A court reporter is vital to proceedings, but unfortunately sometimes red tape and budget cuts can get in the way. In Illinois’s Lake County Circuit Court, the budget was so tight that the courthouse did not have enough funds to pay for many full-time civil servants, including court reporters. Fortunately, the state Senate stepped in and passed a budget adjustment that allows for normal, full-time proceedings to keep moving forward. The crisis had put a stop to many legal proceedings, as these professionals had been working half-time for two weeks. The lack of funding is a problem at the state level, which trickled down to affect felony courts at the local level. |
According to one of the court reporters, “The last two weeks were stressful. It’s the first time I’ve ever dealt with (being on furlough). It’s kind of like you are walking in a fog, you can’t believe it.” After the vote passed, civil servants celebrated. The judge who had kick-started the process to sidestep potential layoffs, Chief Judge John Phillips, says he was “stupendously relieved.” As soon as he heard the news, he texted all court reporting staff. “We’re so grateful to Judge Phillips and the way it was handled here,” gushed one reporter.
A Narrow Escape
It is simply impossible to have a court proceeding without a court reporter, but officials are allowed to fill the gap with contract reporters when permanent ones are unavailable for any reason. Outsourcing is a way for courts to keep operating without breaking their budget. In Illinois, the local court narrowly avoided having to hire contract court reporters. One local court reporter said, “It seemed kind of lonely coming in and seeing only half of our members here. I’m very happy it passed, but a little disappointed by how close it was.”
The measure was not heavily supported, passing with a 32-26 vote, but Phillips says he hopes the result is a “signal of things to come.” The federal and state systems are facing many budget issues, but downsizing court reporters just is not a feasible option. After two weeks with half-time court reporters, there is a lot of catching up to do.
A Lack of Understanding
While the court officials understand the incredible work that their reporters do, unfortunately those outside of the system are not always educated on the matter. One of the comments from a local citizen was, “All they do is flip a switch to turn on a voice recorder. I think the judge may be able to figure out how to do that, but then again probably not!” While such comments are often tongue in cheek, it does highlight a big concern: If those outside the court system (including Senate members) do not understand the job of court reporters, it might continue to be a tough road for budgeting correctly.
The shutdown of the court led to months of delays, and ultimately wasted time and money. Depending on a contracted, highly skilled court reporter is always an option, but it should not have to be forced on courts due to budgetary cuts.
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