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SLO court cuts civil case reporters

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As the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court continues to cut costs without cutting essential services, court administrators announced that they’ll no longer provide court reporters for civil proceedings.

The change took effect on Nov. 14. It’s expected to save the court about $78,000 in this fiscal year and $117,000 next year, according to court Executive Officer Susan Matherly.

Certified court reporters transcribe testimony and actions during courtroom proceedings via a shorthand system, producing a record often vital in appellate cases.

None of the court’s 10 full-time reporters will be affected by the change, nor will one reporting supervisor, save for a more manageable workload, Matherly said. Instead, the court won’t renew contracts for three freelance reporters it had employed on a temporary basis.

Under state law, a court is obligated to provide reporting services free of charge to litigating parties in criminal, juvenile, and family law cases, but not civil.

“In civil cases, the cost of litigation is already so high, so we figure if they are going to go to trial, they have the resources,” Matherly said, adding that parties in family law and juvenile cases are less likely to be able to afford hiring a reporter on top of costs for counsel.

Parties in civil cases will now be provided with a list of local for-hire reporters to attend their hearings.

Matherly said certain waivers may apply to select types of civil cases in which a party may have a financial need for a reporter, such as certain adoption and harassment cases.

The courthouse is trying to manage a $1 million shortfall in its 2011-12 operating budget. So far, staffers have mitigated some of that by self-imposing furloughs for 105 service union employees, as well as cutting janitorial and other services.

“If we didn’t have the budget crisis, things would not be like this,” Matherly said. “But we still have quite a few reporters on staff and whenever we can, we will provide them.”

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