When you compare electronic recording to a technologically savvy real-time court reporter, the court reporter is still the best, most cost-effective choice. This court reporter has the ability to create a record in real time to give the judge and attorneys an immediate rough draft as the proceedings occur, saving time for the court and the attorneys. A court using electronic recording would have to hire many transcriptionists to review and interpret what was said in order to return a transcript replete with "inaudibles" or "unintelligible."
Referenced in your article is the 1991 pilot study on electronic recording. What you failed to mention was the finding that an audio courtroom costs $7,000 annually more to run than a court reporter-staffed courtroom. The executive summary states that the report by the Judicial Council was flawed in that it failed to take into consideration a number of cost items related to audio expansion and "seriously underestimates the costs."
Court reporters are licensed professionals utilizing up-to-date technology purchased and maintained themselves. The steno writer needed to take down the testimony is purchased solely by the court reporter. To produce mandated transcripts, the court reporters must personally supply computers, software, printer, paper and binding materials and work outside regular court hours, sometimes at the cost of their family time.
Court reporters are the technology the courts need. They are the guardian of the written record in our trial courts. They ensure access to justice to all the citizens in our state. Court reporters are and will continue to be the stellar and cost-effective way to run a technology-based courtroom.
Your "simple and cost-effective fix to the problem" is quite naive. Walk into a state court and watch the 50-75 defendants a day, and their attorneys, all speaking in what they call a "whisper." The certified shorthand reporter has the extraordinary ability to capture verbatim what all those people say, none of them near a microphone.
When asked about this editorial, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Wayne Ellison said the paper "cites the use of recording devices in appellate courts as evidence that those devices should now be used in all courts. That conclusion wrongly assumes that appellate proceedings bear any relation whatever to the dynamic environment of the trial court, and that the need for an accurate record of appellate arguments is of equal importance to the preservation of testimony in the trial courts."
"Recording devices simply do not ensure a trial record equal to that provided by a court reporter and do not create a record adequate to protect the rights of litigants and their attorneys."
Appellate courts do not hear testimony. Appellate courts use the court reporter's written record to make their decisions.
Ellison goes on to say, "The recommendation, if adopted, would serve to further separate the "haves" from the "have nots" in California's justice system."
Why would California deny its citizens an accurate record for appellate consideration? Why do we think it is OK to only allow the privileged to have access to a verbatim record?
Court reporters provide equal access to justice by ensuring that even indigent litigants have an accurate record for appellate consideration.
Garcia is a certified shorthand reporter and president of the California Court Reporters Association.
Editor's Note: This article was submitted in response to "State courts must enter electronic age," which ran Feb. 4 in The Bee.