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It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that COCRA must announce the untimely passing of one of our founding members, Pamela Fisk.
Pam started her career as a court reporter in 1968. Shortly thereafter, she decided working in court was her passion and began employment for the San Mateo County Municipal Court where she worked for several years. Pam, being the consummate traveler, decided it was time for her and her husband Roger and their beautiful daughter Erin to take their life on the road where they ultimately landed in Washington State.
After a couple years, Pam decided to come back to her roots in Redwood City and rejoined the courts in San Mateo County, this time in Superior Court, where she would embark on what would be an illustrious 30 years of service as an Official Court Reporter working with primarily the Honorable Judith Whitmer Kozloski.
Pam reported many high profile cases, including taking the lead on many death penalty cases. But what made Pam special to her colleagues and court reporters statewide was her unending dedication and advocacy to the profession and specifically to preserving official court reporters.
In 1999, Pam and a small group of official court reporters gathered in her living room to form a new statewide association for official reporters called the California Official Court Reporters Association (COCRA). Even after her retirement in 2005, Pam stayed involved with the association, always there to protect its mission, which is to protect and advance the profession of official court reporters through education and legislative advocacy.
Pam was also a leader among her peers where she held the position of president of the San Mateo County Court Reporters Association for many years as well as taking on the role of union steward and helped to negotiate many successful contracts.
Throughout all the years, perhaps Pam’s greatest accomplishment and what made her the most proud was being surrounded by her beautiful family, whom she loved so much.
We will miss you terribly, Pam. You will forever be in our hearts and your spirit will live on in the court reporting community as you have forever made an imprint in the profession you loved so much.
Governor Brown has released his proposed budget and there appears to be some good news for the courts. COCRA will be monitoring the budget situation to assess whether the proposed budget will benefit court reporters.
Here are the significant adjustments to the judicial budget proposed by the governor.
Trial Court Funding
Consistent with the proposed two‐year strategy, the Budget includes an augmentation of $90.1 million General Fund to support trial court operations.
Trial Court Employee Costs
The Budget includes $42.7 million General Fund for trial court employee benefit costs, of which $10.8 million reflects funding for trial courts that have now made progress towards meeting the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 standard. The Administration is committed to funding future increases related to existing health benefits and retirement costs for trial court employees and retirees.
Trial Court Trust Fund Revenues
The Budget includes an additional $19.8 million General Fund to reflect a further reduction of fines and penalty revenues in 2015‐16. Coinciding with this adjustment, the Administration proposes permanently extending temporary fines and penalty revenue measures enacted as part of the 2012 Budget Act.
With the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, it is anticipated that trial courts will experience increased workload primarily in the early years of implementation due to the requirement that courts reclassify certain drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 from felonies to misdemeanors.
The Budget includes $26.9 million General Fund to reflect a projected increase in trial court workload.
The Budget proposes the establishment of an 18‐month outstanding delinquent debt amnesty program that would be administered by the courts and counties. Courts and counties would recover their costs to administer the amnesty program utilizing revenues collected through the program.
Dependency Counsel Funding
The Administration recognizes the important role played by counsel who represent abused and neglected children and their parents in dependency cases. The Judicial Council’s current annual budget allocation for court‐appointed dependency counsel is $103.7 million. Over the last several years, the Council has evaluated the workload of dependency lawyers and recommended a basic caseload standard of 188 cases per attorney. An improvement in attorney caseload would reduce hearing delays and potentially shorten time to permanency for families. The current statewide average caseload is 248 cases per attorney. Many counties fall well within the standard but others far exceed it. Judicial Council allocations to courts are based on historical factors rather than on current caseloads. The Administration will work with the Judicial Council to develop a caseload‐based allocation methodology and explore ways to reduce the number of cases.
Critics of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the government agency in charge of supervising the running of California’s court system, have long argued that the AOC was completely mismanaged and had grown so unwieldy in terms of size and scope and spending that an audit was needed.
An audit of the AOC indeed was ordered and today the California State Auditor’s office released its findings confirming all of the worst suspicions that the AOC’s critics had of the agency.
Some of the damning highlights of the audit released today revealed:
The Judicial Council did not adequately oversee the AOC in managing the judicial branch budget, which allowed the AOC to engage in questionable compensation and business practices.
Provides its staff with generous salaries and benefits—the AOC pays eight of its nine office directors more than the governor and many other high-ranking executive branch officials receive.
Employs over 70 contractors and temporary employees and could save about $7.2 million per year by using state employees in comparable positions.
Maintains a fleet of 66 vehicles without requiring its offices to justify the need.
Made about $386 million in payments over the last four years on behalf of trial courts using funds appropriated to them but could have paid a portion of those payments from its own funds.
The AOC has sole autonomy in deciding how to spend certain judicial branch funds due to the lack of Judicial Council’s involvement in the budgeting process.
The AOC has few policies, procedures, or controls in place to ensure funds are appropriately used and spent and, unlike the executive branch, is not required to undergo an annual independent financial audit.
Although it provides services to the courts, the AOC has never comprehensively surveyed the courts to identify the needs of the courts and ensure that services it provides are useful.
You can read the highlights of the audit here including some of the recommendations that the audit proposed. The full audit may be read here.
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“…Court reporters who provide transcripts of hearings have been eliminated for civil cases in many counties, making it more difficult for the losing party to appeal.”
“…recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.”
(Don Barletti, Los Angeles Times) Amanda Lugo, a legal processing assistant, searches for a case file in the criminal clerk’s office at the Superior Court in Victorville, Calif. Budget cuts recently closed the Barstow Superior Court, bringing hundreds of cases to this court.
ATTENTION OFFICIAL REPORTERS: We are hearing from various sources that the AOC will once again be moving legislatively to limit the transcripts that are produced in preliminary hearings. Specifically, the AOC is looking to limit automatically prepared transcripts in preliminary hearings to homicide related matters only.
We are working with our contacts in Sacramento to obtain more information about the AOC’s plans and we promise to update you as soon as we get a fuller picture of what the AOC plans to do.
UPDATE: Here’s analysis language that details what the AOC would like to see implemented. Keep in mind, the end game is that the AOC wants to shift the transcript costs onto the attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
3. Preliminary Hearing Transcripts. Courts are currently required to purchase preliminary hearing transcripts from certified court reporters and provide them to attorneys In all felony cases. In all other cases, the courts purchase transcripts upon the request of parties. Under the proposed change, courts would only be required to provide preliminary hearing transcripts to attorneys in homicide cases. Transcripts would continue to be provided upon request for all other case types. This change reduces costs as the court will no longer be required to purchase copies of all non-homicide felony cases from the court’s certified court reporter, but will only need to purchase them when specifically requested.
San Francisco Superior Court seeks licensed Court Reporters, able to report in Realtime who are willing to work for the Court on an Intermittent or As-Needed basis, reporting a variety of proceedings and producing transcripts upon request.
Chosen qualified candidates will be appointed as “as-needed” employees who will then be
contacted to work on a daily basis, when needed by the Court. Most of the assignments will be in the Criminal departments. Assignments are made in half-day or whole day increments.
COMPENSATION: $51.60 per hour*
*Plus additional Realtime pay differential of 5.5% for using Realtime or 10% for Realtime
After 1040 paid work hours, paid health and dental insurance, retirement, and paid vacation and sick leave benefits may be available.
The official reporters of the San Mateo Superior Court appear to have dodged a bullet as court administration pull back from its original plan of laying off two official reporters.
Earlier in the year court administration initially said that the layoff of officials was a possibility due to budgetary constraints. However, after changes in their revised budget, court administrators have chosen to rescind its decision to lay off official reporters for this fiscal year. This move by the court could also be seen as a sign that San Mateo Superior Court sees the importance of providing official reporters for all proceedings.
According to court reporter sources in San Mateo Superior Court, layoffs were slated to begin this Friday, September 20th, 2013.