Judges, clerk apologize for Civil District Court computer system crash

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By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

The City Council this morning called for changes in the management of the computer system at Civil District Court, following the disastrous computer crash that has crippled the city’s real-estate market since late October.

The council first heard an apology from Civil District Court Chief Judge Rose Ledet.

Left to right: New Civil Court Technology Chief Peter Haas, Clerk of Court Dale Atkins, and Civil District Court Chief Judge Rose Ledet in the council chambers this morning.

“We recognize that we were understaffed, there were inadequate backup systems in place,” Ledet said. “We’re very sympathetic to the public for the personal and financial problems it has caused people.”

The system first failed on Oct. 25, said Clerk of Court Dale Atkins. But it took a month for the scope of the problem to be established, and for a company to be hired to begin re-entering the mortgage records.

The court has since spent around $300,000 from the Judicial Expense Fund to employ a temporary staff of over 100 people to re-enter more than 150,000 lost mortgage records.

The data has now been restored, and the verification of that data will be completed in around four weeks, Ledet said.

Atkins said she was looking forward to implementing the lessons learned by the crash, but defended her office, saying that the merging of three clerk’s offices into hers in January 2009 came without adequate funding. The state mandated the merger of recordkeeping for mortgages, conveyance and the civil court clerk’s offices under Act 621 in 2006.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson pushed back.

“Miss Atkins, you ran for this office, and you ended up in a situation where you had the mandate and not the money, you had the demand and not the funds,” Clarkson said. “Nevertheless, this is your responsibility, and if there were these problems at the outset, why did it take these problems to bring it to the surface?”

Atkins said she has been working hard to consolidate the systems since the Legislature’s order came through.

“I took over three divisions on one day, and each division had issues that needed to be addressed,” Atkins said.

Clarkson reminisced about the days when such records were kept in books.

“We should have kept ‘em up,” Clarkson quipped. “Because obviously they don’t fail.”

Ledet said several layers of backup will now ensure that such a crash never happens again, and was supported by Peter Haas, recently hired from the Louisiana Supreme Court to take over as the court’s chief information officer.

“We’re essentially running three backups right now,” Haas said.

The person who ran the technology system before the crash, Tynia Landry, is no longer with the court, Ledet confirmed. She said the court had also relied on California-based backup firm i365 to do its backup of the records, but that the company had not met its contractual obligations to do so.

“We did not know until the server failed that they were not backing up the information,” Ledet said.

Judge Piper Griffin said all signs pointed to the backups continuing.

“We were still getting reports that the backups were taking place successfully,” Griffin said. “It goes from July to the date of the crash.”

Haas also said there was no system of monitoring in place that would have told the court something had gone wrong with its own internal hard drives, before the crash.

“The only warning would have been going and physically looking at the server to see that the lights were flashing on the hard drives,” Haas said.

Councilwoman Clarkson asked if i365 could be sued.

“We want to know if there’s someone other than all of us, who are government officials, can we all join together and sue the company that was supposed to be responsible?” Clarkson said. “Much like the BP oil spill?”

Joe Ory, president of New Orleans Metro Area Real Estate, which represents 1,000 area realtors, said the lack of transparency around the crash was troublesome.

“Those of us who were most affected were the least informed,” Ory said.

Realtor Mary Ann Casey, who owns a local Remax office, said she has 40 hungry agents in her office who have not earned a commission check since Oct. 26.

“Dale Atkins managed to do what Hurricane Katrina could not do,” Casey said. “Put us out of business.”

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