At one Atlanta court, thousands still feeling the sting of cyberattack

Every day for two weeks, David Evans woke up at 5 a.m.

His fiancee drove him from Fairburn to the College Park MARTA station, where he caught the train into Atlanta. He walked to Atlanta Municipal Court and sat down. He waited until 7 a.m., and he got the bad news again.

Thanks to the still-lingering effects of the cyberattack on the city of Atlanta, the court wouldn’t be handling any cases that day. Like thousands of others hoping to do business with a court known as one of the busiest in the Southeast, he’d have to wait another day — and another, and another, and another — to try and resolve his issue.

In Evans’ case, a traffic ticket and missed court date that need to be dealt with before he can start work as a recruit at a local fire department.

“It is not fair to the people they serve,” Evans said this week, “and it shows that they do not care, in my opinion.”

‘I just wish I had known’

Atlanta Municipal Court, which handles everything from traffic citations and DUIs to some drug offenses, has been effectively out of commission since a ransomware attack was launched against the city on March 22, bringing many of its technological operations grinding to a halt.

The building is open but court has not been in session. Officials say they have been automatically resetting previously scheduled court dates and mailing notices to those involved. Walk-in failure to appear court, the program Evans needs to take advantage of to resolve his issue, has also not been held.

On Thursday, the city released a statement saying it, the court and their partners “continue to work around the clock to restore our systems and infrastructure.” It could not provide by press time information regarding the number of cases that been rescheduled during the current three-week interruption.

A 2015 presentation by then-Mayor Kasim Reed, however, said Atlanta Municipal Court handled more than 250,000 cases a year.

That averages out to more than 4,800 cases per week.

A steady stream of folks visited the court building on Garnett Street on Wednesday morning, greeted at the cherry wood help desk only to ultimately be turned away.

Most complained about having taken off work or otherwise making special arrangements to be there. Several said that, even three weeks post-cyberattack and despite posts on the city’s websites and social media accounts, they hadn’t known court wouldn’t be operating.

Kathleen Menefee was among them.

“I get down here, and there is no court,” the southwest Atlanta resident, who was trying to resolve a traffic citation, said. “A little bit inconvenient in that I’m training and busing it. I just wish I had known it.”

Jim Campbell was also turned away Wednesday. Asked about his experience, he quipped that he “didn’t have one.”

“It’s not their fault they got hacked,” he said. “Or is it?”

Local defense attorney Brandon Dixon said he has a “tremendous” amount of clients that have been affected by the cyberattack, particularly ones that, like would-be-firefigher Evans, are trying to address failure to appear issues. An inability to deal with those issues would typically leave them subject to arrest, or to having their driver’s licenses suspended, or to facing additional fines.

Another defense attorney, Gerald Griggs, described the ongoing issues in municipal court and the city as a whole as “setting the criminal justice system back.”

“I would think that at this point they would have talked to the service provider for all of the technology and gotten a backup system going,” Griggs said.

‘Terribly inconvenient’

Fairburn’s Evans tweeted at Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 28. He said he just wanted to pay his ticket so he could start his new job.

Bottoms responded, agreeing that the situation was “terribly inconvenient.”

“But teams are working around the clock to address it,” the mayor wrote. “Let us know what we can do to help with your job.”

At that point, it had been a week since Atlanta was hacked. It’s now been more than three.

Evans decided Monday to abandon his daily treks to court, deciding instead to monitor the situation — and continue to hope — from afar.

“I do not think they realize how this impacts people’s lives,” he said.

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