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Clerk Blasted by Council, Real Estate Agents

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Clerk of Court Dale Atkins appeared before the New Orleans City Council last week to announce the recovery of 20 months worth of lost conveyance and mortgage records after a massive computer crash in October. Atkins said the city's records are completely backed up, but it'll take another four weeks to verify the data.

  After several rounds of questions, Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson took a verbal shot at Atkins, who appeared with Chief Judge Rose Ledet of Civil District Court. "You ran for this office," Clarkson said to the clerk. "This is your responsibility. If there were these problems from the outset, why did it take this disaster to bring it to the surface?"

  Atkins defended her role in recovering the temporarily lost documents, saying she inherited three records offices in 2009 when the offices that contain mortgage records, conveyance records and records from Civil District Court clerk all merged into one under a state law passed in 2006. There were problems with each office, she said. Atkins added that the law put her office in charge of physical records but not the digital data, which remained under the control of the Civil Court judges. She added that her office was not given the funds to manage the electronic data.

  "This merger was done too fast and unthorough," Clarkson said. "That's water under the bridge. Unfortunately that water is coming over the bridge and drowning us all."

  Ledet said the court was understaffed and had staff management problems on top of that — and inadequate backup systems in place when the server went down. "We're very empathetic to the public and personal, professional and financial problems this has caused people," Ledet said.

  Real estate agents criticized Atkins for what they called a lack of transparency during the crisis, saying she left more than 4,000 local agents in the dark during the recovery process. "Those of us who were most impacted were the least informed," said RE/MAX agent Joe Ory, who added that despite repeated requests, Atkins did not submit any progress reports or have "any urgency to expedite recovery."

  Atkins apologized for "excluding" anyone adversely affected by the crash and said she welcomed help from the private sector.

  On that note, Atkins' efforts to recover the lost data were applauded by the city's IT chief Allen Square and by Brent Laliberte of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Title Attorneys. Square said the system is in good hands with the court's new technology chief Peter Haas. "As soon as Peter joined the team, I've really been applauding this project," Square said.

  Clarkson asked if i365, the company responsible for backing up the records, could be sued. "Let's put it on the table," Clarkson said. "Let's find out. In the next meeting, we want that answer." — Alex Woodward

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