Oracle can’t hide documents giving an unprecedented glimpse into what the massive software company really thought about the Cover Oregon website debacle, a Marion County judge has ruled.
Some of the emails the firm had attempted to keep secret don’t look great for Oracle and its years of labor on Oregon’s failed technology project, according to copies reviewed by the Portland Tribune.
“This implementation is so screwed up,” wrote a software engineer for the company after a visit to Oregon in November 2013, more than a month after the website was supposed to be up and running. “I’m really at a loss as to how they could design such a system.”
Some of the new evidence doesn’t reflect well for Oregon, either. For instance, Oracle is citing a document in which the state assured the federal government the website was ready to go 12 months before officials pulled the plug on the project, saying it was too broken to fix.
Judge Courtland Geyer’s ruling releasing the Oracle documents was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the company, which has been battling Oregon for nearly two years in a nasty court fight. The state seeks billions from the company over the $305 million health enrollment technology project that never launched, saying the company misled the state about the quality of its work.
In a Thursday hearing, the judge agreed with Oregon’s lawyers that the company had no legitimate reason to hide documents such as a developer’s email saying that without a software upgrade, the company was “rapoing (sic) the state of Oregon on something that will never work well.”
Oracle had blasted the state’s lawyers and the Portland Tribune after the newspaper published excerpts of the secret documents last month. The company’s top software architect had submitted a sworn statement saying why the documents needed to be confidential to protect trade secrets.
After Geyer’s ruling, however, the company issued a statement dismissing the excerpts’ significance: “This collection of one-off documents is the best the state has against a mountain of evidence, including publicly available documents commissioned by the state itself, that place the blame for the problems at Cover Oregon on state mismanagement, dysfunction and incompetence,” it said.
But the newly released documents — 10 of which the judge ordered immediately released with a few redactions — don’t help Oracle’s case.
In October 2013, for instance, the documents show some company employees were alarmed at the poor and unfinished state of Cover Oregon and felt the company’s team on-site wasn’t responding with appropriate concern. This negative internal assessment came even as company executives were assuring the state that Oracle was fully engaged in Oregon and the website would be ready for the public later that month.
On Oct. 16, an Oracle senior vice president asked members of the firm’s “A-team” to help with the Oregon project, for a “no BS assessment” of the situation. One responded that issues the team had raised months before had not been addressed, and “major functional issues exist including basic functionality like communication between components.”
The Oracle team working in Oregon had “more or less ignored” the company’s software architecture specialists “and have very low priority on our recommendations and our needs,” wrote an A-team leader, Stefan Krantz. The team working in Oregon, he added, “is not understanding the ramification of the situation. ...”
Weeks later, the problems were elevated to Oracle’s top executives. A Cover Oregon technologist, in an email to an Oracle counterpart, blasted the company, saying “Oracle has failed in every single aspect of the project from project management, proper design and development all the way through delivery and deployment. Oracle should be embarrassed at ... what has been delivered at Cover Oregon.”
The email was forwarded to Safra Catz, Oracle’s CEO, who shared it with company co-founder Larry Ellison. Ellison, in a Nov. 16, 2013, email, told the company’s top software architect to address the problems. “l will give you whatever resources you need ... immediately and in quantity,” Ellison wrote.
But while Oracle has repeatedly claimed it had fixed the website’s problems by February 2014 — even putting a news release out to that effect earlier this month — an email chain shows that even as of March 15, 2014, the website was exhibiting a nearly 20 percent error rate in which users would be presented with a “Well, that didn’t work” message.
That particular error rate was fixed days later, the email chain said.
Did the state lie?
But not all the new information focuses on Oracle, which is why this case looks to get more complicated.
Even as Oracle was ordered to air more of its internal discussions, the company signaled that it would hold a microscope to Oregon’s missteps as well, citing what it called new evidence that the state misled the federal government over the website project in order to keep funds for the project flowing.
In August 2013, an update prepared for the federal government requesting further funding said the health enrollment website was “functional” and completed four months earlier, and only needed testing.
Asked in a deposition last month whether the state had completed a “functional” website in April 2013 as the document claimed, Oregon Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss replied “They did not, because it was not functional.”
Oracle is now using the information in a new federal lawsuit that seeks to knock out the state’s fraud and racketeering lawsuit against it. It says the state itself engaged in fraud by falsely claiming continued progress in order to receive federal funds.
Oregon’s lawsuit, the company says in its March 8 filing, is “essentially attempting to cover up serious breaches of its own obligations as a recipient of Federal funds.”
It’s not the first time the state has been accused of this. In 2014 the FBI launched an investigation after former state lawmaker Patrick Sheehan made a similar allegation. No findings have been announced.
So it’s clear the case soon could get messier, and nastier.
Last Thursday, Judge Geyer said he soon hopes to issue an order for the two sides in the case to mediate their differences rather than go to trial.
“I believe in this case it would be appropriate to require the parties to spend a day or two in good faith, in private, in the secrecy of mediation to see if there is an outcome that they can all live with.”