January 15, 2024
The Honorable Anthony Portantino
Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee
1021 O Street, Suite 7630
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 662 (Rubio) – Support
Dear Senator Portantino and Members of the Committee:
This letter is to convey Inland Action’s support for SB 662 (Rubio), which would expand the permitted use of electronic recording of proceedings when certified court reporters are unavailable. Inland Action is a non-profit, non-partisan corporation of public-spirited leaders who have joined together to be catalysts for the economic well-being of the Inland Empire region of California since 1962.
SB 662 addresses a growing crisis in our court system caused by the critical shortage of court reporters. The lack of court reporters results in a denial of due process and access to justice, particularly for low-income litigants without the resources to hire private court reporters, as litigants are deprived of a verbatim record of the court proceedings. California has a two-tiered justice system where those with the greatest resources can obtain live court reporters, and others do not. Litigants are harmed when they are unable to obtain a verbatim transcript of their proceedings, necessary to protect their rights on what are often extremely significant personal and family matters.
There is presently a severe shortage of official court reporters across the State, such that trial courts are no longer able to provide a reporter in each courtroom. When an official reporter is unavailable, electronic recording can provide a reliable substitute so that there is an adequate record of proceedings. Such use is common in the federal courts.
State law, however, severely limits the types of proceedings in which electronic recording is authorized. Amending that law to expand the types of cases in which electronic recording is permitted would reduce the number of proceedings in which no record is made and preserve the limited supply of certified court reporters for the highest priority proceedings.
Traditionally, a record of court proceedings has been kept by a court reporter, specifically, a Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR). California has strict requirements for CSRs in the State’s trial courts. Over the past several years, however, the number of CSRs has declined precipitously – in California and nationwide. Older CSRs are retiring, and the rate of younger workers interested in entering the profession has fallen vastly short of the replacement need. Many of those who attempt to enter the profession do not complete the necessary schooling and certification requirements to become CSRs.
According to a January 2022 report prepared for the California Trial Court Consortium (whose membership includes all California courts with 38 judges or fewer), the court reporter crisis is worse in California than in any other state. Efforts to address the shortage by aggressive recruitment and pay increases, including a $30 million appropriation by the Legislature in 2021 and 2022 for that purpose, have not resolved the problem. There remains a substantial – and growing – mismatch between the dwindling supply of available CSRs and the demand Courts have for such professionals.
Electronic digital recording is now sufficiently advanced to permit confidence in its use as an accurate substitute when a CSR is not available. In fact, the federal courts routinely use such recordings in lieu of court reporters. Proceedings are recorded (with a trained monitor to ensure complete capture of the proceedings), and if necessary, a transcript can be prepared later from the recording. State law currently permits electronic recording in California courts, but only in very limited circumstances.
Government Code § 69957 states that even where no official reporter is available and the court is adequately equipped technologically, electronic recording may be used only in three types of cases: limited civil (i.e. cases involving less than $25,000 at issue), misdemeanors, and infractions. Thus, if there are no CSRs available, a litigant in an unlimited civil case will have no record of any hearing in their case, even where the court could, technologically, obtain an accurate record by electronic recording.
For these reasons, Inland Action urges your support for passage of SB 662.