Government & Politics

Judges, clerk apologize for Civil District Court computer system crash

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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  • the backup company can’t be sued. if an SLA was agreed in a contract, it most likely waived this kind of liability. Best case scenario in recuperating costs would be a refund of the cost of services starting the date of the crash.

  • Migou

    I don’t have faith that Atkins et al are being completely honest about this. Do you know if the title insurance companies are willing to issue policies based on these “repairs?”

  • notbuyinit

    The follow up question no one seems to ask is “why wasn’t i365 backing up data? Were they being paid good money to do something without any sort of oversight? When Ms Atkins continues to shift responsibility to everyone except her office, why doesn’t anyone ask her how this company was allowed to get away with not doing what they were paid to do? And while they’re at it, why not come right out and ask her doesn’t she think she is responsible for her office? She blames the legislature, Gaspar Schiro, Steve Bruno, Desire Charbonnet, Carol Carter and Tynia Landry. She blames the judges and now the company hired for backup. Evidently the buck doesn’t stop at her door. No one wants to hear excuses.

  • Not Able to RE-FI in NO

    I want to know why the buyers, sellers, and all of the people that are trying to do RE-FIs in Orleans Parish are not raising ten kinds of hell to get this incompetent recalled. Where are all the real estate agents and title attorneys!!! They keep complaining about lost commissions and lost fees among themselves off camera yet not one of them has voiced a single peep on the news. Where is Latter & Blum? Where is the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS®? Did NOMAR all of a sudden lose its voice? Where is the Louisiana Real Estate Association? Where is the National Association of Realtors? Where is the business community?

    Where is the Louisiana Technology Council? Have they no comment? Who are these IT people with University of Phoenix degrees that were hired? A University of Phoenix degree is no true degree people, it is simply an on-line degree for attending on-line classes – it has absolutely no value. If you want a real degree you have to go to UNO, Loyola, Holy Cross, Tulane, (there are others, I am not going to go down the list) or another university out of town that meets the approved educational requirements.

    If I were a real estate agent, I would demand my fees back – these organizations are supposed to serve real estate agents yet there is not one comment on NOMAR’s website. All NOMAR wants to do is talk about cleaning the mess up when they should be vocally calling for the recall of Atkins to make sure this never happens again. Real estate agents – if you like not earning money and want to keep eating snack ramon noodles – fine, keep quiet and do not complain. It is not my problem – if you want to starve and go into foreclosure, so be it.

    I would love to know how much revenue has been lost to both real estate agents and title attorneys in Orleans Parish due to this shut down. I would love to know how much money has been lost to homeowners trying to sell and trying to RE-FI and buyers trying to buy property. How much money has the VA lost because it cannot close on properties needed to be purchased before they can complete construction for the new hospital? How about buyers and sellers of commercial property? How about a new tourism commercial to be played on tv nationwide?!!! Hello, come to New Orleans and live here, it is really a great place, except that we cannot sell you a house because the Clerk of Court forgot to back up the property records data. Hell of a selling point for the City. Everyone is shut down because one person cannot do her job. Seems to me this may be a basis for a class action lawsuit.

    Another thing, when someone self imposes a deadline to get a data remediation project completed, it usually means corners were cut. Before anyone can rely on the data an audit must be performed where all of the data is tested to insure it was remediated properly. Someone must check the accuracy of the data [and it cannot be the same people that screwed the back up up or the same people that did the remediation project !!! Otherwise you will not have an independent review!!!) , review the procedures that were performed, and insure a clear, transparent, and consistent methodology was used throughout the project to make sure the data is complete and reliable. Remember, it is not acceptable for even one title search to be performed and result in error since it can compromise the sale or purchase of property; therefore, an audit must be performed on 100% of the records (not a sample) to insure the records have been restored properly. After all, since we could not trust the incompetent Clerk of Court Atkins to get a backup system in place, why on earth would you trust her to oversee a data remediation project?

    If I were a title attorney, I would issue a disclaimer on all title searches as there is no way anyone can be sure the remediation project was completed using best practices when you look at the scattered multiple employee / part -time / temporary labor strategy utilized all simply to be able to meet a January 2 deadline. How can we be sure that every part-time, full-time, outside parish employee, as well as the temporary workers utilized the same procedures while they were RUSHING to get these tasks completed in order to meet the deadline? Knowing everything you do about the banana republic of Orleans Parish and the level of incompetence in many areas, why would you even begin to think that the remediation project could have been performed 100% correctly? To accept her word and proceed as if everything were restored would actually snowball into another disaster worse than the one we have now. If we proceed without checking the data and an error is later found it will bring forth questions of credibility and integrity of the data system in place and no one will ever buy property in Orleans Parish EVER again.

    Real Estate agents – think you are broke now, wait until another work stoppage occurs, you guys will be living underneath the Claiborne underpass pushing around your possessions with a shopping basket. Of course if the audit were to bring to light that the data was not restored properly, I am sure Atkins will simply shrug, point to the data recovery company and say it is not her fault and that she is going to seek legal action. Okay, so if she is not responsible then who is? Maybe we should just fire her since she apparently is not responsible for anything yet she still seems to be drawing a check.

    Dale Atkins – do not keep trying to shift responsibility to the courts, the judges, your employees, or the data recovery company – this is your responsibility, your screw up, and you are incompetent and should have never been elected for this job. You were elected because the people of New Orleans are ignorant, they wanted a Renee Gill Pratt / Ray Nagin / Tracie Washington / Dollar Bill Jefferson / Ellenese Brooks-Simms / Moses Jefferson / Cedric Richmond like celebrity and they had no idea that the job you were elected for required a minimal level of competence that you certainly never attained. Another thing, this remediation project certainly cannot be cheap. How much did she spend to get this done? What will her incompetence cost the voters of Orleans Parish? Gee, I bet she went over-budget. Well, voters, you certainly got what you deserved. You reap what you sow. Real estate agents – if you want business to get back to normal then you need to unite and take action. You need to move for a recall effort and get this Veronica White clone out of office. If you are happy with the current state of affairs, then by all means, do nothing, I am sure the fast foot industry in the City will welcome all of you with open arms!!!!