Court reporters essential to an effective system of justice
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Labor Day is truly America’s day. It is the one day that is devoted to, and celebrates, the dignity of working-class Americans. In other words, it is the day that recognizes and honors the 99 percent of us who go to work each day, take pride in the work we do and pass down to our children and grandchildren the work ethic that constitutes the core of America’s greatness.
But full participation in that laudable work ethic is artificially blocked for at least some working Americans. Among those are the approximately 90 court reporters employed by the Orange County Superior Court.
Court reporters provide the official record of court proceedings. They record all testimony during a trial, all attorney questions and motions and all of a judge’s statements and rulings; in summary, everything that happens while a trial is “on the record.” That record is essential to the objective, accurate effectiveness of our justice system, which, in turn, is essential to our level of confidence as a society in the legitimacy of that system.
But despite the critical role they play in the administration of justice, for the past few years Orange County Superior Court administrators have reduced the workday of court reporters to a strict seven hours. You might ask, “So what’s the big deal?”
This is the big deal.
First, court reporters are predominantly women, so the court is not-so-subtly imposing discriminatory cost reductions on the backs of female workers.
Further, reducing the workday of court reporters results in a negative domino effect on the entire judicial system. Courtroom schedules, and the schedules of all other court staff, are based on eight-hour days. That means that judges, court clerks, courtroom assistants, interpreters, bailiffs, transportation personnel and countless other courtroom staff must abruptly stop performing or wind down their duties because a court reporter is no longer available to continue a trial.
The adverse impacts don’t stop there. District attorneys, public defenders, county counsel and their support staffs are deprived of valuable courtroom time. The same is true for private attorneys, for both plaintiffs and defendants, and their support staffs, resulting in longer trials, delayed trials and higher legal fees, making painfully real the maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Last, but certainly not least, are the impacts on the public the judicial system exists to serve. Plaintiffs and defendants, victims and survivors, are denied timely adjudication of their cases. Those serving the critical role of jurors and as witnesses are compelled to unnecessarily sacrifice even more time away from work and families.
When court days are shorter, everyone involved suffers, and, more importantly, justice suffers. Yet court administrators contend that the reduction in court reporter workdays is an “operational” decision. Which begs several questions. How is shortening courtroom days operationally beneficial? How is requiring other court employees to cut short their workdays operationally beneficial? How is extending the number of trial days, causing attorney, party, witness and juror inconvenience operationally beneficial? How are higher costs to everyone dependent on the judicial system and delayed access to justice operationally beneficial?
All of these negative impacts can be readily eliminated. Simply return regular working hours for Orange County court reporters to a normal eight-hour day, just like their co-workers.
The restoration of judicial efficiency and confidence would obviously be an important consequence of such an action. But as we celebrate this Labor Day, there are two primary additional benefits. Restoring court reporters’ normal work schedule would be a step toward ending the court’s current gender discrimination. And restoring their normal work schedule would enable Orange County court reporters to make a maximum contribution to the administration of justice in the county, to fulfill their role as critical contributors to that system and to demonstrate the work ethic that makes them, and us, proud to be Americans. That’s what we should be celebrating on Labor Day.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: September 2, 2016