The following letter was sent to the Sacramento Bee in response to an editorial titled “State Courts Must Enter Electronic Age,” in which the editors for the Sac Bee strongly advocate for replacing Court Reporters with electronic recording in California’s Superior Courts.
Dear Editors of the Sacramento Bee,
The recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee seems like an easy fix to the California court system’s budget crisis. But when you dig deeper into the issue, you realize how myopic and misguided the proposal is.
Issues with Electronic Recording have arisen all over the country including the 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida, which cited delays in turn-around time in preparation of transcripts. In the 272nd District Court in Brazos County, Texas, the transcripts from Electronic Recording had an unusually high number of “inaudibles.” Many instances of equipment failure have also been reported in which parts of testimony or entire trials have been lost due to faulty equipment. And California is not immune to these problems as well. In San Francisco just this year a situation arose in a trial being recorded where the court discovered that a large portion of the trial had not been recorded due to a malfunction with the equipment. This is less of a problem for court reporters who have more than one process to ensure that the record is not lost.
Having a live Court Reporter in the courtroom ensures that the record is protected. A live Court Reporter can get clarification of words that would be “inaudible” on a recording. Court Reporters also use the latest technology that provides for realtime translation of court proceedings giving the court and litigants instantaneous access to the record of the proceedings. This technology also ensures that hearing-impaired litigants have equal access to the judicial system.
Amidst an admittedly hostile background of week-long protests in the Capitol by teachers over education cuts, yesterday the Republican leadership in Sacramento unveiled their proposal in lieu of extending the current hotly debated tax base of personal income tax, vehicle and sales taxes.
Instead, among the GOP deficit solutions, was the proposal that all court and state employees take two unpaid furlough days per month, translating to a pay cut of 10%. No court closures were mentioned.
In addition, they rolled out their tiresome, yet infamous solution of implementation of “electronic court reporting,” this year claiming an all-time high $700 million budget savings. It’s unclear where the GOP gets their financial data.
Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Visalia) indicated, “The budget approach that we outline today represents the common sense solutions that we believe can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike in enacting a reasonable no-tax increase, budget compromise.”
Governor Brown’s spokesman Gil Duran countered, “Unfortunately . . . their budget press release appears to be based on the same old short-term, smoke and mirrors, gimmick-based budget approach.”
Governor Brown’s May Revise Budget is due today.
COCRA and its lobbyists will continue to monitor the state budget and its impact on court employees and official court reporters. Be assured COCRA will be meeting with our lobbyists and representatives as well as various union representatives in negotiations relating to these new proposals and will keep you informed.
Two legislators from the Southern California region have introduced separate bills that seek to spread electronic recording into more of California’s courts.
Assembly Member Donald P. Wagner (R) of Irvine introduced AB 803. The bill seeks to “implement electronic recording in 20% of all superior court courtrooms” as a minimum and provides for an additional 20% phase-in annually thereafter. The following text regarding the bill was taken from the legislative counsel’s digest.
AB 803, as introduced, Wagner. Electronic court reporting. Existing law authorizes a court to use electronic recording equipment in a limited civil case, a misdemeanor or infraction case, or for the internal purpose of monitoring judicial officer performance. Existing law requires a court to obtain advance approval from the Judicial Council prior to purchasing equipment. Existing law also requires each superior court to report semiannually to the Judicial Council, and the Judicial Council to report semiannually to the Legislature, regarding all purchases and leases of electronic recording equipment that will be used to record superior court proceedings.
This bill would instead require the Judicial Council, by July 1, 2012, to implement electronic court reporting in 20% of all superior court courtrooms and to implement electronic reporting in at least an additional 20% of all superior court courtrooms, annually thereafter. This bill would also require the Judicial Council to report to the Governor and the Legislature on the efforts undertaken to implement electronic court reporting, as provided, by January 1, 2014. The provisions of the bill would not apply to felony cases.
You can read more about the bill by clicking here.
In addition to the bill above, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R) of Dana Point introduced AB 1096 that would, “require that all court proceedings be automated.” Very little explanation is provided regarding what this bill intends or what the assemblywoman means by “automated.”
The following is the entire text of the bill:
AB 1096, as introduced, Harkey.Courts: official reporters.
Existing law authorizes a superior court to appoint as many official reporters as are deemed required and prohibits a person from being appointed to that position unless he or she is licensed by the Court Reporters Board of California. Under existing law, a court may order, in specified cases, that the proceedings be electronically recorded if an official reporter is unavailable.
This bill would express the Legislature’s intent to require that all court proceedings be automated.
The people of the State of California do enact as follows:
SECTION 1. It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would require the reporting of proceedings in the courts to be automated.
The current status is that both bills are set for hearing in March. AB 803 may be heard in committee on March 20th, and AB 1096, on March 22nd.
COCRA’s legislative advocate, Shane Gusman of Broad & Gusman, Sacramento, is currently monitoring the situation and will be filing an official opposition to both bills. Mr. Gusman also had this to say about both bills:
“These bills seek to change what the Legislature has refused in the past. The Conference Committee from both houses is holding hearings now on the Judiciary, and electronic recording is not scheduled to be considered because it was rejected by the budget subcommittees in both houses as recently as last month and is not proposed by either legislative leadership or the governor.”
COCRA representatives will be providing the latest Preserving Access to Justice Task Force report to the legislators and will also continue to work with all parties involved in the fight to protect the court reporting profession, and more importantly, protect the public’s access to justice.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) released a report today offering suggestions as to how the judicial branch could absorb Governor Brown’s proposed $200 million permanent cut to the judicial budget. The LAO suggested that the judicial branch could easily cover the $200 million cut by implementing savings measures that would total $356 million.
And although the report made viable recommendations, such as freeing up $150 million in operating cash from the AOC’s court construction fund, the LAO continued to push its position of replacing official reporters with ER for a claimed savings of $13 million.
From the LAO’s report:
“After factoring in the estimated one-time costs for audio and video equipment and adjusting the results of the above study for inflation, we estimate that the state could save about $13 million in 2011-12. Upon full implementation, the estimated savings could exceed $100 million on an annual basis.”
Of course, COCRA utterly and completely refutes these figures, and COCRA will be challenging the LAO’s numbers and position on electronic recording, just as we have always done.
Another item in the report of interest to officials is a discrepancy in terms of how much the courts are collecting in civil fees for official reporters in civil court. The LAO claims that last year the courts spent $80 million for court reporters in civil courts. However, the courts only collected $30 million in fees. If the courts are mandated by law to collect fees in civil proceedings for the official reporter, why is there a $50 million shortfall?
Again, from the LAO’s report:
“According to AOC, the existence of such a shortfall could be due to a variety of reasons. For example, courts may be waiving these fees for indigent individuals under certain circumstances….the data suggest that some courts may not be collecting or imposing court reporting fees.”
Although there may be a shortfall for the use of court reporters in civil courts, the fact is that it may be the courts themselves that are responsible for the shortfall either by waiving the fees or not ensuring that the fees are collected in a proper manner.
You can read the LAO’s report for yourself by clicking here, and for more updates from Sacramento, be sure to check our website or become a fan of our COCRA Facebook page. If you want to help, you can make a donation to our legislative fund, renew your membership, or join us as a new member here.
At a press conference today in Sacramento Governor Schwarzenegger continued his assault on the use of court reporters in superior court. At the press conference the governor pointed to a board that listed “savings” to the state if the legislature enacted his version of a budget. Included in his list of savings was a supposed $100 million that the governor claimed the state would be able to save annually by implementing ER.
I’ve embedded the video of his press conference and you can view his comments at the 6:18 mark. I’ve taken his comments and posted them below.
We have electronic court reporting. A 100 million dollars. We do not need any people there. We have the technology now to do the reporting and the recording.
When you add this to his comments last week in which he said that court reporters were “old fashioned,” it’s more than clear that the Governor is itching for another fight to bring ER into more courtrooms and eliminating court reporters completely.
If you’re a court reporter working in California then you may have already heard by now that when Governor Schwarzenegger released his revised state budget on May 14th, he continued his assault on the court reporting profession by continuing to promote a plan to replace court reporters with electronic recording in California’s superior courts.
COCRA has been monitoring the situation since news broke of ER’s return and COCRA has been diligently gathering information from all of the various legislative advocates that represent court reporters including SEIU, AFSCME, IFPTE, and COCRA’s own legislative advocate Shane Gusman from the offices of Broad & Gusman.
Over the weekend, COCRA learned that the Senate decided not to place the issue of ER on their budget hearing agenda. However, COCRA understood that the matter was still on the Assembly’s budget hearing agenda.
We have just received good news on both fronts. COCRA has been told that the Assembly has NOT placed ER on their agenda. What does it mean that ER is not on the agenda for both the Senate and Assembly budget committees? It means that ER will not be discussed or recognized and it’s now a “dead” issue.
However, as Governor Schwarzenegger once promised when he was an actor many years ago, it does not mean that ER won’t be back. But COCRA continues to monitor the situation and continues to work with all parties involved in the fight to protect the court reporting profession, and more importantly, protect the public’s access to justice.
E.R. is NOT in the State Budget. Court Reporters Board is Safe
It’s confirmed! On an issue as important as this, we didn’t want to send out unconfirmed information with a caveat. Our COCRA and labor lobbyists have now confirmed that the budget proposal reached last night by the Legislative Leadership does NOT contain Electronic or Digital Recording.
The Court Reporters Board was untouched as well and will continue to serve the public, as well as license and oversee Certified Shorthand Reporting professionals and administer the Transcript Reimbursement Fund.
The court reporters of California waged a tough battle and we can all be proud of the part we played in keeping ER at bay once again and out of California courtrooms. We are proud of our members for rallying to the call for support from COCRA’s Preserving Access to Justice Task Force. It is only with your help this result was achieved.
But the true heroes in this defeat are our Legislative Leadership, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who worked tirelessly, standing fast against the Governor’s demands to implement ER. The Leaders’ offices and staff members have always been receptive and repeatedly facilitated the efforts of the COCRA Team and union leaders while continuing to support other court employee interests. We hope you will show them your gratitude.
COCRA’s lobbyists, Barry Broad and Shane Gusman, along with our labor leaders, Willie Pelote and Michael Bolden from AFSCME and Michelle Castro from SEIU, as always, were instrumental in protecting our interests and continuing to monitor and influence the negotiations, and we offer them a huge round of applause! They are truly our eyes and ears in Sacramento, literally watching our backs every day, not just during these times of crisis.
It is anticipated that the state budget will be ready for a final vote in the Legislature later this week. Our COCRA Team will continue to keep you informed. Check our website for up-to-the-minute reports.
California is still in a grave fiscal situation, and the Governor is sure to resurrect his perceived ER “solution” again the next time he’s looking for an answer to the state’s budgetary problems. But, for now, breathe easy and enjoy the victory…..and thank your lucky stars and those who supported you!
Rumors have surfaced and now COCRA lobbyists have confirmed that the Governor has given the Big 5 Budget Committee an unpublished list of over 40 demanded cuts, which includes implementation of ER in our California courts.
The Governor continues to claim an unrealistic savings, far and above that supported by either the Legislative Analyst’s Office or the Department of Finance.
Now the good news. Both Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg continue to steadfastly support court reporters and continue to reject electronic recording. COCRA lobbyist Shane Gusman tells us that, “Leadership considers this a nonstarter and a dead issue.”
The Big 5 Committee has a difficult job under intense pressure from the Governor to meet his agenda and make deep cuts. They deserve our support.
Please write the legislative members of the Big 5 and tell them that you appreciate their continued support of an accurate and cost-efficient record. Let them know that the court reporters understand their difficult position and that’s why it is even more significant that they are on our side and recognize that ER just won’t work for California. A sample letter and FAX numbers appear below.
Also, let your local legislative representatives from your district know that you need them to stand up for justice and court reporters when it comes time for them to vote on the budget.
If your member has voted to support reporters in the past, be sure to tell them that you appreciate their support; if not, thank them for their time and attention to the court reporter issues and ask them to examine COCRA’s Preserving Access to Justice Task Force report by clicking on this link.
The Unofficial Record – ER Usage Exclusively To Monitor Subordinate Judicial Officers Is Approved.
Today the Conference Committee also voted to approve previously negotiated language to allow limited usage of Electronic Recording equipment for the sole and purpose of monitoring subordinate judicial officers (commissioners or referees) and increasing reporting requirements regarding ER purchases.
Language preventing the purchase and usage of ER equipment to make the record of courtroom proceedings was substantially strengthened. Usage for judges’ notetaking was specifically rejected.
UPDATE I: The language in the message to members was not clear. The change doesn’t “allow” anything. It DISTINGUISHES how tapes of judges are treated from the public taped record in limited/misds. It PROHIBITS tapes of judges from being disseminated to the public and REQUIRES tapes of
judges to be destroyed in two years and it IMPOSES stricter funding mechanism for installing tapes in limited/misd. courts.
This still only applies to limited/misd.using the word “allows” in your message creates the impression that the areas of tape usage have expanded.
-Maura Baldocchi, COCRA Past President
UPDATE II: Maura’s comments are correct. This language does not expand ER usage in any way. ER can still only be used in misdemeanors and limited civil when a court reporter is not available.
This language, however, is supposed to resolve a current problem which has arisen when courts, eg small claims, tape proceedings involving commissioners and referees (called subordinate judicial officers or SJOs) to monitor SJO performance and respond to complaints. This language sets forth strict guidelines and limits the usage of these non-public tapes. It solves the problem which has been occurring when these non-public tapes (which are not subject to the guidelines to which public taped records must adhere) have been released to parties and/or used to resolve a public issue before the court. This language ensures that these special tapes are used and preserved only for the specific purpose for which they are intended.
The language also contains a provision which prohibits local courts from buying and using ER for an unofficial record or for the judge’s notetaking purposes. That was viewed as a backdoor effort by management, as Savana points out, to replace court reporters.
The language additionally provides stricter guidelines for the purchase and/or use of Electronic Recording equipment in those matters for which ER is currently allowed (limited jix and misd) and requires greater oversight of future purchases by local courts, who will now have to receive AOC approval to have funds released to them to purchase ER equipment. This requirement is intended to stop the acquisition and installation of ER in courts for unauthorized purposes.
Hi everyone. This is Janice Scott and Stacy Gaskill and we’re present in Sacramento right now and we’ll be live blogging from the capitol. We’re keeping an eye on the fate of the Court Reporters Board and we’re also tracking any other legislative moves that might affect court reporters.
5:13 FINAL UPDATE: Final vote 7-2 in favor of keeping the CR Board…congratulations to the CR Board and all CSRs in CA.
And thanks to everyone who followed our blog!
Signing out live from Sacramento.
5:10 UPDATE: A final vote is coming now…stay tuned.
4:30 UPDATE: The committee didn’t have enough for a quorum, which is six votes, but our lobbyist believes that all will vote as recommended; that is, keep the CR Board and the TRF fund.
Of note, Chair Negrete was impressed by the testimony and appreciates the help the TRF provides indigent litigants.
4:12 UPDATE Kay Reindle representing “education” and is speaking of the importance of the work that the CRB does in terms of court reporting education.
4:09 UPDATE: Toni Pulone of DRA is speaking now urging committee to reject the proposal.
4:08 UPDATE: Janice Scott of COCRA is now speaking on behalf of the CRB speaking about the certification process that the CRB oversees.
3:50 UPDATE: Discussion about the Court Reporters Board has begun.