After three months in the Sonoma County Jail for a conviction on drug offenses, Jim Suits’ son was getting out.
So the Stockton widower jumped in his van and made the 100-mile trek to Santa Rosa, where Steven Suits, 40, was to be released Sunday.
Things didn’t go quite as planned. Jailers wouldn’t free the younger Suits because it wasn’t clear from the court’s new $2.6 million Odyssey computer system that he had done all his time.
So, Jim Suits camped out in his van for three nights, including one spent in the courthouse parking lot, while lawyers from the Public Defender’s Office took up his cause. Days later, Judge Virginia Marcoida found the son had been kept behind bars too long.
“I slept sitting up because I was afraid I wouldn’t catch him coming out of the jail,” said Jim Suits, 73, who parked his GMC in view of the salmon-colored Main Adult Detention Center until his son was finally released on Wednesday.
Critics say it’s the kind of foul-up they feared during a transition to Sonoma County Superior Court’s controversial new case management system, which went into place late last month and has caused problems in other counties.
Difficulty in recording legal proceedings in rapid-fire criminal courtrooms has delayed the entry of minutes in nearly 1,800 cases since the system debuted in the criminal division last month.
That means court orders regarding custodial status or arrest warrants are not immediately available, causing concern that people might be imprisoned unfairly.
The lag time is also affecting criminal prosecutions, requiring defendants and witnesses to make multiple court trips when hearings are postponed.
Clerks are trying to prevent mistakes by hand-delivering “tissue minutes” from the court to the jail but it is not clear what might be falling through the cracks.
Cindia Martinez, the court’s assistant executive officer, said her staff is working overtime and on weekends to get caught up on the transition. The civil division was converted to digital earlier this year.
The goal is to move to a new, paperless system that is expected to provide greater access through the internet once it is running.
“This, of course, will not happen overnight,” Martinez said in an email this week. “We just need some time to finish working through conversion and programming issues that come with any large conversion.”
That could be little consolation for those who depend on the system on a daily basis.
Kathleen Pozzi, the county’s public defender, said a number of her clients have remained locked up beyond their release dates. Others were arrested when court orders lifting warrants didn’t get entered right away.
In at least one case, a drug-addicted defendant missed a chance at residential treatment because her orders weren’t recorded in time.
“I don’t like the system,” Pozzi said. “I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
On the civil side, the elimination of paper records was driving up costs for people who research cases and perform background checks.
Anthony Hopkins, a Santa Rosa private investigator, said despite assurances from the court, not all documents are available online. He’s forced to order printed copies at 50 cents per page to see what he used to be able to get for free in the clerk’s office.