FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – There is a court reporter shortage crisis in California affecting court hearings across the state.

The superior courts of California released a joint statement outlining how severe the shortage of court reporters in the state truly is. Currently, almost three-quarters of the state’s trial courts are actively recruiting court reporters, including the Central Valley courts of Fresno, Madera, Merced, and Tulare.

In accordance with the law, California courts must provide court reporters in felony criminal and dependency and delinquency juvenile courtrooms. But they are not legally required to be provided by the courts in civil, family law, probate, misdemeanor criminal, and traffic courtrooms.

Yet many of the California courts don’t have enough court reporters to cover mandated criminal felony matters. Over 50% of the California courts have reported that they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types including civil, family law, and probate.

Despite the fact that the State Legislature provides $30 million annually to the California courts to hire more court reporters – the problem is that there is no one to hire.

There are only nine Certified Shorthand Reporter programs in California. In 2021, only 175 examinees took the licensing exam and of them, only 36 passed. This is a problem as government code § 69942 requires all court recorders that work in a court to be certified in California, restricting courts from hiring out-of-state independent firms to provide this service.

While some can argue that living in 2022 there is technology that can easily solve this issue, the law says otherwise. Government Code § 69959 and Code of Civil Procedure § 367.75(d)(2)(A) require court reporters to be present in the courtrooms. That means remote recorders that could virtually attend multiple courtrooms and stretch resources is currently not an option.

This shortage has led some counties to take drastic actions. In Los Angeles County, the court has announced that starting on November 14, the court will prioritize court reporters where the law requires them. This means that those in unlimited civil, family law, or probate matters will have to pay fees to have an official written record, something that could cost anywhere from $800 to $2000 a day.

Not having a court reporter present has the potential to change the outcome of a dispute. Transcripts are often referenced by attorneys to help build their case and it’s a legal record of everything that was said in the courtroom that could be vital in divorce cases and if necessary appeals processes.

Other superior courts could be forced to make similar decisions soon if something doesn’t change. In a joint statement, the courts say that every litigant in California should have access to the records, and if a recorder is not available, other options need to be available to the courts. They conclude the statement by saying that they are, “ready, able, and willing to work with all stakeholders on finding ways to ensure that all litigants who need a record have access to one.”