CLARIFYING THE RECORD: THERE IS A COURT REPORTER SHORTAGE CRISIS IN 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.
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 court. 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.
Read the official media release.