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The LA Times finally covers court reporters: "No transcript, no appeal: California courts face ‘crisis’ over lack of records." Our response.

On April 12, The Los Angeles Times included a story on Court Reporters and the ongoing shortage. You can read it yourself by clicking here. A follow-up response from, in our opinion, a poorly-informed retired attorney, is wrong headed. You can read that particular response by clicking here. We responded with a letter to the editor, which the LA Times chose not to publish. You can read it HERE (written by firm COO Rick Leonard, shortly before he joined the firm in May, 2024): I’m writing in response to the article titled "No transcript, no appeal: California courts face ‘crisis’ over lack of records" published in The Los Angeles Times on April 15. This article brings to light the critical shortage of court reporters in California's judicial system and the proposed alternatives, including electronic recording devices.

For full transparency, please note that I’ve been married to a licensed California Certified Shorthand Reporter (aka a “court reporter”) for 42 years. She’s been licensed since 1976, and since 1993 has owned and operated a court reporting agency, facilitating the provision of court reporters, videographers and interpreters for pre-trial discovery and court proceedings. Further, throughout my own professional life, I’ve dealt with scores of lawyers dealing with transactional, intellectual property and estate matters.

As the article rightly points out, the absence of a verbatim record poses a significant obstacle to the administration of justice, hindering litigants' ability to appeal rulings and defend their rights effectively. However, I believe it is essential to underscore the unique value that court reporters bring to legal proceedings beyond mere transcription.

One aspect that warrants particular attention is the invaluable service of real-time reporting provided by court reporters. Real-time reporting allows for the immediate translation of spoken words into text, enabling judges, attorneys, and parties to follow proceedings in real-time, and allows easy reference to any prior moment of interest during that proceeding. This capability enhances the efficiency and accuracy of courtroom proceedings, facilitating a smoother and more transparent legal process.

Moreover, court reporters possess the ability to immediately read back testimony that has taken place earlier in a proceeding—a capability that electronic recording devices cannot replicate. This real-time feedback loop is invaluable in ensuring that testimony is accurately captured and understood by all parties involved, thereby minimizing misunderstandings and potential disputes.

In addition to their real-time reporting capabilities, court reporters bring a level of professionalism, expertise, and discretion to the courtroom that is unmatched by electronic recording devices. Their training and experience equip them to navigate complex legal proceedings with precision and efficiency, ensuring that the record is comprehensive and accurate.

A letter received by The Times in response to the article from a retired attorney (whose record in the California Bar indicates inactivity in the field for several years) urges the adoption of tape recorders, and complains about the cooperation of court reporters and the fees that they charge. While she notes her 30 years in the legal profession, her claims are puzzling. How would she expect a tape recorder to handle a witness who “swallows their words?” Or, during a deposition, how would a tape recorder deal with a witness who speaks over the attorney asking questions, or attorneys speaking over each other? Further, human error on the part of the tape recorder operator can lead to problems: “I forgot to bring an extra set of batteries;” or “I forgot to press ‘record’” will indeed happen. While electronic recording devices may offer a seemingly convenient solution to the shortage of court reporters, they fail to capture the nuanced interactions and intricacies of courtroom proceedings or pre-trial discovery.

And need I say how ironic it is to read a letter from an attorney complaining about fees?

Investing in the recruitment and training of court reporters, including the development of training programs in the community college setting, is not only a pragmatic solution to the current shortage but also a reaffirmation of our commitment to upholding the integrity and fairness of the legal system.

In conclusion, the crisis facing California courts underscores the indispensable role of court reporters in preserving the integrity of our justice system. Real-time reporting and the ability to immediately read back testimony are just two examples of the unique value that court reporters bring to the courtroom. It is imperative that we prioritize the recruitment, training, and retention of court reporters to ensure that every litigant has access to a fair and transparent legal process.

Richard Leonard

Encino, CA

We'd welcome the opinions of others!

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