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The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts would like everyone to know that its no-good, very-bad eCourts rollout hasn’t actually been a disaster.  

Last week, House Democratic Leader Robert T. Reives asked Speaker Tim Moore to open an inquiry into “a product that has satisfied few users in any jurisdiction, and does not breed confidence in the reliability of our court system.”

Reives, an attorney, cited complaints that lawyers in the four pilot counties had previously described to The Assembly, including bugs and insufficient training that have ground courtrooms to a halt and broadband and IT disparities in rural counties. There have also been “delays in releasing incarcerated persons by months at a time and wrongful arrests of persons against whom cases were already dropped,” Reives wrote. 

NCAOC director Ryan Boyce responded by accusing Reives of spreading “misinformation.” Since the system launched on February 13, he wrote, the NCAOC has reported 573 defects to Tyler Technologies, the company the state paid $100 million to build eCourts. Tyler had fixed 393 of those issues. He said some “high-priority” problems had indefinitely delayed eCourts’ expansion to Mecklenburg County. 

But the NCAOC “has not found an instance where [a] defect led to an individual’s delayed release from incarceration,” Boyce wrote. 

As we reported in March, a Wake County man was held for nearly a month after he should have been released on a misdemeanor trespassing charge—though District Attorney Lorrin Freeman claimed the fault lay not with eCourts but with more mundane paperwork errors. An attorney in Harnett County also told The Assembly that eCourts led to clients being held in jail for hours after they would have bonded out under the old system. 

A person familiar with the matter told The Assembly that a civil rights lawsuit is likely to be filed in the near future.

The volume of system glitches has prompted lawyers to worry that their clients would file grievances against them with the North Carolina Bar Association. Earlier this month, Bar Association President Marcia Armstrong tried to reassure them. 

“Some lawyers have expressed concern that those challenges, which may include obstacles to and delays in disposition of their clients’ cases, could result in the filing of grievances with the State Bar Grievance Committee,” Armstrong wrote to Bar members. “… While the State Bar has no authority to make decisions regarding the content of or operations of the new system, it will exercise the authority it does have prudently.”

Armstrong said the “growing pains” were “frustrating,” but the State Bar still believes eCourts will “revolutionize our court system.”  

The NCAOC declined to make Boyce available for an interview and has yet to fulfill The Assembly’s public records request for meeting minutes of the selection committee that picked Tyler. 

“Despite these defects, pilot county courts remain fully operational and have handled nearly 50,000 cases,” Boyce wrote to Reives. (Not noted: The district court in Harnett County closed for a week so that overwhelmed clerks could catch up.) “eCourts is a once-in-a-generation transformation … and NCAOC is steadfast in ensuring a successful and complete statewide implementation.”

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The Brief

A district court judge in Buncombe County convicted two Asheville journalists on trespassing charges last week after dismissing their First Amendment claims. 

Free-speech and civil liberties groups had been closely watching the case against Asheville Blade reporters Veronica Coit and Matilda Bliss, who were arrested on December 25, 2021, while covering Asheville police officers clearing a homeless encampment in Ashton Park after the park’s 10 p.m. closing. Body camera footage shows the two reporters telling officers they are press. 

At trial, police Lt. Mike McClanahan testified that the pair were arrested because they refused to leave. “I didn’t care whether they were reporters or not,” he said. “It meant nothing to me.” 

But Coit and Bliss were among the first of 16 people arrested that night. The footage also captured an officer remarking, “Why don’t we deal with the standing first because they’re videotaping?”

The reporters’ attorney, Ben Scales, argued at trial that they were arrested in retaliation for both their reporting and for the Blade’s leftist bent. But Judge James Calvin Hill said the only thing that mattered was that Coit and Bliss trespassed.  

“They may be journalists, but there was no evidence provided to the court that they are journalists,” Hill said. 

Hill offered to wipe the reporters’ records if they did not appeal. They refused, and a jury trial is tentatively scheduled for May 1 in Buncombe County Superior Court. 

On Our Radar

In the Matter of Custodial Law Enforcement Agency Recordings Sought by APG-EAST LLC et. al. 

April 21 marked two years since Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Andrew Brown in the back of the head as he slowly drove away from them. The county settled with Brown’s estate for $3 million last July, but District Attorney Andrew Womble, who declined to prosecute the deputies involved in Brown’s death, continues to fight the complete release of the body camera footage. 

In February, a Court of Appeals panel rejected state media organizations’ request to release the footage, ruling that the statute’s convoluted wording actually requires the media to file lawsuits to obtain the footage rather than using the standard petition. 

The media coalition asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider. The court has not yet announced whether it will weigh in. 

Doriety v. Sletten and the City of Greensboro

The public had better luck obtaining body camera footage of the 2022 death of Nasanto Crenshaw. Crenshaw, a Black 17-year-old, was fatally shot by Greensboro Police Cpl. Matthew Sletten on August 21, 2022, while fleeing a traffic stop. Sletten said he believed his life was in danger, and Guilford County District Attorney Avery Crump cleared him of wrongdoing. But footage released this week appears to show Crenshaw driving past Sletten, not toward him. 

Crenshaw’s mother has filed a federal lawsuit against Greensboro and Sletten, who remains on administrative duty pending an internal investigation. 

Epic Games v. Apple

In 2020, as part of what it called “Project Liberty,” the Cary-based Epic Games released a software update that allowed Fortnite gamers to circumvent Apple’s platform when making in-app purchases, thus depriving Apple of its 30 percent commission. Apple removed Fortnite from its App Store in retaliation, and Epic sued.

A federal judge ruled that Apple had not monopolized the market but had violated California’s Unfair Competition Law. Though Epic breached its contract with Apple, the judge declined Apple’s request for attorneys’ fees and said Apple couldn’t block developers from steering their consumers toward cheaper platforms. 

Both sides appealed. This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely sided with Apple, though it kept intact the lower court’s injunction on Apple’s anti-steering provision. (Apple has allowed some developers—though not game developers—to bypass Apple’s in-app payment system.) In a tweet, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said the company is “working on next steps.”

Considering the widespread attention the case has received—the U.S. Department of Justice, 36 states, and numerous law professors, antitrust experts, and public interest groups filed amicus briefs—those steps likely include a visit to the Supreme Court. And you still can’t download Fortnite from Apple’s App Store.

Inside Raleigh’s Fake-Heroin Scandal

Digging into more than 1,300 pages of testimony in Irving et. al v. City of Raleigh.

A $100 Million Mess

The rollout of North Carolina’s long-delayed attempt to digitize court records has been a catastrophe. Can it be salvaged?

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