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Showing posts with label COURT REPORTERS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COURT REPORTERS. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

COURT REPORTERS SCAM FAMILY COURT LITIGANTS AND CONNECTICUT TAXPAYERS TO THE TUNE OF THOUSANDS!

During the proceedings of the 2009 subcommittee on audio recordings, I was struck by the fact that three dozen court reporters and court recording monitors spoke out about the sanctity of audio recordings and vociferously opposed making them available freely to the public.  See article at the following link:


http://divorceinconnecticut.blogspot.com/2014/09/judicial-restrictions-on-access-to.html

As you may or may not know, it remains the current policy of the Connecticut Judicial Branch that it will not distribute or sell copies of the audio recordings that it makes itself of legal proceedings.  These are part of what is considered to be the official record of a case. 

Court Reporters and Court Recording Monitors jealously guard these recordings from the hands of members of the public or litigants because they state they are concerned that the audio recordings could be tampered with.  Of course, litigants often state that if anyone was to tamper with them, it would be Court Reporters!

The only way to find out what is on those audio recordings is through court reporters who are solely authorized by statute to make transcripts of those recordings for a fee upon request.  It is through this monopoly on the production of court transcripts that court reporters have been able to develop one of the most lucrative scams in the history of the Connecticut Family Court system. 

While court reporters may have wished that the subject would die after the subcommittee on audio recordings completed their work in 2009, in fact the following year in 2010 another committee, the Committee on Court Recording Monitors and Court Reporters issued a scathing report which pretty much exposed their whole racket. 

Interestingly enough, this Committee was headed by then Associate Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz, a person I understand is not a crowd favorite among court reformers. 

According to the report, for years, while on the public payroll, court recording monitors and court reporters have been additionally compensated separately by private clients and Connecticut state agencies for typing transcripts of audio recordings of legal proceedings.  In 2010, this still occurred, as I understand it, even when the person ordering transcripts of the legal proceedings is a judge or a magistrate! 

Through these activities, court recording monitors and court reporters made a ton of additional money over and above their actual state salaries producing transcripts not only for private litigants, but also for the State of Connecticut. 

In regard to the latter, in the words of the 2010 report, "As the Committee learned, and as is discussed further in this report, the Judicial Branch and the agencies of its co-equal branches of government are annually paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional compensation for typed transcripts of legal proceedings." 

Laughably, this committee, instead of condemning these exploitative, if not criminal practices, expressed concern that they find a way to stop them while at the same time "ensuring that the salaries of these Branch employees remain unchanged and the opportunity to earn extra income still exists." 

Oh, really! 

Imagine how much money these folks made in the years up until 2010.  Already, a court reporter, depending upon rank, received from the state a salary ranging from $74,069 to $107,532, and then you added to that the thousands and thousands of dollars they made providing transcripts to private litigants and other State Agencies.  During the same time period, the court recording monitors had salaries ranging from $41,257 on up to $54,257. 

In total, the budget for all these employees added up to $11,413,000, at least in the year 2010, simply to pay their official base salaries--not even talking about all the additional money they made moonlighting on State of Connecticut taxpayer time! 

So how much were these court reporters and court recording monitors earning over above their State salaries? 

Apparently, it was and remains very expensive to purchase a transcript from one of these court reporters.  Rates are set by statute and are not subject to negotiation.  Officially, they range from between .75 cents and $6.45 per page based upon who is ordering the transcript and how quickly the transcript is needed.   According to the report, "Transcripts prepared for judges, judge trial referees, magistrates, prosecutors, public defenders and state agencies are by statute charged lower fees, while the highest fee represents a request for an overnight transcript by a private party." 

Unfortunately, very few private litigants can do anything other than request an overnight or expedited transcript because they need the documents for a currently running hearing or trial.  If they were to wait for the cheaper, standard rate, they could end up waiting up to six months or more, which often happens in cases on appeal where the deadlines are less stringent. 

As the report observed in its understated way, the profits available to court reporters in these circumstances were, and I'm sure still are "suffice it to say...quite...lucrative". 

In one case that the report mentioned, the plaintiff paid $30,000 for transcripts while the defendant paid $20,000 which amounted to $50,000 in money for transcripts which the court reporter and the four court recording monitors in the case earned over and above the state salaries they were already earning!  This situation is such a profit making endeavor for these court reporters and court monitors that in the fiscal year 2009-2010 they made nearly $1 million dollars over and above their base salaries from transcripts ordered by the Judicial Branch and other Connecticut State Agencies alone. 

And, again, this is not even talking about the considerably greater profits they obtained from private litigants at the very same time! 

But don't even begin to think that this is the sum total of the financial damage policies regarding court reporters and court recording monitors have caused for the Connecticut taxpayer.  The report continues to state that not only does money for transcripts increase an employer's salary, it also increases his or her state retirement pension in the same way that overtime increases pensions for police and firefighters.  This is a big problem when the State's retirement system is already underfunded considerably, and in 2010 when this report was written, it was underfunded to the tune of $9 billion, a staggering sum. 

But again, as I said, in 2010 the damage still doesn't stop. 

There is an additional way that, in 2010, these court reporters and court recording monitors continued to make out like robber barons siphoning money from the Connecticut Judicial Branch and taxpayers at massive rates! 

Apparently, court reporters were allowed to leave work early to take outside employment for outside employers without claiming vacation, personal, or sick leave.  When court reporters did this it was called taking "U-time".  Apparently, they were only supposed to be able to do this when these court reporters had no other work to do, would not need someone else to take over their duties if they left, and/or if they departed after 2:00p.m.  

Nonetheless, according to the report, between 2005 and 2008, the result was a situation where court reporters had taken approximately 4,490 hours of  U-time worth approximately $159,889 of extra-compensated time while working for the State.  According to Attorney Martin Libben, legal counsel for the Connecticut Judicial Branch, this practice has been terminated.  But still, think about the fact that it went on for years without anyone, apparently, voicing any objection to it!

The members of the committee who compiled this report referred to this practice of taking U-time as "an ethical minefield."  Further, committee members brought up an advisory opinion issued by the Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board stating that it is not ethical for hearing reporters to use time when they are receiving a salary from the State of Connecticut to then do work for private contractors.  

In their report, Committee Members recommended several solutions to these unethical practices. 

First, they recommended instituting the practice of digital audio recordings in all courtrooms.  This would then render audio recordings freely available to the public so transcripts aren't necessary.  As the Committee stated, this kind of practice would "unquestionably improve access to justice for people of all means and needs." In this regard, the Committee particularly emphasized how valuable digital audio recording would be for persons with disabilities who are entitled to reasonable modifications under the ADA.  

Second, transcript preparation could be outsourced from the judicial branch and transferred to outside vendors.  Any branch employees who wished to continue with such work could then do so outside of employment hours.  Committee members felt that the big advantage of this approach would be to eliminate the existing monopoly on transcript production and drive down costs for everyone involved. 

Attorneys and judges who criticize the Connecticut Family Court Reform movement are fond of pointing fingers at advocates and implying that their grievances are solely the consequence of mental illness, attempting to invalidate the concerns of victims of family court abuse by exploiting the stigma towards those with mental illness. 

The bottom line is that the Connecticut Judicial Branch should not have aided and abetted practices that are clearly unethical and grossly exploitative and continue to exploit the Connecticut taxpayer and private litigants to the tune of thousands and thousands of their hard earned dollars. 

Recently I contacted Attorney Martin Libben, legal representative for the Connecticut Judicial Branch, and asked him to update me regarding whether any of the recommendations of the report had been implemented.

In his response email he stated, "The recommendations of the committee contained both short term and long terms goals.  Some of the short term goals have been implemented...The rest of the recommendations are in varying stages of development or further review."

I was unable to obtain a comment from Attorney Joette Katz who was the original Chairperson of this committee.




Still, according to the National Center For State Courts there has been no significant change in regard to how court reporters and court recording monitors charge private litigants and other state agencies in the State of Connecticut. 


Just yesterday, a friend of mine reported a bill of $3.00 per page for the standard rate and explained that she is going to have to pay at least $2,000.00 for transcripts related to her appeal.  Thus, for those who have more than a few days of trial, charges for court transcripts can still end up being extremely costly, an unfortunate situation which acts as a barrier to justice.



This means that current solutions still have not been adequate to change the way court reporters and court recording monitors do business with private litigants or other state agencies.  Seriously, what does it take?