Within four days of eCourts launching in Mecklenburg County on October 9, 66 people were jailed longer than they should have been, according to an amended complaint in a federal class-action lawsuit filed on Friday.
In fact, before eCourts, most inmates in Mecklenburg were released two to three hours after they posted bond, the complaint states. Now, it takes two to three days.
The amended complaint also added seven new plaintiffs and several new defendants, including Ryan Boyce, the executive director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.
eCourts is the long-delayed $100 million system meant to digitize court records. The first of its two main components, eWarrants—an online warrant clearinghouse—rolled out in July 2022. The second, a cloud-based case-management system called Odyssey, launched in February 2023 as a pilot program in Wake, Lee, Harnett, and Johnson counties.
Attorneys in all four pilot counties complained about bogged-down courtrooms, overwhelmed clerks, technological disparities, and errors. The Assembly reported in March that a Wake County man spent nearly a month in jail after he should have been released on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
The amended complaint alleges that Odyssey and eWarrants don’t communicate with each other well, in some cases leading to people being arrested multiple times, or in others picked up on charges that have been dismissed.
For example, Robert Lewis was arrested last year in Guilford County on a long-dissolved 2016 restraining order, which eWarrants wrongly showed was still active. According to the complaint, Lewis spent two days in jail before bonding out. In a Gaston County case, Allen Sifford was arrested in July 2023 and jailed for more than two days on a warrant that had been dismissed more than a year earlier, but which eWarrants still labeled “active.”
On October 17, eight days after the NCAOC rolled out eCourts in Mecklenburg County, the chief district court judge warned in an email about a “known integration issue between eWarrants and Odyssey”—a “defect” that “results in a discrepancy between the conditions of release documented in eWarrants and Odyssey,” according to court filings.
As a result, the Texas-based Tyler Technologies, which built eCourts, had begun sending the NCAOC a daily list of integration errors in Mecklenburg, the email says.
NCAOC declined to comment on the filing in response to questions from WRAL.
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Guilty Plea In Student Overdose Case
Cye Frasier stood before a judge in a federal courtroom Wednesday morning, beard grown out with gray patches and hands chained in handcuffs. The Durham man was facing charges connected to the March 10 fentanyl-related overdose death of Joshua Skip Zinner, 23, a former student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr. read Frasier’s guilty plea aloud. On the first count—“conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine hydrochloride, resulting in death”—the judge asked Frasier if he agreed to plead guilty.
“Yes, your honor,” he said in a gruff voice that got quieter as Osteen continued reading the plea agreement. Frasier also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, resulting in death.
As we reported last week, 19-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student Elizabeth Grace Burton also died after overdosing on fentanyl-laced cocaine that Frasier had supplied. Nobody has been charged in her death.
For INDY Week, Charlotte Kramon brings us the latest on the case.
Tim Moore’s Lawyer Friend
When Republican lawmakers approved a five-page list of appointments to important state government entities last week, they included many political donors, allies, and personal friends, which is fairly typical.
But one selection was more unusual: the appointment of Kenneth Robert Davis to the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the State Bar.
The same commission sanctioned Davis just last May.
According to a May 2023 consent order, Davis was brought before the disciplinary commission in response to accounting issues, which evolved into a review of tax records.
Davis agreed with the commission’s findings that he failed to maintain accurate identification of all funds in his trust account, had mismanaged client funds, and fell behind on filing and paying several years of state and federal income taxes. The order also noted that some of his missed tax payments, which have since been paid off, stemmed from obstacles he faced overcoming a drug addiction.
As reporter Bryan Anderson found, the Robeson County lawyer has known House Speaker Tim Moore for over 30 years.
Moore named a longtime friend to a commission that oversees misconduct—which had just punished that lawyer a few months ago.
Davis also has a relationship with state Sen. Danny Britt, who said the appointment came directly from Moore. “I know for a fact it was Tim Moore’s decision to put him on there and nobody else’s,” said Britt.
A Bigger HEART
In May, we wrote about Durham’s HEART Program, an innovative, unarmed emergency response team meant to minimize the need for police intervention in mental health or substance abuse concerns.
HEART—or the Holistic Empathetic Assistance Response Team—launched as pilot in June 2022. There is no other program like it in North Carolina, and many other cities have been watching it with great interest. After its initial success as a part-time program, city leaders have been looking to expand it.
WUNC reported this week that they’ve now been able to do that. HEART now operates 12 hours a day, every day. Program director Ryan Smith said they have added 19 additional positions and can now take 13,000 more calls than they did in the last year.
“What we’ve demonstrated in Durham is you can do this work with integrity, with the purpose for which it was envisioned, and you can do that work in a way that does not have to be antagonistic with law enforcement,” Smith told The Assembly earlier this year.
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