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How a court reporter shortage is impacting Northern California | To The Point

Court reporting isn’t offered at many if any, community colleges and universities. Most specialized schools have closed.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Our court systems are in crisis. 

According to the Superior Court System of California, tens of thousands of cases are being held every day due to shortages. ABC10 shadowed the vital role that has 54 court systems now banning together to find a solution.

To some, it looks like another language but court reporter Dixie Cooksey knows it as stenotype.

Translating a dictionary that’s specific to Dixie Cooksey into English on a laptop.

“I’ve been a court reported for over 40 years it’s a really good career,” said Cooksey.

But she works in a career in crisis.

Dixie is doing a job that more than 70% of California courts are hiring for.

“Now with the school closed I think that why we have a shortage,” said Cooksey.

Court reporting isn’t offered at many if any, community colleges and universities. Most specialized schools have closed.

If you find a specialized program, the chance of passing the test is 20%. In 2021, 175 people took the test and 36 passed.

“That’s always been the case and it is very difficult it requires a lot of practice and dedication,” said Cooksey.

It’s a norm that’s put Butte county in need. They only have two of the seven court reporters they need. Sharif Elmallah court executive superior court butte county says the court is coming up with alternatives.

“It does have the potential to delay proceedings fortunately here in butte we have been able to avoid that by securing remote reporters and implementing electronic recording,” said Elmallah.

But a judge must approve it.

“That may be in conflict with California law and that is not a position we like to be in,” said Elmallah.

Currently, in California, you are mandated to have a court reporter for felony criminal and dependency and delinquency juvenile courtrooms.

“Pay heed to the right to a record for the purposes of appeal which is a right provided under the united states constitution,” said Elmallah.

Butte, Placer, and Sacramento counties tell ABC10 they have not held any cases because of the shortage.

Sacramento Superior Court released this statement from spokesperson Brandy Tuzon Boyd.

“Currently, no cases are being delayed or ‘held’ due to the court reporter shortage at Sacramento superior court. We continue to actively recruit and hire court reporters to meet the demands of our caseload. We do acknowledge there is a growing, statewide shortage of court reporters and that California Superior Courts should explore alternatives to ensure the public’s access to justice in the future.”

 But in Placer county, Court Executive Jake Chatters says the shortage impacts civil and family cases the most.

Reporters aren’t mandated in those cases, but people still want an official record in case of an appeal.

“Often we don’t have a court reporter to provide to take down the official record and as it currently stands we aren’t able to take that down in alternative method it has to be an in-person court reporter, if they aren’t available then no record is taken or parties have to seek out their own court reporter through the private market,” said Chatters.

The state legislature has provided $30 million a year to hire reporters to fix this problem.

But there is no one to hire.

Future reporters would still need to go to school.

A solution might be three to five years away.

That is why the superior courts are asking for a statutory change.

“Other states have gone other routes where the reporter isn’t physically in the courtroom or a digital recording of the proceedings,” said Chatters.

There is new technology coming out in January courts can start using voice writers which are people that repeat what’s being said in court into a device so which takes away the complex typing issue.

ABC10 asked the court reporter about the new software and things like voice-to-text. She said it’s just not very good. It doesn’t pick up accents, gestures, or emotions, and really, she said best for short yes, no answers not the work they do.

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