Indigent Plaintiffs in California Now Provided with a Court Reporter

July 9, 2018

Indigent Plaintiffs in California Now Provided With a Court

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

“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