The court reporter is the silent, often ignored, member of the courtroom team. He or she sits quietly, typing everything that is said into the stenography machine. The court reporter’s role is essential in recording and memorializing all of the testimony and argument offered, as well as all of the words uttered by the judge.
When I started practicing trial law a quarter century ago, every courtroom — I mean every courtroom! — had a court reporter. That reporter was integral to the functioning of the court; and he or she was as well-known as the judge and the clerk. The product of the reporter’s effort, the transcript for the proceeding, was as indispensable as anything else having to do with a case.
Then the budget ax hit the California courts. In non-criminal proceedings in many counties the court reporter became dispensable. Litigants were given the option of bringing their own court reporter to court with them, or purchasing a poor quality audio recording of the hearing, which they could then deliver to a court reporter of their choosing for transcription. The transcript was still just as important as it has always been, but there just was no longer a means of having one.
The elimination of court reporters is yet another shameful example of how politicians have compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the courts. Not only does the lack of a record hamper the court, the lawyers, and the parties in prosecuting the case at the trial level; it also undermines effective review of cases by the court of appeal. Consider for example the case of In re the Marriage of Bobadilla, an unpublished opinion out of Placer County.
The case involves husband’s challenge of child support and spousal support orders imposed upon him. More significant for purposes of this writing is the court’s repeated reference to the fact that there was no transcript for it to review. As the court explains, “the appellate record does not include a reporter’s transcript of the hearing in this matter. This is referred to as a “judgment roll” appeal. (Allen v. Toten (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 1079, 1082-1083; Krueger v. Bank of America (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 204, 207.)”
Repeatedly the court references the lack of a transcript, and intimates that the case is made more difficult to decide because of that fact. The written opinion is slightly more than four pages long, and yet the court no less than six times makes mention of the absence of a transcript as hampering its ability to fully consider the case. This tells me two things: First, Mr. Bobadilla may have won on appeal if there was a reporter’s transcript. Two, the appellate court was saying to all litigants, please get us a transcript! That second point is easier said than done. How do you get a transcript when there are no longer court reporters in the courtrooms? If you are a low income person representing yourself because you cannot afford an attorney, how do you come up with the thousands of dollars required to bring your own court reporter with you to your hearing? You don’t, and the judicial process is undermined because of that.
Please click here to read the original Bobadilla opinion.
Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.
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