PE Board Adds To Co. Budget

Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD — County supervisors, following a request from Commonwealth’s Attorney James R. Ennis, agreed at their July meeting to add $40,500 to the County’s budget to purchase a new case management system.

The current system, about nine years old, is no longer supported by IBM. An employee of the Commonwealth’s Attorney Services Council provides technical support, but that individual aims to retire this year.

Ennis reported that the $40,500 request is a “worst-case” scenario. If the system dies, they would be going to a totally manual situation in his office and “at this point in time with the case load that we’re involved in is unthinkable….”

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Ennis explained he has conducted a request for proposals and received responses from four companies that have case management systems. Only one of the respondents, he detailed, was fully compliant with the specifications in the RFP “and we have entered into negotiations with them.”

The $40,500 price tag includes the purchase of the software program, installation, and training—but there could be more costs.

“There is a second operating system that needs to be purchased…or a license and possibly hardware. So this is not the complete cost ultimately, potentially,” Ennis told the board.

Other localities could also join in and purchase licensing for the new system.

He further detailed, “…We are on the verge of a major change in the rules of discovery in criminal cases (where information is requested and sent to defense attorneys). There is a vastly expanded rule in front of the Supreme Court right now and the Supreme Court is considering whether or not to increase what is discoverable in a criminal case. Part of what this new software program will do is allow us to designate documents as soon as we receive them as discoverable or non-discoverable. I’m convinced, as are most of the other Commonwealth’s Attorneys, that we’re gonna go to what they call e-discovery in this state where we will simply email copies of all those discoverable documents.”

That, he said, would increase their workload dramatically if they have to go through and do so manually.

“It will frankly be a nightmare and we will not be able to appear in certain types of cases in the future because we’ll all be in our offices answering discovery motions and making copies to send out because it’s such a vast difference in the new rule as opposed to the old rule,” Ennis said.

One of the requested specs is for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to have the ability to designate discoverable documents, essentially pool them, and then provide the email address of the attorney where they would be sent. (An acknowledgement of receipt would be required.)

The new system could also save time in other ways. Every warrant in the state of Virginia has a bar code and all the information from the warrant can be scanned in at one time, making it a huge time-saver over manually entering the data.

“None of the other programs had that,” Ennis said. “All of them said, ‘Oh, we’ll add it and it won’t be at any cost,’ but nobody could tell me how long it was going to take…to add it…To add it two or three years from now doesn’t do me any good because we want to acquire the technology and get ahead of the curve. We want to be able to access it from smart phones,” Ennis stated. “So many times we…don’t have a file on us. I mean, my office is in different floors and the transfer of files creates a lot of confusion because I’ve got two people who need access to the files in the second floor and the rest of us are on the third floor.”

He added, “Well, when those files go out of the office, somebody’s got to go and retrieve ’em and when we get phone calls saying what’s the restitution in this case, who’s the defense lawyer, what’s the next trial date, to have to go and get that file is dead time. Whereas if we…go digital and we have access to it, then we can look it up just like that and we’re done. We don’t have to track the file down.”

Storage, too, Ennis noted, has become a major issue.

Some funding is possible for the new system from forfeited assets through the state, which could aid in funding the purchase of case management software for every Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office in the state.

The price of the system could fall even further, it was noted. Ennis explained that he has negotiated a reduced purchase price where if they buy 500 licenses across the state, the figure would go down by $9,600 in his case. He cited that he already has commitments from 235 users and the addition of two jurisdictions would increase that to 365 and said he did not anticipate any difficulty in getting to the 500 level. There is also the potential the system could be leased with three annual installments with a purchase option at the end for $1. (That option could spread the cost over several budget years.)

With the final figure still an unknown, the board agreed a $40,500 budget amendment, but did not appropriate the funds.

“Thank you sir,” Ennis commented after the board’s action. “And I won’t spend it unless I have to…I have worked awfully hard to get this reduction in price.”

Asked about local forfeited assets, Ennis detailed plans to use the forfeiture funds as a supplement depending on the ultimate purchase price. He detailed they are looking at approximately another $10,000 in hardware and additional software.