Budget cut for court reporters

Court reporters who transcribe the testimony of proceedings are no longer being provided for civil cases because of budget cuts.

The decision by San Luis Obispo Superior Court officials took effect Monday and affects the jobs of three temporary court reporters — though they may be hired by attorneys who seek to use their services in court.

Court reporters use a machine shorthand system to transcribe the statements and testimony made during hearings. The case transcripts may be important documents for appeals and for verifying the record.

Court officials expect to save about $78,000 for the rest of the 2011-2012 fiscal year by not funding the three temporary reporters. The court budgeted $117,000 for the entire fiscal year in 2010-2011 for the services.

Eleven permanent court reporters will remain on staff for criminal and family cases, however.

Despite the cuts, civil attorneys independently can hire court reporters to record hearings. The court will provide a list of court reporters to those who ask.

The court had been paying the temporary reporters $147 for a half-day and $294 for a full day.

Transcripts still will be charged to the attorneys who request them — though in criminal court those who qualify may have them paid for by the court.

The local court system has had to make up a budget shortfall of about $1 million this year.

The budget cuts have included once-a-month furloughs for employees, which has closed some courtrooms on Fridays and reduced some services to the public.

By statute, courts aren’t required to provide reporters for civil and family law cases, said Susan Matherly, the court’s executive director.

Even before the recent decision, lawyers still were required to pay for court reporter services in civil court.

But those fees went to the state trial court fund for general court operating expenses statewide. And the setup put the onus on the local court system to collect the fees from lawyers.

Under the new approach, the fees paid by attorneys still will go to the state’s Trial Court Trust Fund.

But the local court now won’t have to provide the staffing to recoup fees for the service from lawyers and take up staff resources.

And with the decline in state funding, Matherly said the decision to make cuts in civil court reporting will help toward the ongoing balancing of the court’s finances.