Monday, March 12, 2012
CJP Voices Concern Over Court Reporter Cutbacks
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Court reporter cutbacks around the state threaten the ability of the Commission on Judicial Performance to investigate and prove judicial misconduct, the commision has told state officials.
The lack of a verbatim record of proceedings “impairs [the commission’s] ability to fulfill its mandate to protect the public, and undermines the administration of justice in court proceedings in California,” commission Director-Chief Counsel Victoria Henley wrote.
Henley’s comments came in a Feb. 29 letter to the governor, chief justice, and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly. She said she was writing at the request of the commission, which “takes no position on how the problem should be fixed but urges, for the public’s protection, that the problem be addressed and resolved.”
A copy of the letter was obtained by the MetNews.
Henley explained that because judicial misconduct must be proven by clear and convincing evidence to discipline a judge, the lack of a courtroom record can be fatal to the commission’s efforts. Ninety-five percent of the complaints to the commission involve courtroom conduct, she said, and as of December, the commission had transcripts or recordings in only half its pending investigations in those cases.
Court reporters have been targeted by budget-cutters in courts around the state, Henley noted, citing news or web reports of 15 reporters laid off in Alameda County last October and 22 in San Francisco in November.
Other courts that have laid off reporters in the last two years include Santa Cruz, Napa, and Marin. The Los Angeles Superior Court revealed last week that it intends to lay off 60 reporters, convert 60 others to part-time status, and eliminate the use of court-employed reporters in civil trials, apart from family law cases.
Other states, Henley said, have adopted statutes or court rules requiring either verbatim reporting or audio recording of all court proceedings, at least in courts of record. In New York, she noted, even courts not of record—the state has about 1,200 village and town justice courts in counties outside New York City—are required to audio record all proceedings, and the state supplies the equipment.
“This problem should be addressed before the administration of justice in California is further compromised, in the commission’s cases as well as in judicial proceedings,” Henley said.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company