Thursday, July 8, 2010

Court Reporter Fees

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting on a Cobb County investigation looking into the practice of salaried county employees working as Court Reporters charging steep added fees for producing transcripts for lawyers and the public who require the transcripts for various purposes like appealing a rotten decision.  This is an interesting story addressing one of my career long questions:  how is it that court reporters get paid by the taxpayers and privately at an exorbitant rate simultaneously?  Nice work if you can get it, and one more example of double dipping on the taxpayers' dime.  Here are some of the numbers from the AJC report:

Cobb County
Court reporters are full-time salaried employees
Number of court reporters: 24
Salary: $36,504 to $58,143
Transcript costs: $472,123 paid for court reporters assigned to all courts, June 2009-June 25, 2010.
Superior Court does not have a transcript budget;
$64,999 paid for fiscal 2009 district attorney transcript fees; budgeted $64,800. Fiscal 2010: $47,857 as of June 23; budgeted: $64,800

Dekalb
Court reporters are full-time salaried employees
Number of court reporters: 10
Salary: $32,472 to $52,776
Transcript costs: $623,000 paid for 2009 superior court reporters; budgeted: $619,000
Year to date transcript costs: unavailable; budgeted: $555,000

Fulton
Court reporters are full-time salaried employees
Number of court reporters: 25
Salary: $48,854 to $57,174
Transcript costs: $1,016,520 paid in 2009 for superior court reporters; budgeted amount unavailable

Gwinnett
Court reporters are contractors
Number of court reporters: Each superior court and state court judge has their own official court reporter and some judges have a back-up court reporter pay:
Daily rates set by state statute (typically about $200 for an eight-hour day)
Transcript costs: $925,888 paid in 2009 for superior court and state court
Year to date transcript costs: $358,478.
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Court reporters have an interesting role in the justice system.  A good court reporter is like a good lawyer, they rarely create any distraction from the proceedings allowing the entire focus to be on the testimony and evidence, occasionally something comic occurs either involving a court reporter having a bad day, or the court reporter witnessing something preposterous. 

I am so old, that when I started practicing law there were still one or two old time court reporters around OurTown who could transcribe testimony and lawyer colloquies in stenographic shorthand without breaking a sweat.  This was very cool to see.  I practiced pro hac vice (admitted within the State, for that case, only) in a couple of coal mining counties of Pennsylvania years ago where I saw court reporters speaking into "cones" of some sort which recorded on old "wire recorders."  Very odd, and echo'y.

Interesting profession.  Unfortunately it is a costly one for most citizens trying to access the courts.

20 comments:

  1. bad lawyer, you are indeed a bad lawyer and uninformed. your derrogatory comments about court reporters do not deserve an educated response--you wouldn't understand it anyway.

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  2. anon 2:42--By practice I'm grateful for criticism and feedback. But I fail to see anything in the above post that is critical of court reporters. Feel free to enlighten me.

    Most of the court reporters I have worked with over many years were wonderful, in fact I can think of only one court reporter I actively avoided by virtue of his lack of adequate skillset, which is not to say that I did not encounter the occasional misfire. This post was about the double dipping practices of salaried government employed court reporters who operate businesses on the tax payers dime.
    BL

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  3. What the article does not state, which is critical, is that court reporters are required to pay for ALL of the equipment they need to do their jobs themselves, which saves the taxpayers, and charging for transcripts is the way reporters are reimbursed for those expenses. Cost of this equipment? Steno machine, $5,000; Laptop, $1,300; Software, $4,000; Printer, $200. In addition, court reporters are responsible to buy many of their own supplies, toner, printer paper, ribbons, and pay for any maintenance and upgrades for their equipment.
    The government pays court reporters a salary for taking the record down. Preparation of transcripts is expected to be done on their own time, as self-employment income. Transcripts can be worked on during business hours at the courthouse only if they are not needed to fill in in other courts or working in their own court.
    This method is used all over the country with official reporters and saves taxpayers the expense of buying and keeping up-to-date expensive computerized equipment in addition to paying court reporters for the overtime that would be necessary to prepare transcripts in a timely manner. It's more or less a user fee, like many other things in this country and in the legal system.
    Sounds like Jay Stephenson has a personal vendetta against court reporters and your grand jury wasn't presented complete information on court reporter compensation and why it's structured the way it is.

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  4. A court reporter generally works about 70 to 80 hours a week. Court personnel only see the court reporters at work at the courthouse, and out of sight, out of mind, meaning that nobody but court reporters knows what goes on after hours, the long, hard, tedious hours. The real work begins at home. I know one court reporter who hadn't had a day off for an entire month, went out one night after finishing a grueling transcript, had to blow off some steam, and was confronted by an attorney about where his transcript was -- at a bar!

    And the court administrators think it's such an easy job. They say, I mean, it's just putting words on paper, how hard could that possibly be and to pay "those people" so much money for such a silly job. So the courts decide to be so clever by sending out an eight-month-long trial to one of those cheaper transcription services. The resultant product was so bad that the court ended up spending longer trying to piece it all back together as it took for the service to type up the job. Bet it cost them way more than that court reporter in the long run, with all those judges and lawyers spending months over that transcript.

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  5. Court reporting has to be the worst profession in the world. Since we work such long hours at home, we establish no real relationships. It gets really lonely. The attorney clients do not know us personally because the situation doesn't allow for that, so as with all things foreign, objectified, it is much easier for attorneys to condemn and criticize and belittle, a very good example being the article above and then compounded by the Bad Lawyer's editorial. Far too many firm owners take advantage of court reporters, so most have very modest houses while the firm owners live in mansions and drive exotic cars. When the attorneys see the final bill, they take it out the only person they come in contact with, the objectified person, but yet the attorney still calls the firm owner that fleeced them, forcing the court reporter to have to continue doing business with the firm owner. And then to have such a dull and tedious job. Or to be an official, the court administrators are worse than firm owners in the treatment of court reporters because they think court reporters are making all this money, when, in fact, if you sat down to calculate it all out, the time spent producing transcripts versus the pay versus the expenses incurred, the court reporter is really lucky to come out better than minimum wage per hour. The vendors are tripping over themselves in finding new and inventive ways to get more and more money out of the court reporters. And then when everybody else has been paid, the IRS comes to call.

    For too many court reporters, there is no amount of money in the world that is worth all that, especially not at minimum wage, and they're leaving the profession in droves.

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  6. "Stephenson took his concerns to Cobb’s judges after his office got a $436 bill in October when his office lost a transcript and requested a copy from the court reporter who covered the jury trial.

    To prevent future losses, Stephenson began scanning transcripts filed in his office, which permitted the district attorney access to the documents without paying for them."

    And we wonder why the transcript bill was $436. Imagine if a book publisher or newspaper were only able to sell one or two copies of every issue, knowing it would be pirated to additional parties for free.

    In the lawyers' eyes, Barnes & Noble should just have a copy machine up front where you could copy all you want all day...and then they'd complain about having to pay per page to defray the cost of maintaining the machine.

    Many lawyers are self-righteous and greedy when it comes to paying for transcripts, and it's crippling yet another part of the already underfunded judicial system.

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  7. Keep in mind that attorneys (be they in stereotypical mansions and sports cars or real-life small firm attorneys working hard to make ends meet) are NOT the ones ultimately paying for the transcripts. No, costs are really born by the client, who may be making $20/hr but must pay thousands upon thousands for the privilege of litigation.

    Is it reasonable that the client pay the currently charged per page rates? What do these rates work out to per hour? Such fees should factor in equipment costs but frankly a court reporter does not have terribly great overhead. (While court reporting requires some training and skill, one need not obtain a doctorate degree or borrow $100K+ to cover education costs; Virtually every business needs to buy a computer and printer anyway while steno machine and software costs are specific necessary costs which should be factored in).

    The attorney's article is thought-provoking and does not strike me as a blast against court reporters.

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    Replies
    1. So if I spent around $50,000 to finish court reporting school and to buy my equipment to start working and only made $20,000 working as a freelance reporter in my first three years, is that fair?

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  8. Reporters need to be paid more, especially deposition reporters.

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    1. Yes, indeed. I want all of the attorneys to realize something very, very important when it comes to deposition transcript fees. You, as the attorney, are most likely paying upwards of $8.00 a page for your deposition transcript fees. That's way too much, right? No wonder you are complaining about the cost. I agree, it is too much. Now, here's what you may not know: The court reporting agency itself is skimming a gigantic amount off of that charge and paying the reporters pennies on the dollar. For example, you pay $8.00 a page for your transcript, then the court reporting agency turns around and takes $4.50 to $5.00 off of that, leaving the court reporter $3.00 to maybe $3.50 a page, if they're lucky. The court reporter usually has a workload of around 80 hours a week, which means they have to hire their own subcontractors to work for them to edit and proofread the transcript. After the reporter pays these subcontractors to work on the transcript for them, the reporter is left making only $1.50 a page. When you do the math on all of the hours the reporters put into the job, they are probably making a little more than minimum wage when all is said and done. So next time you get angry at the thought of those high charges, remember that basically all of the money you're paying for the transcripts goes to the greedy agency owners and not the reporters.

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  9. With these figures, aspiring CRs can know the salary commensurate to their qualification.

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  10. Court reporters works on any report with fees but no matter how many fees they take ,matter is that how they work on that.
    Court Reporters

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Really you deserve a round of applause for this highly knowledgeable post in this segment of medical transcription. Thank you for such an informative post.

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  13. As a deposition reporter in New York City, and acknowledging that this post is ancient by modern standards, the response from October 7, 2010 really speaks to me. I won't repeat too much of what's already been described by other commentators, but I will say that in general, every hour of Q&A or back and forth during a proceeding takes one to two additional hours to make into an accurate record. Those additional hours go up or down dependent upon the skill of the stenographer, but may shed some light on the fee structure for future readers.

    I think the original post raised an interesting challenge. Is there a way to keep court transcripts affordable to the public without cutting deeply into the livelihoods of my courtroom colleagues? I have a feeling the answer's yes, and I have a feeling it's people like the original Anon, and all the Anons with their comments and questions like this that'll bring about that yes.

    I'd urge anybody who runs across this over the years to give it some thought, and I'd urge my colleagues not to feel lambasted by these kinds of discussions. Anybody comes up with a cool pilot program, it could benefit lawyers, litigants, and reporters across the country. All that said, thank you for writin', Anon.

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  15. I had no idea how much a court reporter earned while working. It does make sense if you think about it because there is a lot of mental work they are doing. The court reporter needs to make sure that they are writing everything down correctly. If they don't write information down correctly it could lead to big mistakes. I hope that those that want to become a court reporter takes their job seriously. http://naegeliusa.com/contact/seattle-washington/

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