September 21, 2014

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Lorain court losing its software support

LORAIN — City officials are considering suing Virginia-based AMCAD, which sold Lorain Municipal Court its court management software, after the company announced in June that it was shutting down the division that provided the software.

The closure has left Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana with a crumbling computer system she said her deputy clerks can barely access and the city on the hook for the balance of a $425,000 loan.

Chief Deputy Auditor Anita Harper said the city still owes $225,000 on the five-year loan it took out in 2012 to cover the purchase of the software and support package.

“We borrowed the money, paid AMCAD and now we’re repaying the bank for the loan,” Auditor Ron Mantini said.

Maiorana said she was shocked when she received an email from AMCAD CEO Richard Lowrey on June 23 announcing the company was “exiting the justice software solutions business.”

“They were here the Thursday before asking what they could do to help me,” Maiorana said, adding that she’d complained for months about problems with the software, including that it wouldn’t produce the proper financial recordkeeping documents.

Although the contract with AMCAD was signed in 2012, the system didn’t go live until October 2013. The switch touched off a separate legal dispute with the court’s old software provider, Henschen and Associates, that was settled last year.

In his email, Lowrey blamed the decision to close his company’s underperforming court software division in part on losing a $13 million contract in Oklahoma.

“In recent years, AMCAD has invested heavily in developing its justice solutions suite of products,” Lowrey wrote. “Despite this investment, this division has historically operated at negative cash flow levels and the recent termination of AMCAD’s contract with the Oklahoma Administrative Office of Court has exacerbated this situation.”

With additional losses expected, Lowrey wrote, the company was “streamlining the business today to sustain the operations that are cash flow generative.”

Calls to Lowrey and other company officials were not returned.

Although Lowrey’s email thanked her for her support of AMCAD, Maiorana said she’s received no support from the company since the email. She said she’s had to resort to hiring a former AMCAD employee at a rate of $85 per hour to try to fix some of the problems in the system.

Lorain isn’t alone. Warren has similar problems with its software, Maiorana said. Medina County officials also are considering a lawsuit against AMCAD, which the county had agreed in May to pay $242,286 to update its online court docket.

Lorain Municipal Court Judge Mark Mihok and Lorain Law Director Pat Riley both said they plan to attend a meeting the Ohio Supreme Court has called for July 25 to discuss options for those impacted by AMCAD’s closure.

“Obviously, we’re going to try to recover all or part of our contract price,” said Mihok, who also plans to meet in executive session with Maiorana, Riley and City Council next week.

In the meantime, Maiorana said, the problems in her office grow worse by the day because her deputy clerks are forced to do much of what they once did on a computer by hand. In one instance, she said, it took 45 minutes to process one traffic ticket.

“We are literally buried in paper,” she said.

Maiorana said the deputy clerks have been telling those paying tickets to keep their receipts and track how much they still owe because record-keeping has become so difficult.

“We can’t tell people what their balance is,” she said.

Although money taken in is still being deposited in the bank, Maiorana said she hasn’t been able to keep up with required financial documentation, which is making it difficult to comply with a routine audit by the state. Among issues the state auditors are looking at is the theft of court funds by former deputy clerk Sierra Dozier, who has pleaded guilty to state and federal charges.

Maiorana also said the problem is exacerbated by other issues, including a water line break that damaged records and the failure of Joe Pinter, her now-fired information systems administrator, to back up data since Feb. 28.

Maiorana also has blocked the public from accessing the court’s online record system because a flaw in the software was allowing secret arrest warrants to be viewed by anyone, an issue of concern for police. She said because the problem couldn’t be fixed, she had no choice but to cut off public access.

Without that website, the number of calls from criminal defendants and others seeking to find future court dates has swelled, both Maiorana and Mihok said.

Although that was a problem before, Mihok said, it was manageable because court staff could quickly look up the information. The issues with the computer system also have meant that sometimes people are told to come into court daily to check to see if they’re on the docket because they don’t have another way of getting the information.

Mihok said a defendant who is due in court shouldn’t need to ask the question because during his initial encounter with law enforcement, he was given a document with his court date. Each time a defendant comes to court, he’s given another piece of paper with the court date on it, the judge said.

“If you have a court date, that’s something very important,” Mihok said.

Maiorana said she isn’t certain whether the city can afford to buy a new software package, but Mihok said he doesn’t think there’s much choice.

“At some point, we probably have to change our operating system, which means we have to go through a search,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.


  • Pablo Jones

    Who are the idiots that decided to purchase a $400,000 software package without doing some research on it to see if it would be reliable and to hear what other cities thought about it. caveat emptor.

    • johns62

      it sounds like other cities were using it. and whats works for one may not work perfectly for anohter.

      • Pablo Jones

        There were several cities that signed contracts with AMCAD and the company was behind in their deployment. In some cases AMCAD couldn’t even get bonded. If the city would have done their due diligence and called for references they might not be in this position.

        Doing a little search and it looks like this company signed several large contracts with states and cities over the last year. Even offering discounts on the contracts if they signed by the end of the year.

        So we have a company falling behind on current projects, trying to get more cities signed up, offering discounts to get them to sign quickly, and they can’t get bonded.

        This seems like they are going under and were trying to get as much money as they could.

        I’d bet the city didn’t call any other city prior to signing the contract.

    • oldruss

      I do not remember when the city acquired this new software for the municipal court, but I can surmise that, “the idiots” that, “decided to purchase a $400,000 software package,” were the clerk of court, the judges of the municipal court, and the auditor of the city, followed by the Lorain City Council, who would have had to pass an ordinance authorizing the purchase, and the Mayor who would have had to sign the ordinance.

      Unless you can find fault with their request for proposals or with their invitation to bid, whichever was utilized in this instance, or with the bid specifications, or with the subsequent contract between the City and the software vendor, I would not so cavalierly call people “idiots”.

  • herekitttykaate

    Lord have Mercy. That looks to be a real problem on many levels. That is the problem when you rely on computers and the soft ware to be a part of life. I am sure before the computer age, the courts did just fine. Hope it gets worked out soon.

  • tickmeoff

    Bring this work in house. Hire the right people, and have more than one back up or persons doing the job. We should have stuck with what we had, but then hindsight is 20/20.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      They never do anything ” in house “…….I just wonder what they do up there all day……………..

  • Jeff

    Just waiting for all the ” GET OUT OF JAIL FREE ” cards to start printing and get handed out…lmao

  • GreatRedeemer

    Sounds like the city lacks someone experienced in software
    purchasing and implementation.

    I’m sure this will be the answer to how someone like the recently
    convicted clerk was able to steal 5 figures.

  • Sis Delish

    Next Election for Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana should be interesting… “Vote for Me, um….”

  • RealLHS

    Sounds like she is in over her head. Doesn’t she make like a $100K?

    • Sis Delish

      If she is a Real Political Hack, probably… if, she had any relevant work experience, probably half that.

  • badisbad23

    What’s funny is that I know for a fact that their “old” software (ya know, the one that actually worked before they went with this new company) is still functional. I’ve seen them refer back to it even before this new company went out of business. I don’t know if the clerk is too stupid, or proud or what, but it seems like they could just use the old stuff. Unless of course she begged to them already and they turned her away because she pissed them off by suing them too. Seems like all she does is sue and throw people under the bus for her own overwhelming incompetence.

  • Ex_Subscriber

    This system has been live for less than a year and it’s a “crumbling computer system”? Is that hyperbole by the C-T or Ms. Maiorana? From the article I would guess they didn’t pay for adequate training on the system either “…her deputy clerks can barely access (it)…”. And they hired one (ONE) former AMCAD employee at $85 an hour to try to fix some of the problems – I bet that poor schlep is tearing his or her hair out as well, because he or she is probably being asked to support the application all by him or herself as well as “fix problems”. Mr. Mantini ought to know better – as I recall, when he worked in the private sector he worked in IT.

  • TheRustyScupper

    OK, which Lorain politician has a relative at the software company OR which Lorain politician got a major donation to their election fund OR which Lorain politician got a Bahamian vacation?