Lee County sheriff asks to be dropped from eCourts lawsuit

Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes (Image from leecountync.gov)

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  • Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes is asking a federal judge to dismiss him as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging the rollout of North Carolina's eCourts record management system.
  • The suit targets Estes, Wake county's sheriff, and eCourts vendor Tyler Technologies.
  • Estes says nothing in the lawsuit accuses him of committing "any wrongful acts."

Lee County Sheriff Brian Estes has asked a federal court to drop him as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s rollout of a new court records management system. The suit urged a judge to block Estes and Wake County’s sheriff from using the system launched in February.

“This is a lawsuit in which the Plaintiffs complain at some length about the State of North Carolina’s ‘rollout of “eCourts” in four pilot counties’ and how the ‘eCourts launch’ by the State of North Carolina and Defendant Tyler Technologies, Inc. has led to problems,” wrote attorney James Morgan, representing Estes, on Thursday. “Most of the factual allegations in the Complaint relate to the State of North Carolina, which has not been named as a defendant, and to Defendant Tyler Technologies, Inc.”

Tyler is the vendor responsible for the eCourts system. The state piloted eCourts in Wake, Lee, Johnston, and Harnett counties.

Plaintiff Paulino Castellanos was arrested in Lee County on Feb. 10 and “spent 14 days in jail because of the State and Defendant Tyler Technologies, Inc.’s botched transition to eCourts and ‘purportedly because no electronic monitoring device was available,’” according to the court filing.

“Significantly, however, the allegations in the Complaint relating to Plaintiff Castellanos make no factual allegations relating to or against Sheriff Estes,” Morgan wrote. “In fact, the factual allegations in the Complaint dealing with Castellanos do not mention Sheriff Estes at all.”

“There are no factual allegations in Plaintiffs’ Complaint indicating that Sheriff Estes committed any wrongful acts,” Morgan wrote. “Indeed, there are no factual allegations in the Complaint stating that Sheriff Estes and/or the Office of Sheriff of Lee County took any action that had any affect [sic] on Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit filed in May, known as Chaplin v. Rowe, is a proposed class action claim. Proponents say it could affect hundreds of people in the affected counties.

Other than Castellanos, the other named plaintiff in the case is Timia Chaplin. The suit alleges Chaplin was arrested twice on the same warrant because of eCourt issues.

ECourts allows for electronic court filing. It gives the public online access to court files and allows people to pay court fees.

State court officials have announced the expansion of eCourts to Mecklenburg County. Additional clusters of counties are slated to move to the new system every 60 to 90 days. All courts are slated to use the new system by 2025.