COCRA Sends Letter Urging Legislators to Oppose ER Bill
The following letter was sent by COCRA Legislative Advocate Shane Gusman on behalf of COCRA and Professional and Technical Engineers, IFPTE Local 21. The letter urges members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee to vote against the ER bill introduced by Donald Wagner (R).
To: All Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee
From: Barry Broad, Shane Gusman
Date: March 18, 2013
Subject: AB 251 (Wagner)—OPPOSE
Clients: California Official Court Reporters Association/Professional and Technical Engineers, IFPTE Local 21
The above organizations oppose AB 251 by Assembly Member Donald Wagner.
AB 251 would allow a court to use electronic recording equipment in a family law case if an official reporter or an official reporter pro tempore is unavailable.
We are very sensitive to the fact that courts are failing to provide the services of official court reporters in family law proceedings. Failing to do so ensures that there is no accurate record of the proceedings and virtually no appellate rights for these litigants. Given what’s at stake in family law proceedings, we should be requiring that an official court reporter be available for every proceeding like we do in criminal court. Unfortunately, this bill takes the opposite approach and creates a lesser standard for reporting family law proceedings.
The Legislature has rejected electronic recording time after time for very good policy and fiscal reasons and those same arguments apply equally to this proposal for family law matters. Like other electronic recording bills, this proposed legislation fails to save money and, on a policy level, jeopardizes the integrity of court proceedings, eliminates efficiencies in making the record available in a timely fashion, and makes compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) much more difficult and expensive.
At first blush, it would seem logical that replacing people—and their salaries—with technology to perform the same function would save money. In this instance, nothing could be further from the truth. Moving to electronic recording would require the courts to spend a significant amount of money to purchase the recording equipment. The courts would likely have to purchase the existing court reporters’ equipment to make this work as well. With computer assisted technology (CAT), it isn’t uncommon for a court reporter to have $25,000 or more worth of equipment. The equipment purchases alone make savings in the near future illusory.
Moreover, the proposal would also require the courts to hire personnel to monitor any recording in the courtroom, as well as perform all of the tasks that the court reporters now perform as a regular part of the job. The courts would have to pay someone to transcribe the recording, make copies, collate, and store the finished product. They would also have to hire someone to administer this whole process.
The integrity of court proceedings would be sacrificed by this proposal. Currently, court reporters work diligently to ensure the accuracy of the record. Electronic recording is simply not as reliable. It is not uncommon for gaps to appear in the recording. For example, in one of the Oklahoma City Bombing trials, whole days of the proceedings were blank. Unfortunately, you can’t have a do-over in court. An accurate record is critical to the fair administration of justice and shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of some dubious budget savings.
Additionally, having the court reporter in the courtroom, coupled with the use of technology like CAT, makes production of a transcript much more efficient than anything that could be achieved with even the best electronic recording technology. For instance, court reporters can often make transcripts available for the next day’s proceedings, which is certainly important in multiple day trials. That is simply not going to happen with electronic recording. Transcribing electronic recording is like starting from scratch. A court reporter has to listen to the tape and transcribe it. This is obviously a slow process, made more difficult by the reporter’s absence from the actual proceedings. Absence from the proceedings may also lead to inaccuracies in the record.
Finally, court reporters are pivotal in assisting the courts’ compliance with the ADA. Court reporters use CAT to facilitate a real time record in the courtroom. This helps the hearing impaired because they can read along as the court proceeding progresses. The proposal would require the courts to purchase the technology and hire the personnel to perform ADA compliance functions.
On behalf of the above organizations, we urge your “No” vote on AB 251.
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