The Importance of Court Reporters & Court Transcripts

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Court-Reporter-Court-TranscriptsThe 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  Consider for example the case of In re the Marriage of Bobadilla, an unpublished opinion out of Placer County.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, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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Comments 6

  1. As an official court reporter for Monterey County Superior Court I thank you for your comments on the benefits of having court reporters. Unfortunately, having done transcripts from audio recordings, without a reporter being present in the courtroom at the time of the hearing there is no one to make sure the recording is working, stopping parties when they are speaking over one another, and being able to continue writing even when someone is rustling papers into the mic. The amount of inaudibles that go into a typed transcript from an audio recording is very worrisome and should concern all parties on a case. As for the cost of bringing in an outside reporter, the costs can only go up as the firms supplying the reporters have freedom to charge what they deem reasonable, and then adding another cost when a transcript is requested. Those of us working in an official capacity in the courtroom would only be charging parties the cost of the transcript, which makes a transcript more affordable for all.

  2. Yes, thank you for noticing and articulately pointing out the importance of court reporters! I only wish more people would fully realize what we do and what we have to offer…advanced technology, unlike a “recording”!

  3. Thank you for appreciating the work of court reporters. We care deeply about producing accurate and professional transcripts for use in the judicial system. When we are asked to transcribe an audio recording of a hearing or trial, we know there will be portions that are inaudible or indiscernible, as well as portions that are blank or missing. It is disheartening to think that such a substandard record is “good enough” for litigants that cannot afford to hire a professional certified court reporter.

  4. Some states are contracting with one company to do all transcripts, Escribers, and not letting the attorneys or the clerks pick the transcriber, despite the rules calling for that. Escribers transcribers no longer put in [inaudible] where it’s inaudible. They put dashes. And the rules require that the certificate page state that the transcriber has listened to inaudible sections at least three times. That has been omitted.

  5. Very interesting since integral to law is the Judge asking the stenographer to “read back” a certain claim made in order I would imagine “inform judgement.”

    From an historical point of view no nearing can be “adjudicated” without reference to the primary source…which can only be obtained through an actual transcribing. Most questions as it relates to transcription in a Court Proceeding exist in order to asceratin the accuracy of the reporting itself and more often than not have no bearing on any said proceeding. Such a behavior does put everything “on record” however and does give rise to the possibility of storage and retrieval such that precedent can indeed be literally ascertained and seen thus pointing to any attempt at diverting from “stated law” and thus would be at a variance to Anglo Saxon traditions that overruling the Judge himself is what has come before the Judge (arbitrary and capricious.)

    I find it rather odd that the “future” takes such a keen interest in destroying the existence of a past when it comes to law..making one wonder if the entire edifice isn’t based upon pure conjecture or “made up law” as it were.

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