On Nov. 2, all but a handful of California Superior Court CEOs signed a joint letter declaring a “Court Reporter Shortage Crisis.” We were disappointed to see that Michael M. Roddy and Maria Rhinehart, the CEOs of San Diego and Imperial Superior Courts, were among those who signed.
Our Union, SEIU Local 221, agrees with them on one thing – the courts need to hire more Official Court Reporters. The issue is not one of shortages. There are nearly 200 eligible court reporters in our region and Court employees often volunteer their time to recruit licensed reporters and teach the skill to students of local court reporting programs to encourage and maintain the success of the profession.
San Diego CEO Michael Roddy has declared that funding is not the problem while simultaneously refusing to spend the millions of dollars that have been allocated by the state to incentivize applicants and encourage reporter retention.
Mr. Roddy, along with the majority of the California Superior Court CEO signers, knows reporter staffing has been affected by choices the Courts across the state made in recent years — 2012 layoffs of 28 reporters in San Diego, meager pay increases during the following 7 years, and, finally, contentious negotiations in 2019 when reporters at the bargaining table were told to “Shut up.”
Court executives are pushing the narrative that there is an overall lack of reporters in the state and that the state must explore allowing other methods of making a record of court proceedings. But we know that electronic recording is unreliable and does not represent the equal access to justice that these CEOs are purporting it to be. There is a reason that state law requires that Official Court Reporters be present during felony trials – the only way to guarantee an accurate record is to have a Court Reporter in the room making that record.
An accurate, verbatim record is essential to the fair and equitable justice system that every member of our community deserves. In a criminal felony conviction, your constitutional right to appeal depends on the record. The Court Reporters of San Diego and Imperial Superior Courts are in the room when a proceeding is held, ensuring all parties have an opportunity to make a record. As neutral officers of the Court, Court Reporters are bound by the Department of Consumer Affairs Court Reporters Board to comply with all statutes and government codes in place to protect the ethics and obligations that come with such a responsibility. When someone’s livelihood and future is at stake, who will transcribe the electronic recording of a criminal proceeding? Most likely a third party who isn’t subjected to any oversight of or accountability for their work.
SEIU Local 221 and the Official Court Reporters of San Diego and Imperial Superior Courts will continue to hold Court management accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, to spend the more than $2 million in funding allocated to them this fiscal year — an investment that will put more officials in courtrooms and reduce out-of-pocket expenses to attorneys and litigants for a freelance court reporter to report their proceeding.
Official Court Reporters are the guardians of the record – they are essential for our members, our communities, and our justice system.