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No transcript, no appeal: California courts face 'crisis' over lack of records

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

David W. Slayton, the L.A. County Superior Court's executive officer, called that argument "disingenuous," and said the problem is recruitment and retention. The courts, he said, are doing "everything in our power" to compete — including by offering annual salaries of $130,000, good benefits, additional fees for transcription services and $50,000 signing bonuses.

It just isn't working, Slayton said, in part because private sector reporters can choose when and where they work, sometimes work remotely, pick the cases they cover, and still make thousands of dollars a day.

Something has to change, he said — and soon, given that about 70% of public reporters in the L.A. County Superior Court system are eligible for retirement.

"We need to come together … and figure out a way to solve this," Slayton said. "We are pleading for a solution."

What is the solution?

Several measures to help reduce the reporter shortage have been implemented, including the state's 2022 approval of so-called voice writers, or court reporters who speak into a device to capture what is being said rather than typing out shorthand notes.

 

Other solutions being discussed include allowing court reporters to appear remotely, to both save time and match the flexibility enjoyed by private reporters, and creating one pool of court reporters for all the state's courts, to increase efficiency and minimize competition between systems.

However, what court officials and many legal advocates are pushing for the most is for electronic recording to be allowed in all civil proceedings — as it is already in other state proceedings, in other states' courts and in some federal courts.

Court officials argue that electronic recording devices should be allowed as a backup whenever a reporter is not available, and that the law barring them is based partly on outdated notions of what recording devices are capable of capturing.

Last year, Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) introduced a bill in Sacramento that would have allowed electronic recording — but it stalled amid fierce opposition from court reporters and their union lobbyists. The critics warned the bill would give courts a green light to abandon reporter recruitment efforts and go all-in on electronic recordings, regardless of promises to the contrary.

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