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Can You Read It Back? Tackling Court Reporter Scarcity in California

Tim Kowal     March 27, 2023

CEB has published my CLE presentation, “Can You Read It Back? Tackling Court Reporter Scarcity in California.” You can watch the presentation here (though you will need a subscription).

Here is a summary:

My most frequent advice as an appellate attorney: “Don’t forget to get a court reporter.” This wisdom of this advice—the most oft-dispensed in the appellate attorney’s arsenal—is self-evident. No court reporter, no record. No record—no appeal.

I begin with a “how it started, how it’s going” account of the court-reporter scarcity problem:

Back in the ‘90s, the Judicial Council enacted rules to allow the Superior Courts to electronically record proceedings. But the California Court Reporter’s Association, in two lawsuits in the First Appellate District, killed those rules and enjoined the courts from funding electronic-recording technology. Since then, as far as creating an appellate record goes, court reporters are effectively the only game in town.

Even though trial-court funding for court reporters has increased significantly, the stock of court reporters has decreased. Over the past five years at the LASC court, the court-reporter workforce dropped almost 25%. Court-reporter retirements continue to outpace their replacements.

The upshot is that, as of November 2022, the Los Angeles Superior Court no longer provides reporters in probate and family law matters. Probate and family law attorneys used to scoff at me when I repeated my advice to get a court reporter. “They’re already provided for us,” they’d shoot back. But, they don’t say it anymore.

Then I review what an oral record is indispensable to preserve appellate rights.

Finally, I try to demystify the settled-statement and agreed-statement procedures, and give some ways those procedures may be used to good effect.

The entire presentation may be summed up as: Get a court reporter….but if you can’t, here’s what to try instead.

Tim Kowal is an appellate specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Tim helps trial attorneys and clients win their cases and avoid error on appeal. He co-hosts the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast at CALpodcast.com, and publishes summaries of cases and appellate tips for trial attorneys. Contact Tim at [email protected] or (949) 676-9989.
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