An Application Lifecycle

When I started working at the Federal Courts back in 1991 (!), I wrote applications from scratch to maintain the jury pool, take care of the finances of the court, including fines and restitution (which got real interesting when there were multiple defendants in a “joint & several” judgment), inventory, leave tracking, and various other applications. I called them “NINJA”, for Nicely Integrated Network of Judicial Applications, and when I converted them to Windows apps they got renamed “CourtOffice” to correspond with a new Microsoft product (which we didn’t even use – yay WordPerfect!)

Those applications are long gone, but another one was a conversion of a FoxPro for DOS case management application to FoxPro for Windows. Through this project I learned the details of how civil, criminal, magistrate, and CVB cases flow through the federal courts. And I also learned object-oriented coding and the value of community via the MadFox User Group.

This application ended up beautiful (imho) and powerful. It even got picked up and used by some other courts, one of which was the District of the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s how I ended up working there for two years in the early 90s, which also earned me a subsequent consulting trip to Trinidad to discuss what the nascent “Caribbean Court of Justice” should look for in a case management system.

Another court that picked it up was the Southern District of Indiana, and boy did they use it. 10s of thousands of cases got in there over the course of the 15 or so years when this was their primary case management system.

When the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts decided it was time for a national case management application, they did not pick mine. To their credit they picked a web-based app, which was pretty forward thinking for 1999, but it has the worst interface you can imagine and hasn’t changed much at all since 1999. All courts, including mine here in Madison, the Virgin Islands, and Indiana Southern all got on board with the new system but kept their legacy data in the old system. Most of the users will tell you they still pine for the old system.

About ten years ago I spent a week back down in the V.I. and we did a quick and dirty conversion of the data into the new system. But since I didn’t work for the courts anymore we didn’t have a ton of time to spend on it. Once I started back with the courts a few years ago I was contacted by Indiana Southern and asked if I could help convert their data into the national system. I was thrilled to be back in touch with my baby.

We worked much harder on their conversion program, and it took not a week nor a year but three years or so of (off and on) work to get the conversion routine perfected. (For those interested in the technical details, the converter is a Visual FoxPro Advanced application using ODBC to convert DBF data to Informix).

On May 1st of this year, we finished transferring all of the data from JAMS into the national case management system for the federal courts. And so it comes to and end: My first baby has lived a full life and I’ll probably never have any contact with it again after almost 30 years. I’ll store the code just in case, to keep the room ready, but it’s a bittersweet day for me.








One response to “An Application Lifecycle”

  1. Eric Avatar

    Check out this beautiful comment from a fellow MadFoxer:

    These are difficult things to face, but consider that you created something beautiful that worked well. I had a similar thing with a DBMS I built for a number of counties before the days of windows – it worked well and was fast (all written in C with a C DB & ISAM lib). The state mandated changes and it was abandoned.

    I think you need to look not at what happens to your projects in ways you have no control over, but how true you held to your programming ideals in the creation. When you can say: ‘this is art and it also is functional’, then that’s good enough, especially when it is art (and art encompasses much more than the visible product). Everything is ephemeral and a lot of things fall prey to dumb luck and ignorance. Tip a pint to your creation every so often and reminisce with a glimmer in your eye…”

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