Civil Court Reporter Fee System is Broken
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Stanislaus County pulled all its Official Reporters out of civil courts, years ago, only to recognize that mistake and return to the staffing of civil courts with official reporters. Yet again, it’s their plan to pull reporters from civil courts as an answer to budget shortfalls. Santa Cruz made that same change last year. In Napa, Marin and Alameda civil courts, official court reporters are disappearing at alarming rates. Ventura and LA are being warned of coming layoffs. Other courts have intimated this might also be a solution to their budget woes. Last Monday, San Francisco Superior Court jettisoned all its official court reporters that cover the civil courts.
What’s going on? The answer is not simple.
The California Legislature provides public funding for official court reporters in court matters most intrinsic to an orderly and safe society: criminal, civil conservancy, family and juvenile. Back in 1992, the California Legislature, recognizing the efficiencies derived from using in-house court reporters, enacted a user fee system to encourage the courts also to provide official court reporters in all other matters [not covered by GC69952], including civil. The user fee system was designed to offset the costs of the service provided to the litigants who pay the fee and to guarantee accessibility and availability of a verbatim record.
However, over the past 20 years, the user fee system has become a political football in the battle of the state budget. Over the years, it’s been diluted to a point where there is little evidence that it does anything to directly offset the costs to each trial court for the reporting service provided. It’s actually becoming an excuse for local courts to put the onus on the litigants with money and a lawyer to privately retain and drag a CSR into court. More problems flow from there, not the least of which is the increasingly imbalanced access to justice between litigants of means and litigants without means. This growing mess is not what the Legislature intended, and it’s certainly not consistent with the mission of the courts.
COCRA is inviting other stakeholders to participate in our efforts to fix this broken fee structure and to stop the privatization of the official reporters’ jobs. Follow our progress and check back with us here on our website for updates and information on how you can help.
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