Court Reporter Shortage in California

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By the Superior Court of California

Each day across California, tens of thousands of court hearings are held. Lawyers argue, witnesses testify, litigants tell their stories and judges make decisions. What many people do not appreciate is the crucial role played by a court reporter: creating and preserving a verbatim record of those exchanges. As a chronic shortage of court reporters reaches crisis levels, the statutory framework for court reporting must adjust to the new realities of the reporting profession.

THE PROBLEM: There is a court reporter shortage in California – and across the nation – that has been long developing.

  • In 2005, the Judicial Council warned that, “since the early 1990’s, California’s courts have experienced a steady decline in the number of available qualified shorthand reporters. [...] Additionally, the reduction of court reporting schools and curriculums in California over recent years complicates the courts’ ability to attract sufficient numbers of well-trained reporters. [2005, Reporting of the Record Task Force, Final Report, p. 6.]

  • Nationally, a 2013 study by the National Court Reporters Association projected that “Decreased enrollment and graduation rates for court reporters, combined with significant retirement rates, will create by 2018 a critical shortfall projected to represent nearly 5,500 court reporting positions.” [Ducker Worldwide, 2013-2014: Court Reporting Industry Outlook Report, Executive Summary, p. 5.]

  • In 2017, the Chief Justice’s Futures Commission Final Report warned, “National data show the number of skilled court reporters is decreasing. Certified court reporting schools have experienced smaller enrollment and graduation rates, which are declining by an annual average of 7.3 percent[...]” [Report to the Chief Justice: Commission on the Future of California’s Court System, p. 240.]

  • In 2018, the Judicial Council wrote to the Legislature that, “the state would [...] have a gap of approximately 2,750 court reporters by 2023 if forecasted demand remains constant.” [March 29, 2018, letter from the Judicial Council to Hon. Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, Chair Assembly Appropriations Committee, re: Assembly Bill 2354.]

Today in California, only nine Certified Shorthand Reporter programs remain. In 2021, only 175 examinees took the licensing exam – and only 36 passed.

The result is a crisis in court reporter availability that has been developing for years.

THE SHORTAGE OF COURT REPORTERS IMPACTS LITIGANTS ACROSS CALIFORNIA:

In accordance with Penal Code § 190.9 and § 869, Code of Civil Procedure § 269 and Welfare and Institution Code § 347 and § 677, California courts must provide court reporters in felony criminal and dependency and delinquency juvenile courtrooms. Court reporters are not statutorily required to be provided by the courts in civil, family law, probate, misdemeanor criminal and traffic courtrooms.

And yet, many California courts do not have enough court reporters to cover mandated criminal felony matters – let alone the wide range of areas in which litigants need a record of court proceedings.

Over 50% of the California courts have reported that they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types including civil, family law and probate.

FUNDING IS NOT THE SOLUTION: There is no one to hire.

The Legislature provides $30 million annually to the California courts to hire additional court reporters, with a focus on family law and civil courtrooms. However, because of the decline in court reporters, the crisis continues.

Today 71 percent of the state’s 58 trial courts are actively recruiting for court reporters: Alameda; Butte; Contra Costa; Del Norte; El Dorado; Fresno; Humboldt; Imperial; Kern; Lake; Los Angeles; Madera; Marin; Merced; Monterey; Nevada; Orange; Placer; Riverside; Sacramento; San Benito; San Bernardino; San Diego; San Francisco, San Joaquin; San Luis Obispo; San Mateo; Santa Barbara; Santa Clara; Santa Cruz; Shasta; Siskiyou; Solano; Sonoma; Stanislaus; Tehama; Tulare; Tuolumne; Ventura; Yolo; and Yuba.

THE CURRENT STATUTORY FRAMEWORK INHIBITS CREATIVE RESPONSES TO THE SHORTAGE OF COURT REPORTERS:

With the exception of limited civil, misdemeanor and infraction cases, Government Code § 69957 prohibits the courts from providing electronic recording in civil, family law and probate courtrooms.

Government Code § 69959 and Code of Civil Procedure § 367.75(d)(2)(A) mandate court reporters to be present in the courtrooms – rather than taking advantage of emerging technologies that would allow the court to provide this service remotely to multiple courtrooms throughout the county, providing more services with existing resources while making the profession more attractive to young, potential court reporters.

Government Code § 69942 requires all court reporters who work in a court to be certified in California which restricts courts from hiring out-of-state independent firms to provide this service.

CONCLUSION: More funding is not the solution.

We stand with our court reporters in recognizing and appreciating their value and service to the California judicial branch but we must acknowledge that we are facing a California – and national – court reporter shortage.

This shortage will not be solved by increased funding. Without changes to the current statutory framework for court reporting, all courts will face the inevitable day, already seen by a few California courts, of not having enough court reporters to cover the mandated felony criminal and juvenile dependency and delinquency cases.

Every litigant in California should have access to the record. Ideally, this would be provided by a court reporter but when none are available, other options need to be available to the courts. We are ready, able and willing to work with all stakeholders on finding ways to ensure that all litigants who need a record have access to one.

 

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mstruss Nov 09, 2022 01:09 PM
Court Reporter Shortage in California

I think the low pass rate on the court reporting certification test is in part due to a failure of our schools to teach writing, grammar and usage. For anyone who wants to become a court reporter, I have a very unique and affordable program called StarTran Online . I have taught many of the court reporters who have worked in Santa Barbara Superior Court and deposition agencies in the area. Please go to startran.com for more information.

VinSB Nov 08, 2022 09:15 AM
Court Reporter Shortage in California

It's difficult to read articles on Edhat these days with the bouncing ads. Using the search function, I couldn't find any reference to community colleges. This might be the source of the problem. When I attended community college in the 80's, stenography and other required (e.g., legal terminology) courses were offered. Stenography skills lead to the required certification to become a Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) - the requirement for obtaining a court reporter job. One must attend a State approved program (not a problem), but they aren't offered at many public colleges/institutions. Why doesn't SBCC offer this certification? Here is a list of colleges: https://www.cal-ccra.org/court-reporting-schools. And here is some other info: https://www.courtreportersboard.ca.gov/formspubs/student_career.pdf

a-1667929574 Nov 08, 2022 09:46 AM
Court Reporter Shortage in California

The courts also need more judges. Also more public defenders. Also more probation officers. Also more maintenance staff. Also more.......

CoastWatch Nov 07, 2022 07:48 PM
Court Reporter Shortage in California

@ ASS166- Ummm, court reporters and deposition / court interpreters are both State Certified positions that are in high demand and they often work side by side...

a-1667855554 Nov 07, 2022 01:12 PM
Court Reporter Shortage in California

Court reporters have long been one of the highest paid persons in the courtroom even though their salary seems within reason. They were paid substantial money for transcribing their notes when the cases were appealed. This was the big bonus. Not sure what that situation is today. It does seem that the prohibition of technology in the court is problematic. (Many tests have confirmed that mere recording is not a solution as the recording is often mumbleld, speakers talk over each other, they are in odd places in the court, etc.) And the course of a trial is dynamic and having a responsive person to make clear what was said in a timely manner is important. So is the lack of applicants due to a lack of knowledge of the opportunity. Do the existing reporters have a closed society that no one outside can pierce?

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