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After two years of study, a Judicial Council task force unveiled recommendations Friday aimed at simplifying and standardizing court reporting in state courtrooms. But missing from the report is what to do with electronic court reporting. That’s a question that for years has split the court reporting community into separate camps, with the Judicial Council caught somewhere in the middle. The council hopes uniform standards will lead to efficiencies and cost savings: The state spent $25 million on transcripts in fiscal year 2000-2001, according to a council report. Task force members said they were able to reach compromises on thorny questions. But advocates of electronic reporting say the task force missed its chance to save any real dollars. “The court is looking to become more automated and more efficient and to provide good service and deal with very strict budget constraints, but when it comes to this line item, they’re not allowing any further evaluation,” complained Janet Harris, the current president of the American Association of Electronic Reporters & Transcribers Inc. “They manage to avoid the big, pink elephant in the room,” adds Mary Ann Lutz, AAERT’s past president. That’s by design. Last February, the California Court Reporters Association, an employee organization that says it represents most court reporters, signed a pact with the Administrative Office of the Courts that forbids the expansion of electronic reporting. The AOC also agreed that court officials wouldn’t “propose, initiate, support or lobby” for an expansion of electronic reporting for 10 years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stirred the embers last May, though, when his budget proposal included a call for saving millions with electronic court reporting and portrayed it as part of a deal the AOC had agreed to. After the AOC distanced itself from the proposal, it disappeared. But the bad blood remains. Representatives of the California Official Court Reporters Association, another employee group, stated in writing that the group wouldn’t support the Judicial Council recommendations, in part because the council had broken its no-lobbying pledge. They added that the council’s “lengthy record of administrative/legislative attacks on the profession of court reporting” had alienated COCRA members. “I don’t think this agreement is going anywhere,” said COCRA’s Maura Baldocchi. With electronic reporting off the agenda, the task force hashed out recommendations on formatting, word counts, transmission and other issues. “It was the definition of a good compromise,” said Yvonne Fenner, president of the California Court Reporters Association, which signed last year’s accord with court leaders and is tentatively supporting the task force draft report. “Nobody walked away saying, ‘We really got them.’” It’s now up to the council to decide what to do with the recommendations including whether to seek implementing legislation. Members of the task force, which included judges, court reporters and court executives, told Judicial Council members on Friday that their work still represents an immense accomplishment. “We did achieve results, and we did it in a very civilized manner,” said Fifth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice James Ardaiz, who headed up the task force. “This has been a giant leap forward, for all of us to sit down and talk with each other,” added Baldocchi.

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