Court Reporter Update - Legislative Watch
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and the impact to our work has been profound. Court Reporters and other frontline workers saw their work change. Different practices, new procedures, and altered work environments became the norm. Despite all of this, Court Reporters throughout California maintained their commitment to professional excellence. Challenging work environments required Court Reporters to go above and beyond to protect the integrity of the record.
During the pandemic, the Judicial Council, County Superior Court Systems, judges, advocates, and other groups embraced non-traditional ways of conducting court business remotely. However, the expanded use of remote proceedings emboldened those who have consistently regarded technology as a “fix all” for issues facing the Courts.
Last year, one specific piece of legislation, Senate Bill 241 (Umberg), sought to expand the Court’s ability to conduct remote proceeding. SB 241 was supported by organizations who view remote proceedings as a mechanism to expand access to justice. Unfortunately, the legislation would have adversely impacted Court Reporters. To protect the Court Reporter function, OCEA and a coalition of other organizations came together to push back and successfully made changes to this legislation.
OCEA’s legislative advocate, Pat Moran, of Aaron Read & Associates, worked with your workplace leaders, Aimee Skochko, and others, to clarify the problems with the bill and to demand necessary changes. Our team met directly with the bill’s author, Senator Tom Umberg, participated in meetings with the Senator’s staff, and suggested critical amendments. While we did not get everything we wanted, we were able to advocate for enhanced protections for workers. Through your workplace leaders, we were able to provide input directly to the political leaders in Sacramento.
The push to expand remote proceedings is continuing in 2022. Senate Bill 848 was proposed early in the current legislative cycle. SB 848 would allow remote appearances in specified civil court proceedings to continue in perpetuity. The supporters of this bill claim that “widespread and pervasive inefficiencies in our courts were well-documented before the COVID-19 pandemic” and that the Court system suffers from “inaction and inflexibility.”
Last week, OCEA staff members and a coalition of union leaders from California met with Senator Umberg’s Legislative Director. The purpose of the Zoom meeting was to provide direct worker feedback on SB 848. OCEA’s team pushed back hard on the claims made by the supporters of SB 848. For DECADES, the State Legislature and Judicial Council have starved local Superior Court systems of the funding needed to meet local needs. We told the supporters of the bill that the type of remote proceedings utilized during the COVID pandemic, when physical courtrooms were shuttered and as envisioned by last year’s SB 241, were experiments that have not been assessed for their impacts on litigants, the integrity of the record, or those who are charged with ensuring access to justice. There is no empirical data evidencing the success, failures, or weakness of remote proceedings or how those proceedings have impacted justice in California. Eliminating the sunset date in Code of Civil Procedure section 367.75 as proposed in SB 848 is putting the cart before the horse and jeopardizes the efficacy and integrity of a vital component of our democracy. We ought not to rush to permanently reform our trial court system without thoughtful review, assessment, and implementation—the risk is just too great.
The coalition and OCEA will continue to aggressively lobby the supporters of the legislation to make amendments that are align with the agreement made last year on SB 241. OCEA’s lobbyist is working hand in hand with his counterparts in our fellow unions all over California. We will keep you up to date on any developments on this legislation. Our goal is to protect OCEA represented Court Reporters under the law, to protect the integrity of the record, and to protect the integrity of the profession.
OCEA Assistant General Manager
Publication Date: April 25, 2022