We Must Promptly Restore Court Reporters to Trial Courts Throughout California
By The Honorable W. Kent Hamlin
Over the past decade, our local court budgets were pummeled by a perfect financial storm. State government overspending on a vast scale combined with a sharp drop in income tax revenue to create a budget deficit of $40 billion in 2008. State judicial administrators compounded our budgetary woes with a series of disastrous financial decisions culminating in the failed CCMS computer networking project, which cost the taxpayers half a billion dollars. As a result, trial court budgets were slashed by almost one-third. Attempts to make up the lost revenue by hiking fines and court fees fell far short of the mark.
Among the many casualties of the budgetary devastation were hundreds of court reporters whose positions were eliminated from civil and other courtrooms where their presence was not strictly required by law. Many of those positions have never been restored. We are now paying the price for the state’s shortsightedness.
A court of record without a verbatim record is simply not doing its job. In recent years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about "access to justice." A key component of access to justice is the meaningful opportunity to challenge a ruling or a judgment on appeal. Litigants who cannot afford to hire a court reporter are being robbed of that opportunity. Without a verbatim transcript, attorneys and judges are left to rely upon their memories and their notes when summarizing and reviewing the evidence at the conclusion of a case.