A family court in one state is no longer recording what goes on during proceedings. This means there is no written record of what goes on in court. The court is no longer providing court reporters for these proceedings because of budget cuts. The parties involved in the disputes can hire the court reporters themselves but lawyers feel this will give those who are able to afford to do so an advantage over those who cannot.
A court reporter’s responsibility is to record everything that is being said during hearings and other court proceedings. Without a verbatim account of the proceedings, it can be difficult in many aspects of the process. It can cause complications if something is not understood by all and the conversation cannot be recreated. It can especially be problematic if one party chooses to appeal a decision by the judge to a higher court. The higher court often requires a record of the proceedings and often refers to those records during the decision-making process. If those records do not exist, the appellate, or higher court, will not have much of the case to go by.
This leaves someone who could not afford to hire a court reporter without the ability to appeal their case.
A very cumbersome alternative to file an appeal without a court reporter’s written record is to submit a settled statement. This document is a summary of the facts of the trial and case. But getting both sides to agree on every aspect of the trial and then getting a judge to sign off on the document is tedious and can take a great deal of time. It could also be very costly because of the attorneys and judges time. It can often cost more than having hired a court reporter in the first place.
One judge states that most appeals that come across her desk from family courts are denied because their records are not encompassing enough of what went on during the trial. This is especially disturbing in family cases like spousal support or restraining orders or custody issues where emotions run high. Without the court reporter’s documents, the parties may not be able to appeal a ruling they are unhappy with.
If lawyers or opposing parties disagree about a judge’s order, without a written record it is very hard to dispute. If a judge makes a detailed decision, without a court reporter to record the particulars of the decision, the exact orders may be disputed.
The cost of a court reporter ranges from about $700 to $800 for an entire day. Their hourly rate is between $80 and $125 an hour. These costs prohibit lower income parties from hiring a court reporter for their proceedings. By leaving the costs to the litigants, only the wealthier parties will have the ability to have court reporters present in the courtroom.
A court reporter’s presence in family court is not something that should be compromised because of budget cuts. A solution equitable to all socioeconomic classes needs to be implemented because of the highly emotional aspect of these hearings.