New Sonoma County court system leaves public defender frustrated

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Sonoma County Deputy Public Defender Michael Perry rarely has spare moments in his busy workday. Since late August, a computer program designed to ease his workload stolen away even more of them.

"On a scale of one to 10, what is your level of frustration?" I asked.

"High. Call it a seven," he responded.

Blame a $2.5 million, state-imposed computer court program called Odyssey that has severely slowed the Sonoma County Court System.

"We're roughly 3,000 cases behind," said Perry.

And, he noted, his office loses more ground every day because clerks must enter the data by hand and walk important paper documents from one department to another.

"The old system was integrated and more efficient. So, when the court entered something I could see it immediately," said Perry. "Now it could take days - if we're lucky."

He compared it to flying blind, in some cases.

Odyssey is the same system that has plagued other court systems. ABC7 News reported similar problems in Alameda County last February. Sonoma County expected to see those things resolved.

"They said those issues would not happen here," said Perry. "They have."

Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sheriff's Department, which runs the county jail, said he's aware the staff's concerns.

"The system is goofed up," he said. "We are bringing inmates to court who should not be there that day and leaving behind others who should."

Perry said the Odyssey implementation has led to at least one wrongful arrest. Last week, police took a man into custody because the computer did not show a judge had cleared a bench warrant.

"He spent two days in jail," said Perry.

Outside the Hall of Justice Friday, Eric Hill told a similar story. After being pulled over, he said, "The officer showed an active warrant that the court had cleared."

Hill could have been arrested, but the officer let him go. "This is ridiculous," he said.

We heard more concerns from Jill Schulze, who missed a court date, last week, while hospitalized.

"Usually, if you don't show, they may come for you," she said. When told that the court may not, yet, have entered her non-appearance into the system she concluded, "Well, that's' a good thing for me. But, until this clears, I won't spend a night in my house."

It is worth reinforcing that Sonoma County did not ask for Odyssey or its woes, but financially, it still bears responsibility for any mistakes.

"If a client is stuck in custody days longer, maybe weeks longer, who will pay for the loss of wages?" asked Perry. "Loss of a house? State courts are not liable. The county would be."

Cindia Martinez, Sonoma County's court assistant administrative officer, did not return calls from ABC7. Earlier, she told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that her staff is working overtime to catch up with the transition.

Until then, Perry's frustration will remain palpable. "It is one of our key mottos for the people we represent to make sure justice is right, and this is making it harder for us."
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