In a move that upset legislators, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has canceled an $11 million contract with the company that was creating a super website of court information.
Eighteen months behind schedule, the website is supposed to allow the public free online access to court records from all 77 counties.
“We’re going to try to pick it up and see if we can finish it ourselves,” said Mike Evans, administrative director of the courts.
Chief Justice Tom Colbert on Monday announced the termination of the contract with Virginia-based American Cadastre LLC. The chief justice said the Legislature in the last days of the legislative session took $10 million of the project’s funding, “necessitating this action.”
“That contract provided that ‘if all or part of the applicable funding becomes unavailable to the client’ the contract may be terminated,” Colbert said.
That explanation angered legislators, particularly since the information technology fund has more than $30 million in it.
The $10 million taken from that total will go toward other court expenses.
State Rep. Mark McCullough, chairman of the judiciary subcommittee of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, called the court’s action disingenuous and reactionary. He also said it opens the state up to a potential lawsuit.
“It’s very difficult for me to not call ‘bull’ on that,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “Not one time during the multiple discussions I had with the chief justice and Mike Evans, the administrator of the court, during the entirety of the session did this ever get brought up to me ... that the contract would be ended due to the transfer of $10 million from that IT fund to operations.
“The impression I got in the discussions was — because that $10 million could potentially be tapped for raises — that was looked at as something that would be acceptable.”
He also said, “The IT project has been languishing. For years they’ve been working on that. The Legislature I think has been exceedingly patient. ... That fund had $30 million in it. ... They don’t spend it all. They’ve never spent it all. They’ve got a big surplus. ...
“Are we going to get sued by this company because they decided to break it on what I would think is a pretty specious argument because the money is there to pay for the contract? ... And they’re going to get basically $15 million more to fill it in this year. It’s a huge pot of money.”
Evans disputed that account of the discussions.
“We had some discussions with one of the players in the budgeting process but we had no idea they were going to take $10 million,” he said. “I’m not saying that it was wrong for them to take any money. I’m just saying that the amount that was withdrawn was not negotiated or that kind of thing.
“They did what they wanted to do,” the administrator said.
The super website was supposed to be completed in 2016.
American Cadastre LLC was hired in November 2010 to develop the Unified Case Management System for the state judiciary. It already has been paid around $5 million.
“From our perspective, it is the unfortunate nature of government work ... that funding can change the status of a deal at any time,” said Gary Egner, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We believe our work was very well done. Yes, there were some delays but the quality of the product was good.”
A $15 fee increase on most civil and criminal court filings helps pay for the new system. The fee was increased in 2007.
The public already has more online access to court cases in Oklahoma than in many states.
The public can view several of the actual court records filed at 13 of the state’s largest counties at one website, oscn.net.
The public can see what cases have been filed in most of the state’s other counties — but not the documents themselves — at odcr.com. A private company, KellPro, operates that website.
Noble County is the first county on the new unified system.