on where it stands today.
“The power of this combination is something judges and clerks and law enforcement personnel see close up,” he said, referring to a Fort Wayne bail commissioner who recently used Odyssey to keep a man in custody for an outstanding warrant in Huntington County. “I’m proud that Indiana’s courts are creating a 21st century system.”•