Shortage of court reporters leaves California court system in ‘crisis’

A continuing shortage of court reporters in California was called a “crisis” last week by a coalition of legal officials, who said courtrooms often struggled to find reporters for thousands of criminal and civil proceedings. each day.

The group, made up of court officers from across the state, argued that the lack of court reporters — the employees who create verbatim records of dialogue in court proceedings — puts litigants at risk of not having access. to their legal records.

“Allegations are often made about what was said in court and without a record, it’s often impossible to really verify that,” said San Diego Superior Court chief executive Michael Roddy, who signed the joint statement.

Although California legal code requires a court-supplied reporter for criminal proceedings, it is not required in civil, family law, probate, misdemeanor, and traffic courts.

The California legislature allocates $30 million a year to help hire more court reporters, but more than 50% of California courts have reported that they are unable to consistently cover these non-mandatory procedures, officials said.

The Court Officers Group said California has had a shortage of court reporters for decades and the problem is not related to a need for additional funding. Instead, the group said, there are not enough trained court reporters to hire.

To address the issue, the coalition proposed lifting a handful of California laws, such as now allowing court reporters to use electronic recording technology to provide remote service to multiple courtrooms throughout the county. Additionally, they say lifting the in-state certification requirement for court reporters would allow courts to hire independent firms from outside the state.

The California branch of the court reporters’ union alleged that most counties are deciding not to use the $30 million allocated to help hire more officials, and are instead using the money to phase out in-person reporters instead of electronic recording technology.

The National Court Reporters Association also openly disputed the proposal for electronic recording devices, saying an unclear or inaudible word during key testimony could make or break a case.

“Although electronic recording can be used in some environments, such as courts that do not have frequent transcript requests, real-time court reporters, often described as ‘record keepers’, remain the preferred method. most reliable and accurate in establishing the case,” reads the NCRA website.

Over the past four years, the number of applicants who have taken the California court reporter certification test has increased from 339 in 2018 to 178 in 2021, court officials said.

Five years ago in San Diego there were about 90 reporters in the Superior Court system, which needed more than 140 to cover most cases, Roddy said. Now there are 67 and the local superior court system no longer provides stenographers for most family law cases.

Court reporters can now cost those litigants up to $800 to $2,000 a day, Roddy said.

The group of executive officers say that is why the courts should be allowed to seek more creative solutions.

“Without changes to the current legal framework for court reporting, all courts will face the inevitable day, already seen by a few California courts, of not having enough court reporters to cover mandated criminal and juvenile delinquency and addiction cases” , said the executive. the officers said in the joint statement.

As of Wednesday, 71% of the state’s 58 trial courts were actively recruiting stenographers, according to the court executive’s joint statement.