We are writing in response to the recent Sacramento Bee editorial, “It’s time to cut court reporters,” published in the April 28 Tribune.
Although there are many issues that need to be addressed relating to this issue, we will limit our response to the effect that electronic recording would have on our judicial system.
The overwhelming response in the legal community is that court reporters are of crucial and vital importance to the system. We provide an accurate, efficient and verbatim record of courtroom proceedings; this is of benefit to attorneys, their clients, judges and members of the general public. A human being who is trained and skilled in this field cannot be replaced by an audio recording. It’s been implemented in other states and has failed miserably, resulting in lost records and more money spent trying to remedy problems.
Past studies on the issue have proven court reporters are less costly in the long run. Transcriptionists who have had the misfortune of trying to produce accurate, precise, verbatim records from audio recordings can attest to how difficult they are to comprehend.
Imagine listening to an audio recording from a murder trial heard in a courtroom with no court reporter. Imagine you weren’t present, had no experience or training in the legal field and you were trying to discern four different individuals’ voices with the intention of creating an accurate transcript that needs to be produced for a convicted murderer who could possibly get out of prison if his sentence is overturned in the appellate process due to poor or missing electronic recordings.
Imagine that you couldn’t hear legal objections or couldn’t discern the voice of who was speaking. Imagine you identified the wrong person speaking and couldn’t clarify their words. Imagine you had a witness with a heavy accent. Imagine someone was speaking at over 200 words per minute and you couldn’t ask the witness to slow down.
What if this were you in the defendant’s chair and you were sent to prison because of an electronic recording mishap and you were innocent. What would happen? An entirely new trial at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers. A conviction overturned and a convict-ed murderer out on our streets. An innocent person sentenced to prison. These are all possibilities.
We hope for the day when there is an understanding and respect for the members of our profession. We are unique and skilled individuals who have gone through years of schooling and state tests to perform our duties.
We have long provided an irreplaceable service to the judicial system that is both physically and mentally taxing. We provide instantaneous access to proceedings through readback and real-time translation.
We fully agree that our state is in crisis, but we don’t think the answer lies in removing a crucial facet of our judicial system, and by doing so, having our legal system adversely affected. Sirena M. Ulibarri is an official court reporter in San Luis Obispo County. She submitted this on behalf of herself and her colleagues Lisa Andrews, Brenda Bowen, Carolyn McMickle, Dolores Byers, Cassie Frasher, Shannon Wilson and Christina Schwandt.