Judge James Metts receives The Golden Hammer Award for costing Montgomery County millions each year with NetData computer debacle

Judge James Metts attending County Judge Craig Doyal’s fundraiser on June 20, 2017, in Conroe. Most judges and judicial candidates would attempt to follow Canon 5(2) of the Texas Judicial Conduct Code by not wearing a sticker which endorses another candidate for public office. Apparently, Metts believes he is above the law. In our present County government, he’s probably right about that.

Conroe, July 12 – Judge James Metts, who is the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace, received The Golden Hammer Award at the Tuesday, July 11, 2017 Commissioners Court meeting for his foisting the NetData database system on Montgomery County, which has cost the County government several million dollars per year in lost fines and fees. During 2016 alone, Metts-backed NetData and the Graves Humphries Stahl collection system cost Montgomery County at least $3.6 million.

NetData and Graves Humphries Stahl

Metts vehemently shoved the NetData database system on Montgomery County for use in the Justice of the Peace Courts of Precincts 1, 2, 4, and 5. Only Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly (JP3) has refused to utilize the system. Graves Humphries Stahl (GHS), an outside-of-county law firm, sought to collect delinquent fines and fees for the courts based upon a 30% contingent fee agreement. As a “freebie” that went along with the attorney fee agreement, GHS provided the NetData software for free, because that database worked with their law firm database which they use for collections.

NetData has posed numerous technological problems for Montgomery County. The system is very slow and suffers from a system “latency” problem that numerous NetData customers, besides Montgomery County, have also experienced. Perhaps, the greatest problem with the NetData system technologically is that court files within the system are not available to the general public to review. Unlike JP3, the five County Courts at Law, and the eight District Courts in Montgomery County for which all of their files are available for the public to review online, the four other JP courts, largely thanks to Metts, do not make their files available to the public.

The money problem

All of the technological problems of NetData and GHS pale in comparison to the massive amount of money Montgomery County loses from the poor collections. Data from the Texas Office of Court Administration reveals the enormous difference between the four courts which utilize GHS and NetData, which are far less efficient, than JP3 which uses the Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey system instead.

The JP courts of Precincts 1, 2, 4, and 5 handled 58,890 total cases in 2016, while JP3 handled 25,127 total cases. The dockets of JP3 and Judge Metts’ Precinct 4 court are very similar in numbers of cases.

The JP courts of Precincts 1, 2, 4, and 5 collected a total of $4,941,683, while JP3 collected $3,469,435, in fines and fees. Obviously, JP3 collects far more in fines and fees than any of the other Justice of the Peace courts.

Where the numbers are far more striking, however, is when one examines the total difference between fines and fees collected minus the budgets of the courts. That difference is important, because, historically, Justice of the Peace courts in Texas are enormous revenue-producers for local governments. The P Factor, which is Total Collections minus Budget(s), is a total of $2,309,762 for the four Precinct 1, 2, 4, and 5 JP courts, while it is $2,542,514 for JP3 alone.

That means that JP3 nets approximately $200,000 per year more than all of the other four JP courts in Montgomery County combined!

The net per case (i.e., Total Collections minus Budgets divided by the number of cases disposed) is even more striking. For the four Precinct 1, 2, 4, and 5 JP courts, the net is $39.22 per disposed case, while it’s $101.19 per disposed case for JP3. That difference is enormous and directly reflects the poor collections results from GHS and NetData.

Since the four other JP courts handled 58,890 cases in 2016, the County likely lost $3,649,413 in revenue (($101.19 – $39.22) x 58,890 cases).

Therefore, Judge Metts’ insistence that Montgomery County continue to use GHS and NetData, despite all of the problems with them, is costing the County more than $3.6 million per year which could have reduced the burden on Montgomery County taxpayers.

A word about how JP3 collects fines and fees

Montgomery County has a Court Collections sub-department under the County Clerk, Mark Turnbull. The Court Collections sub-department collects fines and fees for all of the fourteen courts in Montgomery County, besides the four JP courts which Metts convinced to use GHS and NetData. JP3 has joined the other courts to utilize the services of the County’s Court Collections group. Therefore, in all fairness for the comparison, 1/14th of the Court Collections expenditures should be added as a cost to the JP3 costs. Even adding that amount to the cost of JP3’s collections and operations, there is still a stark difference between the collections between JP3 and the other four JP courts.

Fairly taking into account the cost of the internal collections for JP3, Judge Metts’ foisting GHS and NetData on the other four JP courts cost the County at least $3,572,267 during 2016 alone.

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