Court Reporters fight back against electronic recording

A recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee has ignited a firestorm amongst SEIU court reporters in California. The courts are continuing to pursue a false agenda of cost savings by trying to reduce the use of court reporters across the state.

Read the opinion written by Hon. W. Kent Hamlin in the Fresno Bee. Hon. W. Kent Hamlin is a Fresno County Superior Court judge. He submitted this opinion on behalf of himself and the following judges: Hon. Wayne Ellison, Hon. Jeffrey Y. Hamilton, Jr., Hon. Kristi R. Culver Kapetan, Hon. David Gottlieb, Hon. James A. Kelley Jr., Hon. Carlos Cabrera, Hon. John F. Vogt, Hon. Alvin M. Harrell III, Hon. David Kalemkarian, Hon. Edward Sarkisian, Hon. Jane Cardoza, Hon. Jon Kapetan, Hon. Alan Simpson.

Studies have shown that fewer court reporters means that those without resources receive unequal access and that the hidden costs of electronic recordings can quickly exceed any alleged savings.

SEIU members have overwhelmed The Bee with responses to the op-ed pointing out the many errors it contained:

“Electronic recording has consistently shown itself to be unreliable. Many U.S. courts have tried it and are moving back to official court reporters after experiencing mechanical failures and missing portions of the electronic record,” wrote Abby Fields, from Stockton.

“What your editorial fails to address is that numerous courts are returning to the use of court reporters after attempting the use of electronic recording,” wrote Carrie A. Dall from Manteca.

Among the letter writers was Jennifer Whitlock from the Superior Court of San Joaquin County. Her letter said in part: “It is unconscionable to trade one’s right to justice when it can be guaranteed.” Another writer, SEIU 521 member Anne Hall from the Superior Court of Monterey County said simply, “[Electronic recording] in the courts is not justice for all.  It represents a policy that does not believe in equality for its citizens under the law.”

We are fighting back to ensure that all Californians have equal access to justice. Having live court reporters who provide an accurate record of legal proceedings is a key component of our justice system.

Live court reporters are cost-effective for justice system
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): The Bee editorial board and the Legislative Analyst’s Office rely on a discredited report over a decade old. Professional court reporters continue to provide at their own expense the most advanced digital technology in producing the court record at rates that are now 25 years old.
Court reporters generate $40 million per year in fees, as civil litigants pay for their services, not the state’s general fund. Antiquated recording equipment creates innumerable problems — lost recordings, mistrials requiring costly retrials and lack of security for sensitive information. Witness the recent loss of words spoken by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who asked a question from the bench for the first time in seven years — the recording missed it.
— Arnella Sims, Los Angeles
Read more here.

Electronic recordings too unreliable for our courts
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): Electronic recording has consistently shown itself to be unreliable. Many U.S. courts have tried it and are moving back to official court reporters after experiencing mechanical failures and missing portions of the electronic record. A reporter present in the proceedings would instantly alert the parties that something was amiss.
If you or a loved one was a party in court, would you want to entrust that case and its outcome to such an unreliable method of making the record, and then hope it is available and accurate if you need to appeal?
The judicial system is the third branch of the government, and it deserves to be treated as such. We should not accept less.
— Abby Fields, Stockton
Read more here.

California court reporters are in electronic age already
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): Court reporters are the electronic age. Official reporters incur the cost of expensive equipment to provide what is undeniably the most accurate record to date. This allows for a written transcript to be provided efficiently and, most importantly, accurately.
Electronic recording still needs to be reduced back to the written word. Without official reporters, this is accomplished by unregulated personnel at the expense of accuracy. What your editorial fails to address is that numerous courts are returning to the use of court reporters after attempting the use of electronic recording for this as well as many other reasons.
— Carrie A. Dall, Manteca
Read more here.

Live court reporters ensure access to fair justice
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 – 1:02 pm
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): Technology can’t compare to a live court reporter. Court reporters are able to guarantee the verbatim record is being made, which is not true of electronic recording. In trial court proceedings, life is unfiltered; people testify through sobs, whisper, cough and talk over one another.
Electronic recording simply records these indiscernible sounds. A court reporter knows when clarification is needed and does it on the spot, ensuring the quality and accuracy of the record. Electronic recording offers no assurances. There is no remedy for a record that is unclear, unintelligible, or non-existent. It is unconscionable to trade one’s right to justice when it can be guaranteed.
— Jennifer Whitlock, Lodi
Read more here.

Human court reporters can’t be replaced with electronics
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): I have been a court reporter for 30-plus years. This article points out nothing that hasn’t been re-hashed over and over again. I’m appalled once again by the attack on court reporters in this state and everywhere.
Court reporters provide an accurate, cost-effective service to the courts, and preserve the record that is unmatched by any electronic recording devices. Your editorial is without merit and is inaccurate. Court reporters are needed to provide an accurate record that electronic recording simply cannot duplicate.
— Brian L. Graber, Stockton
Read more here.

Electronic court recordings won’t save money, will hurt justice
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): Do your research next time. You blew it on this one.
The cost savings claimed for electronic recording are inaccurate. Numerous states have learned this through painful experience and have brought back stenographic reporters.
There’s a reason why California law mandates the use of stenographic reporters in felonies and juvenile matters. These important cases deserve the most accurate, timely record possible, regardless of one’s ability to pay.
The real story about California courts is how the court budget is being spent on administration versus actual court operations.
— Karen Thompson, Santa Rosa
Read more here.

Electronic court records won’t work at trials
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): You cannot compare the appellate court or the California Supreme Court with trial courts. The appellate courts rely on the record of the trial proceedings to make their extremely important decisions. The trial testimony is where the rubber hits the road!
The testimony of witnesses cannot be found in a law book, nor can it be properly transcribed by an electronic transcriber who was not in the courtroom to clarify an inaudible, garbled or unintelligible answer. The transcriber cannot ask the parties to stop talking over each other. It cannot produce a transcript when there is an undetected malfunction in the recording equipment. There is an abundance of documented cases from states that have moved to electronic recording that have been overturned due to the lack of trial testimony from an electronically recorded record.
— Jenell Mullane, Redwood City
Read more here.

Electronic court recording technology isn’t there yet
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): A pilot study done in the 1990s — really? Often, the judge I work for has interrupted the proceedings while staring at my real-time transcript to say, “Hey, I know it looks like I’m playing solitaire up here, but I’m not. You see, I’m a visual learner. It helps me to see your arguments in written form.”
Many of us are visual learners. At some point, that difficult medical examiner’s testimony has to be put into words; that emotional, tearful witness has to be put into words. Who is going to do it? What is going to happen is that electronic recording will be outsourced, probably to some person in the Philippines getting paid a few dollars to bang out a transcript. That’s unacceptable.
Court reporters are still relevant because we are the best way to maintain the record. Ever try “Dragon Dictation”? Technology isn’t there yet.
— Megan Zalmai, San Ramon

Electronic courtroom recordings a simplistic solution
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): I am a court reporting student and found the editorial quite alarming. To say that court reporters can be replaced by electronic recording as an easy and obvious solution to help the state save money fails to grasp the importance of the court reporter as well as the inherent flaws of electronic recording. My court reporting mentor once wrote 360 words per minute accurately. It is doubtful that electronic recording would ever attempt such a feat.
Moreover, I have heard of many court cases where testimony was lost because the electronic recording was not turned on. Lastly, a judge at a seminar I went to a few years back said, “I want a human being in the courtroom.” I respectfully invite the editorial’s author to re-examine its contents.
— Matthew Hanneman, Lake Arrowhead
Read more here.

Human court reporters make a difference in justice
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): It’s unfortunate that The Bee’s editorial board has a short-sighted view of what court reporters do. With our skill and state-of-the-art equipment and software, we are capable of putting the spoken work in written form immediately, enabling judges and attorneys to accurately and efficiently dispense justice. Being present at proceedings, we identify speakers accurately and interject when necessary to be sure every word is clearly understood.
Having transcribed audio recordings, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify speakers and transcribe multiple voices at once. In addition, it is very expensive and one usually ends up with a transcript full of “inaudibles.” Justice is best served with court reporters.
— Karen Cosgrove, Sacramento
Read more here.
Electronic recordings can’t replace humans in court

Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): The Bee’s biased editorial is misleading and devoid of actual facts.
Witnesses speak softly, cough, sneeze, mumble and make non-verbal sounds. Lawyers talk over each other, as do judges. An electronic recorder just plays on, not knowing the difference. For obvious reasons, 2012 legislation requires that electronic transcripts designate “inaudible” or “unintelligible” where such is the case. Only a living court reporter can cure these ills by stopping the proceeding, cautioning lawyers, and asking for repeats.
Appellate courts’ use of electronic recording is irrelevant. A verbatim record is not required as it is in trial courts. Witnesses don’t testify in appeals courts, and only one lawyer is permitted to speak at a time. Federal district trial courts use live reporters, not electronics.
Electronic recording in trial courts will only create a new ground for appeal by convicted felons. That’s what California can’t afford.
— Dick Manford, Sacramento
Read more here.

Electronic court recordings won’t save money for California
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 – 10:02 am
Re “State courts must enter the electronic age” (Editorials, Feb. 1): Unfortunately, this editorial misses the mark on the effectiveness of electronic recording saving California money. If California courts switch to electronic recording, who is going to pay for the equipment, maintain the equipment, monitor the equipment, and produce a transcript?
Under our present system, court reporters pay for everything involved in producing a transcript, including equipment, software, maintenance, insurance and all production costs. The rates that court reporters charge in Superior Court have not increased since 1991, yet court reporters’ expenses continue to increase on a regular basis.
Since 2008, Iowa, Oregon, Texas and New York have demanded court reporters return to their courts, citing unexpected delays, inaccuracies, and hidden costs while using electronic recordings. What a shame if California taxpayers end up paying more for much less.
— Janice Scott, San Francisco
Read more here.

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One Response to “Court Reporters fight back against electronic recording”

  1. Sigal Stein says:

    My experience is that judges purposely avoid recording evidentiary parts of hearings in order to come up with arbitrary rulings that can’t be appealed. The only thing worse than a missing electronic recording is a clerk misrepresenting what was said and corrupting the record.


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