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Context of 'April 2, 1982: INSLAW Tells Justice Department It Intends to Market Enhanced PROMIS Commercially'

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An application known as PROMIS, the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, is developed. [Wired News, 3/1993] It is designed to be used to keep track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all data items stored about a case. [Salon, 7/23/2008] William Hamilton, one of the application’s developers, will describe what it can be used to do: “Every use of PROMIS in the court system is tracking people. You can rotate the file by case, defendant, arresting officer, judge, defence lawyer, and it’s tracking all the names of all the people in all the cases.” Wired magazine will describe its significance: “What this means is that PROMIS can provide a complete rundown of all federal cases in which a lawyer has been involved, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented defendant A, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented white-collar criminals, at which stage in each of the cases the lawyer agreed to a plea bargain, and so on. Based on this information, PROMIS can help a prosecutor determine when a plea will be taken in a particular type of case.” In addition, PROMIS can integrate several databases without requiring any reprogramming, meaning it can “turn blind data into information.” PROMIS is developed by a private business entity that will later become the company Inslaw, Inc. Although there will later be a series of disputes over the application’s use by the US government and others, this version of PROMIS is funded by a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grant and is therefore in the public domain. [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., William Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw wins a $9.6 million contract from the Justice Department to install the public domain vesion of PROMIS application in 20 US attorneys’ offices as a pilot program. PROMIS is an application designed to be used by prosecutors to keep track of case records (see Mid-1970s). If the trial installation is successful, the company will install PROMIS in the remaining 74 federal prosecutors’ offices around the country. The contract is also for the necessary training, maintenance, and support for three years. According to William Hamilton, one of Inslaw’s owners, the eventual market for complete automation of the Federal court system is worth up to $3 billion. However, this is the last contract Inslaw receives from the Justice Department for PROMIS, as the deal becomes mired in a series of disputes. [US Congress, 9/10/1992; Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: William Hamilton, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

A lawyer acting for Inslaw writes to the Justice Department telling it that Inslaw intends to market a version of the PROMIS software commercially. The lawyer, Roderick M. Hills of Latham & Watkins, tells Associate Deputy Attorney General Stanley E. Morris, who is also a member of the committee overseeing PROMIS, that, even though the software was initially developed with government money (see Mid-1970s), private enhancements to it mean that Inslaw can sell the improved version for a fee. The letter is accompanied by a memorandum from Inslaw owner William Hamilton explaining the situation. Inslaw and the department have just signed a contract for Inslaw to implement the public domain version of the software at US attorneys’ offices for the department (see March 1982). However, the privately-funded enhancements mean that if the department chose to use the latest version, it would have to pay for the actual software, as well as installation and maintenance costs. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., Latham, Watkins & Hills, Roderick M. Hills, William Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

One month after the Justice Department and Inslaw sign a contract on the installation of PROMIS software (see March 1982), a departmental official raises the possibility of terminating the contract. At a meeting of the PROMIS Project Team, project manager C. Madison Brewer, the Justice Department’s contracting officer Peter Videnieks, and Jack Rugh, the acting assistant director for the Office of Management Information Systems Support, discuss terminating the contract with Inslaw for convenience of the government, according to notes taken at the meeting. “Discussed Inslaw’s ‘PROMIS II’ memo, termination for convenience discussed,” read Videnieks’ notes. When the contract becomes the subject of a series of legal actions, the three men begin to suffer from what the House Judiciary Committee will call “severe memory loss” over what happened at the meeting. In a sworn statement, Brewer will say he does not recall the details of the meeting, but if this recommendation were made, it was made “in jest.” However, he will admit to being upset with Inslaw’s handling of the contract and its demand for payment for enhancements it had made privately to the application (see April 2, 1982). Bankruptcy Court Judge George Bason will comment: “All of the [Justice Department] witnesses who attended the April 14, 1982 meeting professed a total lack of memory about it. They testified they had no recollection of any such meeting. This court disbelieves that testimony. None of them could offer any credible explanation, or indeed any explanation, of the meaning of Videnieks’ handwritten notes other than what this court finds to be their meaning.… These notes constitute a ‘smoking gun’ that clearly evidences Brewer’s intense bias against Inslaw, his single-minded intent to drive INSLAW out of business, and Rugh’s and Videnieks’ complicity.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Peter Videnieks, Jack Rugh, C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, George Bason

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw enhances its PROMIS software under contract to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Justice Department. The improvement, known as the “printed inquiry enhancement,” is delivered to the department on May 17, 1982. As the development of the original software and this enhancement is government-funded (see Mid-1970s), Inslaw cannot charge for providing the software to the government solely by virtue of this improvement. However, Inslaw also says it makes privately-funded enhancements at this time, enabling it to charge a fee for a version of the application with these enhancements (see April 2, 1982 and July 17, 1982). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw’s attorney James Rogers writes to the Justice Department in an attempt to allay fears the department has about the implementation of the company’s PROMIS software for it. Rogers provides Associate Deputy Attorney General Stanley E. Morris with a detailed description of what the company plans to do to market the software commercially from the next month, and asks that the department respond to Inslaw to “ensure that these representations are correct.” Rogers says that the version of PROMIS the company will market comprises three parts: (1) the original application developed with government money (see Mid-1970s); (2) enhancements made by Inslaw using private money (see April 2, 1982 and July 17, 1982); and (3) an enhancement made for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (see Before May 17, 1982). Parts (1) and (3) do not entitle Inslaw to market the software commercially themselves. However, part (2) does. At the Justice Department, both C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, who supervises the PROMIS contract, and Peter Videnieks, the department’s contracting officer, are unhappy with this intention. The House Judiciary Committee will comment that this letter is “followed by a very antagonistic meeting” between Brewer and Inslaw representatives, and that Brewer and Videnieks continue “to believe that, because the department was currently funding the implementation of PROMIS, they could ignore Inslaw’s proprietary interest in the privately funded enhancements made to the PROMIS software.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Stanley E. Morris, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc., C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, House Judiciary Committee, Peter Videnieks

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Judge Christine Miller of the Court of Federal Claims rejects allegations by the software firm Inslaw that the Justice Department illegally stole its enhanced PROMIS software and distributed it. The finding is contained in a 186-page opinion issued by Miller that says there is “no merit to the claims.” The decision follows a three-week trial. The matter was sent to the court by Congress, which referred the case as a part of considerations about whether to pass a private bill to compensate Inslaw. The original contract required Inslaw to install in US attorneys’ offices a public domain version of PROMIS owned by the government. But, according to Miller, without notice to the government, Inslaw installed a different version of the software and then asserted that the government could not use the software in other offices. (Note: the contract was signed in March 1982 (see March 1982), and Inslaw notified the department of the enhancements on April 2 (see April 2, 1982).) Miller’s findings are:
bullet Inslaw has not shown it has any ownership rights to the software and that the enhancements it claims are not proprietary to it. Miller says that some of the enhancements do actually exist—12 of the over 100 Inslaw says it made—but Inslaw cannot demonstrate it owns them;
bullet Neither has Inslaw shown that the department acted improperly in any way in connection with the software, as it had unlimited rights to the enhanced software it received and acted in good faith;
bullet Inslaw’s decision to take its case to the bankruptcy court, rather than courts with certain jurisdiction to hear it, was a tactical one (see June 9, 1986);
bullet A panel of independent experts appointed by the judge to review other software applications Inslaw claims are pirated versions of PROMIS found that Inslaw’s allegations were false;
bullet In addition to not having a legal claim against the US, Inslaw does not have an equitable claim either, because it did not own the software and the Justice Department acted properly.
Assistant Attorney General Frank Hunger, head of the civil division, comments: “Both parties benefit from having a decision from a court with authority to resolve the matter—a court that has heard all the evidence. And the public benefits because all the evidence has been aired and they can be confident that the facts have finally been revealed. Certainly, the department benefits from the lifting of the cloud that has hung over it for a decade.” As the court investigated the matter at the request of Congress, the decision will be sent back there, although Inslaw will have the chance to appeal the matter to a three-judge panel at the same court beforehand. [US Department of Justice, 8/4/1997]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., Frank Hunger, Christine Miller, Court of Federal Claims, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

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