Citing cybersecurity concerns, the Minnesota Judicial Branch ended a computer program used by prosecutors, public defenders, probation and law enforcement across the state.
But those impacted by this change say it not only affects their workflow but also creates potential public safety issues.
Criminal justice partners have asked the state court to restore the program, but officials say that's not an option. Alternative workarounds offered in the aftermath have fallen short and leave justice partners without the most accurate information when determining, for example, a defendants' bail, release conditions or criminal history.
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty led the charge in sounding the alarm over the state ending Odyssey Assistant, a single source for all case information that shows someone's upcoming court date, conditions or release or court orders. She sent a letter to Minnesota State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Natalie Hudson and Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Susan Segal in November, co-signed by 75 county attorneys.
The letter notes county attorneys' urgent concern over the end of Odyssey, which they said was tested and reliable. Without the program, prosecutors statewide say there is a significant burden on staff in performing basic daily functions like accessing court calendars and viewing active warrants.
"County attorneys around the state are charged by Minnesota law with protecting the public through accurate, timely and appropriate charging and prosecution of serious crimes in Minnesota," said Moriarty's letter, first reported by KARE 11.
The new system "has not succeeded in replacing the efficient functionality of Odyssey Assistant, despite the Judicial Branch's assurances of addressing gaps and providing guidance for workarounds," Moriarty wrote. "While we continue to seek ways to adapt... the reality is that it is far less efficient, requiring more staff resources."
Moriarty noted examples of how Odyssey provided the option to view a defendant's complete legal history. Now staff must manually skim through a list of names. Some names are duplicates or misspelled, which means it can be easy to miss a prior conviction.
"This means, at the time of a charging decision, prosecutors may not be aware that the case should be enhanced (domestic assault cases, for example). It also impacts a prosecutor's assessment of criminal history and offers that might be made to resolve a case," the letter states.
The new system will flag a warrant, but it doesn't say for what case. Upcoming hearing dates aren't available in the new system either. The workaround requires staff to toggle between two other databases to learn about upcoming hearings, and this inefficiency is especially concerning for jail staff and probation.
Cass County Sherriff Bryan Welk and the county's jail administrator, Lt. Chris Thompson, have voiced concerns with the state about how Odyssey's sunset will impact their work. They asked the state to not follow through with the sunset, or consider a soft launch so they could identify where the new program is lacking, but that wasn't offered.
Thompson said instead staff are "flying blind" and must attend hearings to know the latest information on coming hearings or conditions or release. That information used to be viewed in real-time with Odyssey. Now it can take up to 24 to 36 hours to get this basic information.
"Obviously, in our line of work, we can't wait 24 to 36 hours because now if we hold you past it, then we're violating your constitutional rights," Thompson said. "What's really happening is people are going to be either held ... longer than they should or be let out when they shouldn't be let out."
Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mike Berger said the loss of Odyssey impacts everyone touched by the justice system.
"From the public defense perspective, it affects both our ability to serve our clients and admittedly it affects public safety as well," he said. "This elimination of processes takes information out of those equations. That's what it comes down to: Information drives decisions, and they're removing access to the information."
One of the platforms used to fill the gaps also was going to sunset as part of this state court change in software programming.
State Chief Public Defender Bill Ward met last week with State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba, who ultimately agreed to delay disabling access to the platform, Minnesota Trial Court Public Access (MPA).
"The courts are concerned about the system being hacked and private data being exploited," Ward said in an email to the Star Tribune. "During the meeting... [we] discussed possible solutions short of terminating [MPA], which I consider to be the nuclear option."
Shorba, who declined interview requests, wrote in a Nov. 28 letter to justice partners that they are "assessing possible alternatives and will notify you when we have made a determination on next steps."