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Mecklenburg County rolls out new online court system

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County rolled out its new digital court system on Monday. With the new Odyssey system, the public and attorneys can file and access court documents without having to make a trip to the courthouse.

The new system is supposed to replace paper case files and records with electronic ones. However, top officials across North Carolina are concerned that this new system might cause a lot of problems.

The state first tried to launch the system in Wake, Lee, Johnston, and Harnett counties. But now, the Wake County District Attorney is asking for an independent review of it after a so-called disastrous launch.

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A lawsuit has even been filed, claiming Odyssey has several defects that have led to wrongful arrests and violations of constitutional rights.

Delayed justice

Some local families are already facing delays in their fight for justice. One family told Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz they didn’t have their time in court Monday and their justice will now be delayed a few months.

“They were apologizing throughout the entire morning, you know, and how slow things were going,” one man said.

He didn’t want to show his face on camera because his family is waiting on a trial for a case his son is the victim in. Now, that trial will have to wait a little longer. The hearing scheduled for Monday was delayed until December, and he says it’s due to issues with the new eCourts system.

“This has been ongoing since May,” the man said. “So now we’re going into December before we’re even in front of a judge being heard.”

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather also witnessed the issues firsthand Monday.

“There is no question the people who are going to be suffering the most from this transition are the people of the general public -- and for us that means victims of crime,” Merriweather told Goetz.

Merriweather sat in court and tried working through the system himself.

“We will have many days to talk about the faults with this system and be just as frustrated as the public would be,” he said. “But today was just about proving we could have a day of justice in Mecklenburg County with a new system and I think we are accomplishing that.”

Some hiccups Monday included delays in bond hearings. What usually takes a few minutes averaged 45 minutes at the start of the day. But Merriweather said they picked up in the afternoon.

There were also delays getting inmates to the courthouse from jail, but Merriweather said these are all easy fixes.

Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office Ryan Boyce was at the courthouse also checking in on the rollout.

“It really is a big day for Mecklenburg County, having court information online to be able to file online for the first time,” he said. “So overall, really strong start.”

‘Not equipped to handle the volume of cases’

In August, one lawyer told Channel 9 that he’s worried Odyssey won’t be able to handle the high volume of cases in Mecklenburg County.

The Mecklenburg County Courthouse sees the most cases in the state and has been working hard to get through a backlog due to COVID.

“Now Odyssey is going to go back to where we started pre-COVID. In my opinion, we’re going to have delays, delays, delays, because the court system in Mecklenburg is just not equipped to handle the volume of cases,” said defense attorney George Laughrun.

Channel 9 has also reported that several Charlotte lawyers have not received proper training on the controversial technology. However, the North Carolina Administrative Office said it would hold trainings leading up to the rollout.

On Monday, Goetz observed attorneys, the judge, and the district attorney huddled over computer screens trying to figure out the new system.

The docket had to be split, causing some hearings to be held on a different floor. That created frustration amongst the bailiffs as well as those who were showing up for their court dates.


VIDEO: DA, judge look at impacts of online court system in Mecklenburg County






Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.