Courts consider legal action after losing support of software provider

LISBON -Legal action is being contemplated to recover $470,000 spent on a new case-management system for Columbiana County courts after the software provider abruptly pulled out.

County commissioners this week asked the county prosecutor’s office to do what is necessary to “protect the legal rights of the county” in regard to the contract between the clerk of courts and AMCAD, a Virginia-based company that advertises itself as a “leading provider” of software for courts, law enforcement and other government agencies.

AMCAD was hired by the clerk’s office in 2012 to develop and provide a new case-management system, which was supposed to improve operations and save on operating costs. In late June, the clerk of courts and others around Ohio and the country that had also signed on with AMCAD received a letter advising them the company was getting out of the “justice software solutions business” immediately and would no longer provide support.

The county’s software program was developed and supposed to be operational by June 2013 but implementation had been pushed back several times because of problems with how it worked. The new launch date was Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, AMCAD was paid in full in accordance with the payment schedule set forth in the contract.

“They pretty much walked away and there’s a considerable obligation to this county,” said Commissioner Mike Halleck.

Chief Deputy Clerk of Courts Shane Patrone said they had decided to go with AMCAD to update their case-management system because the Ohio Supreme Court was considering doing the same and listed them as the court’s preferred provider, which led the county and six others in Ohio to hire the company.

“That was a factor in our decision to go with them,” he said. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ended up not signing a contract with AMCAD.

Patrone said AMCAD’s system is unsalvageable, and none of the other software providers contacted are interested in fixing it because they have their own products to sell.

AMCAD had wanted to roll out the system on June 1. “We were fortunate it was pushed back. If we had gone online June 1 we would have been stuck with a program that wouldn’t work,” Patrone said.

Patrone is unaware if any county in the state has filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against AMCAD but he expects that to happen. “I know lawsuits have been filed in other states, but I don’t know of any in Ohio,” he said.

At least one other Ohio county contracted with AMCAD several months before the company went out of business, and one sent a check for $80,000 in early June, Patrone said. There were similar stories in other states.

The AMCAD system was supposed to allow the clerk’s office to make new court filings and related records completely accessible online, likely starting in 2015. Under the current system, those records can only be accessed by using one of two computer terminals available to the public at the clerk’s office.

Patrone said despite the setback they are still looking at updating the current case-management system, which is 17 years old. “We’re interviewing other companies to move forward. We want to keep improving,” he said.