Friday, July 6, 2018
Indigent Litigants Are Entitled to Services of Court Reporter
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court decided yesterday that a litigant who qualifies for a fee waiver is entitled have the Superior Court provide an official court reporter at a trial or hearing, even if that court generally requires parties to arrange for a private court reporter if they want a transcript.
The result is compelled by Government Code section 68086(b) which provides that the fee for a court reporter “shall be waived for a person who has been granted a fee waiver,” Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said in an opinion for a unanimous court.
“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.”
‘Other Valid Means’
Although Cantil-Sakauye alluded to “other valid means” of transcription, she went on to note that Government Code §69957 “currently precludes California courts from utilizing electronic recording to generate an official certified verbatim record of trial court proceedings except in limited civil actions and criminal proceedings involving misdemeanors and infractions.”
She pointed out, however:
“A number of other states have addressed the significant financial cost associated with the use of court reporters by authorizing courts to utilize electronic recording as a means of generating an officially recognized verbatim record of trial court proceedings that can be relied upon on appeal.”
The chief justice declared that “when a superior court adopts a general policy under which official court reporters are not made available in civil cases but parties who can afford to pay for a private court reporter are permitted to do so,” as the San Diego Superior Court did, it “must include in its policy an exception for fee waiver recipients that assures such litigants the availability of a verbatim record of the trial court proceedings.”
The chief justice declared:
“Because the challenged San Diego Superior Court policy at issue here lacks such an exception, we conclude the policy is invalid as applied to fee waiver recipients. Thus, the trial court erred in failing to make an official court reporter available to plaintiff upon request.”
Superior Court Proceedings
San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel M. Pressman declined to order that a court reporter be provided for trial although plaintiff Barry S. Jameson, who is incarcerated, qualified for a fee waiver. Following his opening statement to the jury, by telephone, Pressman granted a nonsuit.
Div. One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed, saying that “we conclude that Jameson cannot demonstrate that the trial court erred in granting [the] motion for nonsuit, because the record on appeal does not contain a reporter’s transcript.”
Cantil-Sakauye’s opinion reverses the Court of Appeal’s affirmance of the nonsuit, and remands the case for an examination of Pressman’s alternative basis of finding for the defendants: a dismissal based on the action not having been brought to trial within four years.
The case is Jameson v. Desta, 2018 S.O.S. 3377.
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