New Caney and Willis, April 9 – Montgomery County taxpayers are already taking it on the chin in excess of $880,000 per year in lost fees and fines collections as a result of the County government’s use of NetData as the database computer program in four of the five Justice of the Peace Courts and the terrible collection system of Graves Humphries Stahl, a Houston-based law firm. The problem, thanks to JP James Metts’ and Wayne Mack’s terrible insistence on the use of NetData as the courts’ database program, is about to get a lot worse.
Metts has publicly (and falsely) bragged that Graves Humphries Stahl has provided the NetData computer program to the County government for free. He’s also claimed that the Graves Humphries Stahl collections have been highly successful, because they’ve collected more than $6 million in revenue. Metts has claimed the collection system doesn’t cost the County anything. All of those contentions by Metts are blatantly false.
During the Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting, Mack, who continues to take direction from corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, will secretly ask the Court to approve the payment of $4,050 to NetData for Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) software. NetData has caused serious operational problems in the four JP courts where they use the program. In Judge Matt Masden’s Justice Court, however, one of his employees tried the costly VPN software and found that it improved the operations of the poorly-designed database management software.
As a result, Mack and lame duck County Judge Craig Doyal have placed on the secretive “consent agenda” the purchase of 15 VPN software licenses from NetData. NetData is not providing those licenses for free, even though the sub-par operation of its software is the reason Mack wants to purchase the additional VPN software.
FISCAL YEAR 2017
The statistics tell much of the story
The Golden Hammer has previously reported the problems revealed from the Fiscal Year 2016 statistics for Montgomery County Justice Courts. The Texas Office of Court Administration report now shows how terrible the Fiscal Year 2017 collections continue to be for Metts, Mack, and Precinct 5 JP Matt Masden all of whom utilize the GHS/NetData collection process rather than utilizing the in-house Montgomery County government collection system which County Clerk Mark Turnbull and Collections Director Clegg Dewalt established.
Mack’s and Metts’ fees and fines collection percentages are, by far, the worst of the five JP courts at 76% and 78%, respectively. Judge Edie Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court, which utilizes the County collections system rather than GHS/NetData has a 96% collection rate in comparison. Precinct 2 JP Trey Spikes collects 83% of his fines and fees assessed, while Precinct 5 JP Masden collects only 81%.
The net collections per case are even more striking when one compares Connelly’s court to the other four: Connelly’s net collections were case are $124.81, Spikes $109.65, Masden $40.41, Metts $.37.31, and Mack $36.50. The failure of Metts and Mack to collect at rates comparable to Connelly’s collection percentage rate is costing Montgomery County taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Unquestionably, Metts runs the least efficient JP court of the five, although Mack gives him a close contest.
Serious problems with the operation of Metts’ court
Chapter 175 of the Texas Administrative Code governs legislatively-mandated collection methods for all courts in the State of Texas.
All courts must have one individual employee whose job priority is to operate the court’s collections program. All of the Montgomery County District Courts, County Courts at Law, and Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Court meet that requirement. This newspaper has confirmed, however, that Metts’ Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Court does not have an employee whose priority is operation of the collections program. That’s a due process problem as well as a cause of serious losses of funds to Montgomery County.
Metts’ court has also failed to comply with the legislatively-mandated telephone contact requirement for past-due fee and fine collection payments. Under Texas law, Metts’ court must make a telephone contact with every traffic ticket defendant who has missed a payment date for a traffic ticket or other fee or fine. Additionally, Metts’ court must send a written notice to the defendant as well.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed that Metts does not have a staff person whose priority is collections, does not make telephone contact with traffic defendants, and does not send the written notices. Use of an outside collection firm is not an acceptable substitute under Section 175.3 of the Texas Administrative Code.
Metts, Mack, Masden, and Spikes have chosen to hire GHS/NetData as an outside collections law firm that charges the County government 30% of all fees and fines collected as a service charge. GHS/NetData, however, does not take any action usually other than send a letter to each defendant.
One might ask how collections occur at all in those four JP courts? The answer comes from the County’s use of the OmniBase computer system that reports all uncollected fees and fines and court-issued warrants for those unpaid amounts to the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) as part of the defendants’ drivers license files. When a defendant goes into DPS to renew his or her drivers license, the OmniBase program flags the account, so that the defendant must pay the fees and fines at the time of renewal. Even though GHS/NetData has provided little or no service to the County government at the time when a defendant pays the fees and fines, under the terrible contract Metts and Davenport negotiated for Montgomery County, the County government must still pay the 30% law firm service charge at that time.
While Graves Humphries Stahl/NetData has collected court revenue, that has occurred despite the use of the GHS/NetData collection system not because of it.
How the GHS/NetData disaster began
During 2012 and 2013, the County formed an employee committee entitled “the Integrated Justice Steering Committee” (IJIS) to research and evaluate integrated software to store, retrieve, and manage court data. Only County employees were to serve on the IJIS Committee, but Metts insisted that Marc Davenport, whom Metts introduced as a “sworn deputy” in his Justice of the Peace Office, be permitted to participate in the meetings as well. Several employees who attended IJIS meetings, but have requested confidentiality of their identities, have described Davenport as “creepy,” “sleazy,” and “demanding.”
A dispute arose between Metts, Davenport, and some of the other justices of the peace on the one hand and all of the other courts – the 8 District Courts, the 5 County Courts at Law, and Precinct 3 JP Edie Connelly – on the other hand. For some reason, Metts and Davenport insisted that the Court should use a database program by the name of “NetData” on which to keep court files, so that an outside law firm, Graves Humphries Stahl, could then conduct collections of fines and fees for the courts. Judge Connelly, the five County Court Judges, and the eight District Judges did not feel comfortable permitting an outside law firm to contact County litigants for a variety of reasons, including due process, privacy concerns, and efficiency.
Eventually, the four Metts-Davenport courts (JP 1, JP 2, JP 4, and JP 5) went with the NetData software which does not permit the public to access court files online. Meanwhile, all of the other courts in Montgomery County utilize Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey database, which does permit public access. The Court collections of Judge Connelly’s JP3 Court are strikingly higher than all of the other four Justice of the Peace courts added together, so it’s very clear that the Odyssey database and the County’s collection efforts are far more efficient than NetData and Graves Humphries Stahl. Please see “Montgomery County Justice Courts Reveal Stark Financial Contrasts,” The Golden Hammer, June 22, 2017.
The IJIS Committee meetings proceeded far from smoothly, particularly as a result of heated conversations between Metts and Davenport on the one hand and Information Technology (IT) Director Shirley on the other hand. In early May, 2012, Shirley, as IJIS Committee Chairman, sent a letter to the entire IJIS Committee membership in which he described the events to date and included the following statement:
“At this time, Justice of the Peace Precinct #4 has not agreed to move forward with the stated direction of implementing the Tyler Odyssey Case Management application. Justice of the Peace Precinct #4 has expressed their [Metts and Davenport’s] desire to use NET Data’s software for day to day operations and contract with them for collection services. This approach would result in the County deploying two different case management systems for our Justice of the Peace courts and would require additional time, effort, and expense to address the integration of the NET Data application with Tyler’s Odyssey applications.”
In response to Shirley’s letter, Metts sent a rambling email of his own on May 10, 2012, in which, while quoting the Bible, Metts stated, “It is time for Montgomery County officials to find out who is being steered and who is being railroaded.” Despite numerous pointed questions to Shirley in front of the large group of the email’s recipients, the District Courts, County Courts at Law, and Precinct 3 Justice Court continued to move forward with what later was clearly the correct decision – for the financial wellbeing of the County and its taxpayers as well as for due process and open courts – to implement and utilize the Tyler Odyssey database and software application.
The tensions between Metts-Davenport and Shirley continued into 2013 as numerous County Departments proceeded to implement their choice of the two different database programs for the court system. Since Metts had excluded the IT Department from his court’s database, Metts and Davenport needed to get the existing database of court information in order to migrate that data into the NetData system. Apparently, the County and its IJIS Committee didn’t proceed quickly enough for Metts and Davenport.
Therefore, on April 10, 2013, Metts engaged in some of the most bizarre conduct in the history of Texas jurisprudence. As the sitting judge in his own court, Metts filed a lawsuit styled “County of Montgomery versus Marshall Shirley” under Docket Number 2013185. The legacy computer system shows the following data:
“Plaintiff: County of Montgomery
Attorney: JP 4
Defendant: Shirley, Marshall”
All of the critical documents mentioned in this article are shown at the end of this article.
To make matters even more strange, Metts typed out a lengthy “ORDER TO RELEASE INFORMATION,” which Metts signed as the judge (!), in which he stated:
“It is, therefore, ORDERED by the Court that Marshall Shirley, Director of Information Technology shall by the close of business on 15 April, 2013 release any and all files, records, data, and information of this Court to Graves, Humphries, Stahl, Ltd and their agents.
“ORDERED this day, 10 April, 2013.
“Honorable James Metts Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4 Montgomery County”
To make matters even more bizarre, Metts, the plaintiff, plaintiff’s attorney, and judge in a lawsuit where Montgomery County essentially sued itself, Metts had his fellow Davenport crony, Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden actually serve the bizarre “Order” on Marshall Shirley at Shirley’s County office in Conroe. Captain Mark Seals of Hayden’s team actually delivered the illegal papers to Shirley.
Justice of the Peace Courts do not have legal authority or jurisdiction to issue orders of that nature under the Texas Constitution or any Texas statute. Only courts of record – County Courts at Law and District Courts – may issue orders or injunctions requiring people to do something or to refrain from doing so.
Needless to say, Shirley was more than a bit surprised when the County for which he was a Department Director sued him. Seals served Shirley on April 11, 2013.
Shirley then did what any good County employee should do when he or she is served with lawsuit papers. He went to consult with the County Attorney, J.D. Lambright, the one person in Montgomery County who actually does have the authority to file a lawsuit on behalf of the County. Lambright declined to give an interview for this article. Two sources inside of Lambright’s County Attorney’s Office and one source inside of Shirley’s IT Department all confirmed that Lambright advised Shirley to “ignore the lawsuit but stay away from Constable’s Precinct 4.”
Therefore, Shirley ignored Metts’ Order and, presumably, followed Lambright’s advice to avoid East Montgomery County!
Eventually, the IT Department did assist in the data migration to the NetData database.
Metts has been extremely defensive of the GHS/NetData system. On June 28, 2016, Metts appeared before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to give a rambling speech in which he attempted to defend the County’s use of GHS/NetData.
Metts and Davenport seem to have some strong tie to GHS/NetData, but they’re costing Montgomery County millions of dollars in uncollected fees and fines.