Want Justice? California Courts Say You Need a Court Reporter

We’ve encouraged pro se litigants to hire a court reporter for hearings, depositions, and trials so often that it’s become a mantra. Here are some examples:

How To Prepare For Your Day In Court? Bring a court reporter. A Court Reporter Stops All Foolishness, one of the 6 Biggest Mistakes Pro Se Litigants Make? Not bringing a court reporter. Access to justice is another issue we embrace in When Access To Justice Is Like Winning The Lottery, Confusing Access To Justice With Judicial Efficiency, and Justice Is The Antidote To Chaos, We’ve decried the lack of real justice in our courts again and again. Well, our admonitions have found major support in the judiciary. The California Supreme Court recently provided a much needed shot in the arm to indigent and moderate income litigants in Jameson v. Desta. Citing access to justice concerns, the court ruled unanimously that indigent litigants are entitled to free court reporters. We feel vindicated.

How Did This Court Decision Come About?

In 2013, Jameson sued his doctor, Desta, claiming that Desta failed to properly treat him while he was incarcerated. Specifically, Desta treated him with Interferon for hepatitis despite the fact that he was already cured of hepatitis. According to Jameson, Desta’s treatment caused him to suffer irreparable harm, and he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The San Diego County Superior Court saw it differently. It denied Jameson’s breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence causes of action and granted Desta’s motion for nonsuit. Jameson appealed.

California’s Fourth Appellate District affirmed the judgment in part because a transcript was required for a review of a nonsuit, and one was not available. The court stated that “An appellant who fails to provide a reporter’s transcript on appeal is precluded “from raising any evidentiary issues on appeal.” (Hodges v. Mark (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th 651, 657.) Because an order granting a nonsuit is dependent on a review of the evidence to be presented at trial, an appellant cannot obtain reversal of such order in the absence of a reporter’s transcript.”

Get a Fair Hearing in Court

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In it’s decision overturning the court of appeals, the California Supreme Court, acknowledged the San Diego County Superior Court’s need to cut corners by eliminating court reporters but gave more weight to the need for indigent civil litigants to have access to court reporters. The Supreme Court judgment raised as an access to justice issue the policy of precluding fee waiver recipients from obtaining access to free court reporters.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote, “By precluding an indigent litigant from obtaining the attendance of an official court reporter (to which the litigant would be entitled without payment of a fee), while at the same time preserving the right of financially able litigants to obtain an officially recognized pro tempore court reporter, the challenged court policy creates the type of restriction of meaningful access to the civil judicial process that the relevant California in forma pauperis precedents and legislative policy render impermissible.” California isn’t the first state to provide free court reporters and or transcripts for indigent litigants. It’s just the most recent. Other states that provide free transcripts to certain litigants include Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, and South Dakota.

The Benefits of A Court Reporter

Courts are right to see the lack of court reporters and court transcripts as access to justice issues. Below are some highlights of how court reporters support access to justice.

Fairer Appeals

Court reporters are critical to a fair hearing on appeal. One of the quickest ways to lose an appeal, as discussed in the California case, is failure to provide a good record of court proceedings. Court reporters provide language and translation services for live testimony and court hearings. Trained in legal proceedings and language, they understand terminology. They learn the case and thus won’t make costly errors in “translating” what happened in the lower court. All this makes for a fairer appeals process.

Less Bias

Court reporters are professionals who take an active role in court proceedings. They have no stake in the outcome of the proceedings as a lawyer might, and they have no motivation to “get you off their docket” as a judge might. Instead, they are neutral, accurate and thorough, writing down everything they hear in court. There is nothing like this type of presence to curtail judicial bias and lawyer antics.

Good Records (Transcripts)

Transcripts created by a court reporter are perhaps the best evidence you’ll need to send to an appeals court or to force a settlement. Even a judge’s order is looked upon as suspect if it conflicts with a transcript of a live court hearing or trial. A court reporter uses a stenotype machine to record or capture everything that happens during a trial, hearing, or deposition. They can swear in witnesses, notarize documents, and produce written transcripts of the proceedings.

These transcripts become the official records of a trial, hearing or deposition. Those who can use transcripts to their advantage win more. So, the next time you’re going to court, bring along a court reporter. It’s one of the best assurances of access to justice. A special thanks to our member Ken for this story.

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