Earlier this month, the Santa Clara County Superior Court sent out a notice stating it became aware of "an inconsistency between the fees indicated on the website and traffic court courtesy notices and the actual fees owed to the Superior Court based on the charges on the citation."
Some people trying to pay a traffic citation on the court website since at least Dec. 15 got a fine amount that was either understated or overstated, with some citations overcharged by more than $100.
The Santa Clara County Superior Court has since halted online citation payments, and directed people to pay their fines in person at the traffic court. Presiding Judge Deborah Ryan issued a standing order March 12 that said anyone who had an undercharged fine would have their citation considered paid for the lower amount, and that anyone with an overcharged fine would get it corrected by the court.
But the court acknowledgment may not account for all the people who overpaid before the problem was discovered. According to a Superior Court statement, the court said the errant charging was determined in mid-February and traced to a problem that was discovered in December.
The court declined to explain the month time lapse from when the error was found in February to when the public notice went out. Court sources corroborated that the issues predated the December glitch.
Those sources maintain that the error affected more than the 1,400 citations the court already has acknowledged. They also noted some people who overpaid online might not show up to traffic court to correct their fines because of general apprehension about the court system or fears about immigration enforcement.
"Court workers have advised members of the public to go before a judge or traffic commissioner so that they would receive the correct fine to pay. Unfortunately, most don't do that and pay the incorrect fine amount," said Johnny Lopez, president of the Superior Court Professional Employees Association.
Court workers have been stressed, adding to an array of grievances from police departments and unions who want the Superior Court to jettison the Odyssey system that now organizes the county's criminal and civil court files.
When a group of South Bay police unions decried the system in January, they called for a return to the legacy Criminal Justice Information Center (CJIC), the longtime electronic clearinghouse for warrant and and arrest information for county police agencies.
But court administrators and the software vendor say the problems asserted by critics are among the growing pains of replacing a 40-year-old record-keeping system. The Odyssey system vastly increased availability of online court case information that previously required trips to multiple clerk's offices just to see what kinds of files might be available.
The issues in Santa Clara County with Odyssey have evoked references to other municipalities with similar experiences, including Alameda County, which blamed the transition to the system for errant arrests and jailings, inaccurate court records, and mischaracterized rap sheets. Last year, Sacramento-area firefighters sued Odyssey's manufacturer, Texas-based Tyler Technologies, for breach of contract for taking too long to modernize their dispatch system.
Tyler Technologies has staunchly defended its work, citing the adoption of its court software in 25 California counties, including in seven of the state's 10 largest counties, and more than 1,000 counties across the country. A statement from the company declined to comment specifically on any of its ongoing legal matters, but said they were aware of the errant fines in Santa Clara County and "are working closely with the court to resolve any issues related to our solution."
The company also asserts transition issues have been "within the range of normal" given they typically upgrade complex systems that have become more costly to maintain than to replace.
For Lopez, such a notion ran counter to the region where Santa Clara County is located.
"It's ironic that in the heart of Silicon Valley," he said, "the court administration and their chosen technology partner can't seem to get their act together."
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