As a certified court reporter and member of the National Court Reporters Association, the Kentucky Court Reporters Association (also TCRA, OCRA, CALDRA, INSRA, STAR), and founder of Save Our Court Records, I take my role as “Guardian of the Record” very seriously. It is with that in mind that I would like to point out some very real problems that arise on a national level in hopes that the proposed changes to ACJA § 7-206 are not adopted and that better solutions can be explored. I strongly oppose the proposed changes to ACJA § 7-206 for the following reasons:
THE CURRENT RULES WERE ENACTED TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC GOOD AND SHOULD NOT BE DELETED FOR THE SAKE OF SPECIAL INTEREST
The largest national court reporting agencies have united through an entity called Court Reporting Alliance, whose members include Merrill Corporation, Esquire Deposition Solutions, Magna Legal Services, U.S. Legal
Support, and Veritext Corporation. Magna Legal Services has taken the lead for this group in filing its lawsuit in Arizona. Magna, in its lawsuit, argues that current law, rules, and regulations rob them of their Constitutional right to free trade and interstate commerce. Protecting freedoms is important—but state rights and consumer protections must also be considered. The current rules and regulations were enacted in Arizona for the protection of the public good, and public good should trump a corporation’s right to profit. Free trade must also be fair trade, and unfortunately these type of financial relationships perpetrated by first- and third-party contracts in our judicial process are anything but fair to the common litigant. The deletions to ACJA § 7-20 will render the guardians of the record deaf, blind, and dumb for the sole purpose of profit of special interest groups: insurance companies and other high-volume litigants; and their agents, third-party contractors. Arizona’s law is the current target of the Court Reporting Alliance’s campaign to wipe away important public protections that hinder their ability to make high-dollar profit margins at the expense of our citizenry’s right to a fair and impartial justice system. I ask that Arizona stand strong in the face of these attacks with Georgia, who successfully defeated Esquire Deposition Services in a similar battle that challenged a state’s right to oversee and regulate court reporters and attorneys as licensees. Do not allow Arizona to be one of the dominos that fall in a battle that is underway on a national level.
ARIZONA REPORTERS, ACTING UNDER THE EXISTING RULES, ARE A MUCH-NEEDED SAFEGUARD FROM THE FOLLOWING:
Court reporting agencies acting as advocates and agents of one side of the litigation—One need only peruse the publicly available websites of a number of the Court Reporting Alliance’s members to discover that they offer Points Rewards systems and other gifts in exchange for depositions scheduled, investigative services, jury selection, and preparation of deposition summaries. These services conflict with existing Arizona rules and the long-established NCRA Code of Professional Ethics because of the impropriety, partiality, and bias they cause with respect to the duties performed by the court reporter. ALL parties in a litigation deserve the neutrality of the court reporter that serves on any case, and the performance of the advocacy and trial presentation services detailed above by the reporter or the agency they work for taint this role.
Protection from prevalent billing abuses—As outlined by the public comments of attorneys here (and voiced in volume by aggrieved litigants and attorneys nationally), detecting and rectifying billing abuses is difficult and time-consuming and focuses attorneys’ time away from their cases at hand to advocate for their client on matters of consumer protection. The fact is that the average litigant and attorney cannot easily detect overcharging because bills are sent in summary fashion without any line item detail. Once an itemization is received, charges for services not requested and additional subterfuge are apparent.
1) Exorbitant charges for word index pages billed at transcript page rates
2) Administrative fees and other upcharges that are otherwise not charged by local providers
3) Postage rates that far exceed those charged by local competitors
4) Significant upcharges on copies of videotapes—and charges for video synchronization services not requested
5) Additionally, it is a common contractual term to offer threshold discounts to high-volume litigants. Additional discounts are offered to high-volume litigants AFTER they have been billed hundreds of thousands of dollars on a multitude of cases across the country. As higher thresholds are met, additional discounts are applied. (To ensure that Arizona’s two-thirds law has been complied with under the proposed changes, without the watchful eye of licensed individuals, the regulatory board would be burdened with the duty of analyzing thousands of cases, likely needing a forensic accountant to sort out the details in any complaint brought before it for allegations of billing misconduct.)
I STRONGLY OPPOSE THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO ACJA § 7-206
Special “deals” with high-volume litigants come at the expense of the common man. Do not allow the court reporting profession to fall under the public scrutiny associated with mandatory arbitration agreements, where frequent users of the judicial process are perceived to be given an unjust advantage in a biased, one-sided legal system; where the average litigant has little to no recourse when treated inequitably. Our citizens deserve fair and impartial treatment in our judicial system by court officers—judges and court reporters alike. Reporters and reporting firms need to be held fully accountable for their actions within the state, not outside of arm’s length in foreign jurisdictions. Therefore, holding out-of-state agencies more accountable—not removing the laws and regulations that make certified court reporters more accountable—is the solution. A court reporter’s independence and oversight of all of the processes of creating a record– from transcription, billing, and delivery—need to be protected. Anything short of that fails to ensure fair and equitable treatment to all parties, and creates an unlevel playing field for all court reporters and agencies.
Lisa Migliore Black, Migliore & Associates, Louisville Court Reporting and Video Services–Free conference rooms in the heart of downtown Louisville, KY 40202