Benefits of E-Filing Technology Should Not Come
at a Cost to Official Reporters
My name is Anne Hall, I’m an official reporter in Monterey County Superior Court, and I’m the current president of the California Official Court Reporters Association. (COCRA)
When I moved back to California in the late 90s, I realized that the issues that official court reporters faced were very unique to our profession. I also realized that our profession needed an association made up of members who were not only concerned about official court reporters, but were able to address those unique issues, as well as protect and promote court reporting in California’s superior courts. That is why I became a proud member of COCRA.
It is undeniable that since the Great Recession official reporters have had some very difficult times. We’ve seen the spread of electronic recording into more and more courtrooms. We’ve faced removal of official reporters in civil courts resulting in layoffs in many counties. We have seen transcript rates remain frozen for almost three decades!
As if all these negative situations weren’t enough, official reporters are now facing another possible threat to our transcript income. Many counties across the state have begun the process of converting their management systems to the online case management system Odyssey. What this means for official reporters is that we will eventually be required to file transcripts online which will be a welcomed change that could have unintended consequences.
So what’s the consequence? Courts could require that officials pay for filing our transcripts. COCRA believes officials should be able to electronically file transcripts with the court bearing any associated costs, such as software licenses.
We also believe that any electronic filing procedure the courts put into place should not result in the imposition of additional work duties without proper compensation to officials. Especially in light of the fact that official reporters have not seen an increase in our transcript rates!
In the future, COCRA will work openly and transparently with all unions, associations, and stakeholders to ensure that the concerns of official reporters about e-filing transcripts are addressed and that the final e-filing procedure is one that is fair and equitable for official reporters, the legal community, and the public at large.
If you believe the same as COCRA does, then won’t you please join me by renewing your membership with COCRA today? Join California’s only court reporter association created For Officials, By Officials.
San Diego Superior Court announced today that reduced funding for their court will result in a planned cut of $14 million in the next fiscal year. The court plans to make up for the cuts with a combination of negative solutions that have been or will be implemented in other superior court jurisdictions.
Of particular concern for official court reporters is the “elimination of all court provided reporters from civil courtrooms.”
The cuts will result in:
All business offices will close to the public at noon on Friday.
•A total of 10 courtroom will close. That includes six criminal courts and one civil courtroom in the downtown courts.
•Probate court operations in the Vista court will close and all cases will transfer downtown. A juvenile dependency court in Vista will also close.
•The Ramona branch court will be shuttered.
•Layoffs of 75 non-courtroom staff positions and a “significant reduction in management employees.”
•The elimination of all court provided reporters from civil courtrooms at some time. Litigants who want a transcript of their cases would have to hire their own reporters.
In the following year the cuts will go deeper:
• A total of 30 courtroom are targeted for “closing and restructuring.”
• All civil business offices in El Cajon and South Bay courthouses will close, transferring operations to downtown and Vista courthouses.
• Layoffs of about 90 positions. All court workers would take two furlough days beginning July 2013.
As if the news couldn’t get worse, it did when the court also announced that it will have to make an additional $40 million cut to its budget in the year 2013-2014.
CCRA and COCRA are pleased to announce that we have been successful in securing language in the California budget trailer bill that protects official reporter transcript income and ends the unfair and cumbersome Word Count practice recently implemented in multiple jurisdictions.
SEIU Lobbyist Michelle Castro has confirmed that the language was approved by Legislative Leadership and inserted into the trailer bill which allows previous page-folio conversion agreements in effect as of January 1, 2012, to remain unchanged.
Newly amended Government Code 69950.
(a) The fee for transcription for original ribbon or printed copy is eighty-five cents ($0.85) for each 100 words, and for each copy purchased at the same time by the court, party, or other person purchasing the original, fifteen cents ($0.15) for each 100 words.
(b) The fee for a first copy to any court, party, or other person who does not simultaneously purchase the original shall be twenty cents ($0.20) for each 100 words, and for each additional copy, purchased at the same time, fifteen cents ($0.15) for each 100 words.
(c) Notwithstanding subdivisions (a) and (b), if a trial court had established transcription fees that were in effect on January 1, 2012 based on an estimate or assumption as to the number of words or folios on a typical transcript page, those transcription fees shall be the transcription fees for proceedings in those trial courts, and the policy or practice for determining transcription fees in those trial courts shall not be unilaterally changed.
Literally every jurisdiction in California has had a long-standing agreement between court administration and reporters for transcript payment based on the presumed number of folios (100 words) on a page based on each individual courts transcript format. Reporters were previously paid for transcripts accordingly. After AOC auditors determined this was contrary to the intent of the statute (GC 69950), many administrators launched a unilateral and widespread effort to implement Word Count as their cost-saving solution in the budget-weary court system.
The AOC Court Assistance Review Team (CART) team has actively promoted this practice to courts as a cost-cutting tool. Unfortunately, they chose to ignore the definitions of both a folio and a word set forth in the Government Code, which sparked heated debates about what constituted a word and the time-consuming export/import process involved, which resulted in a reported 30% loss of reporter income. The amendment to 69950 maintains the status quo with regard to billing practices.
COCRA has received word that the official reporters in Sonoma County have been sent a letter stating that the word count multiplier, which was to be imposed May 1st, has been placed on hold at this time.
A group consisting of officials and their union rep met with the two administrators of Sonoma Superior Court this past Monday in order to discuss the word count multiplier. Apparently the meeting was a cordial and informative one in which the officials laid out for the administrators all of the problems that would arise should the WCM be implemented.
The officials must have been very convincing in their arguments as evidenced by the letter sent to them today.
We will be updating this story as we get more info and those of you attending the Summit for Officials on May 5th will be able to hear a full report from the official reporters representing Sonoma.
AB2305 (Klehs): The Solution that Hit a Brick Wall What happened to COCRA’s page-rate bill in 2006?
The following information is from a bill that COCRA introduced back in 2006. If AB 2305 had passed, statewide billing for court transcripts would have become standardized and more user-friendly.
Here are the highlights:
*Transcript billing by the page
*Universal transcript format
*Prohibition on loaning transcripts
Wait, there’s more!
*18% premium for civil
*50% premium for all daily service
The Brick Wall: An agreement between the Legislature and the Bar to a three-year moratorium on civil fee increases . The Bar successfully argued that new transcript rates were subject to the fee moratorium; therefore, the AB2305 was pulled until the moratorium was over.
Would AB2305 have been the solution to our current word count woes? YES!! COCRA still believes page rate is the answer. The civil fee moratorium is over. Now is the time for serious reform.
Bring back AB2305, The Transcript Reform Act! (more…)