- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma court officials’ decision to terminate a contract on a much-delayed court computer project rankled a state legislator who suggested Wednesday the entire multimillion-dollar venture might need to be scrapped.

Rep. Mark McCullough, the chairman of the House budget committee that oversees funding for the courts, said he was shocked to learn court officials ended its contract with the American Cadastre, or AMCAD, which was helping to build a unified computer system that linked courts from all 77 counties.

“I don’t know where we go from here,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “What’s the motivation of the Legislature to keep the thing going at all?

“It’s hard to justify keeping the program alive when you have these types of decisions.”

The goal of the $13 million project is for Oklahoma to have one of the more comprehensive online systems in the country, but the job was more complex than court officials predicted and has been plagued with delays.

A fund created to pay for the project currently contains more than $30 million, and lawmakers grappling with a tight budget this year directed court officials to use $10 million to pay for other court operations.

In an email to Oklahoma judges this week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Colbert cited the withdrawal of the $10 million as the reason AMCAD’s contract was canceled. He also announced the resignation of two of the court’s top Management Information Services officers.

Budget leaders in the Oklahoma Legislature acknowledged they were caught off guard by the court’s move, and said there is more than enough money in the court fund to pay for the project.

“I’m flabbergasted that they would cancel that contract considering the amount of time and effort they’ve put into it and also considering the $30 million that’s sitting in that fund right now,” said Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

McCullough said he suspects there may be other reasons, besides funding, that court officials decided to end the contract.

“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable theory that they potentially got disenchanted with the vendor and then tried to pin this on the Legislature,” McCullough said.

An executive with AMCAD said they were told a lack of funding was the reason the contract was terminated.

“We were surprised, but the unfortunate nature of government business is that funding can be pulled and projects can be stopped,” said Gary Egner, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We recognize there were some delays in the implementation, but we felt the overall quality of our product was very good.”

David Dixon, a senior attorney for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said the court’s information technology staff is capable of moving forward on the project without AMCAD, but he acknowledged additional delays are inevitable.

“It will certainly have some effect, but the goal hasn’t changed,” Dixon said. “We’re just going to have to be agile enough to get it done some other ways.”

Noble County was the first to go online as a test pilot in 2013, but this spring’s rollout of Logan and Kay counties already has been delayed.

Once statewide, the new system is designed to allow for electronic payments and court filings, and free public access to virtually all court records online.


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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