Indigent Plaintiffs in California Now Provided with a Court Reporter

July 09th, 2018

Indigent Plaintiffs in California Now Provided With a Court Reporter

As guardians of the record, court reporters are extremely mindful of the importance of an accurate record. We know that deposition transcripts are frequently used at trial and how crucial it is that the transcript reflects the exact words spoken by the witness. The quality of a transcript can make or break an attorney's case.

Transcripts of court proceedings are just as important. The transcript represents an impartial, verbatim record of what was said in the courtroom and allows appellate courts to make a determination about whether both parties received a fair trial.

In criminal cases, in which one's liberty is at stake, the court provides legal counsel and a trial transcript for appeal if the defendant is indigent. For civil cases, though, plaintiffs are on their own. Even if they qualify for a fee waiver and aren't required to pay court filing fees, if they end up on the losing side of a motion or trial they have to pay full market rates for a verbatim transcript to use on appeal. If they don't have resources available to pay a court reporter, they can

For California residents that's about to change, courtesy of a new California Supreme Court ruling. Barry Jameson sued Dr. Taddese Desta for medical malpractice. During the next 10 years, Jameson's case was dismissed by the trial court three times, and every time appeals courts sent the case back (reversed and remanded).

The case was called for trial in 2014. At the end of Jameson's opening statement Dr. Desta's counsel made a motion for nonsuit, which was granted. When Jameson appealed the California Court of Appeals decided against him and cited the lack of a verbatim transcript. Jameson then requested that the California Supreme Court review the case, arguing that he was denied access to justice because his financial status precluded him from having a court reporter prepare a verbatim transcript.

In a ruling released July 5, the California Supreme Court agreed. Chief Justice TaniCantil-Sakauye wrote (emphasis added):

“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.

“Accordingly, we conclude that the court policy in question is invalid as applied to plaintiff and other fee waiver recipients, and that an official court reporter, or other valid means to create an official verbatim record for purposes of appeal, must generally be made available to in forma pauperis litigants upon request.”

Jameson's attorney, Michael Shipley, said:

“Access to justice is a huge civil rights issue and we had 40 different organizations that either filed or joined amicus briefs because this issue was affecting in a negative way all kinds of people’s rights to petition the government for redress of their grievances."

Court officials noted that their budgets had been cut drastically over the last 10 years and that it wasn't an issue of not wanting to provide Jameson with a court reporter; it was an issue of not having the funding. They said they would comply with the ruling, though, and re-evaluate their procedures.

To schedule a court reporter for a deposition or hearing, please call Legal Media Experts at 800-446-1387