Officials removed from North Carolina ‘eCourts’ lawsuit alleging unlawful arrests, jail time

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Several state and local court officials have been removed from a federal lawsuit filed by roughly a dozen people who allege the operation of North Carolina’s new electronic courts records and case management system contributed to their unlawful arrest or extended jail detainment.

Individual plaintiffs voluntarily ended civil claims against two leaders of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which is implementing the new “eCourts” system, clerks of Superior Court in three counties and Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes, according to court filings this week in central North Carolina federal court.

Claims remain against Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe and Tyler Technologies, the Texas-based technology company responsible for developing the electronic filing system, The Charlotte Observer reported.

The Administrative Office of the Courts began rolling out eCourts in February 2023 in four pilot counties. Now eCourts is in 27 counties where more than 4.5 million residents live. It’s supposed to serve courts in all 100 counties by 2025.

The plaintiffs’ dismissal notices filed Tuesday didn’t give their reasoning, but they were made “without prejudice,” meaning that the officials could still be sued.

“Our clients retain the ability to refile claims … whether in federal court or a different forum — as we continue to learn more,” Zack Ezor, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Wednesday.

In a court memo last month for the AOC and the clerks asking that all claims against them be dismissed, state attorneys said the lawsuit contained “fundamental factual gaps and deficiencies;” the clerks were protected by forms of immunity; and the plaintiffs were wrongly inviting a federal court to interfere in the state’s administration of its criminal justice system.

“We are pleased that plaintiffs dismissed their meritless claims against (AOC) and court officials,” Graham Wilson, a state courts spokesperson, said in a statement. “This dismissal should answer inaccuracies regarding eCourts as we remain focused on completing this generational expansion of access to justice for North Carolina.”

The plaintiffs allege software errors and human errors have led to multiple arrests on the same warrants and extra time in jail after release conditions were met. The plaintiffs have provided names of nearly 70 people who spent extra time in the Mecklenburg County jail during the first few weeks of eCourts’ rollout in the country last fall. They have blamed McFadden’s “negligence” for excess jail time for some people.

But a court memo filed on behalf of the sheriff last month said that “while someone may be to blame for the delays in their release, it is not Sheriff McFadden.”