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Latest Budget Critics: Court Reporters

Gov. John Kasich’s big budget update that’s making its way through the legislature includes a lot of changes to tax policy, to schools, and in other areas. One small provision that would hit hard a fixture in the state’s judicial system. The mid-biennium review – as the budget update is called – brings back a provision that was struck from last year’s budget. That proposal would have reduced the amount court reporters can charge for the copies of courtroom transcripts they provide. Court reporters are independent of both the prosecution and the defense, and take down every word said in court, in depositions and in other legal proceedings. They charge about $2 per page for their transcripts, and then $1 a page for copies. John Murphy heads up the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which supports lowering those copy fees. "You got a thousand or two thousand page transcript – a dollar or a dollar and a half per page is a substantial amount of money, obviously. We think we ought to be able to get the copies at public records prices – you know, 10 cents a page or something like that." Murphy says it’s much easier to make copies and share them now, so the high cost no longer makes sense. And in rare agreement with the prosecutors association is the state public defender’s office, which estimates lowering the copy fee could save that office more than $430,000 a year. But the association that represents many of the state’s court reporters is fighting back. Allison Kimmel is the new president of the Ohio Court Reporters Association. "We get transcript fees typically on top of our salary, but our salaries are lower on the presumption that we’re going to get transcript fees. And, I know for myself, I’m working evenings and weekends, vacations – I’ve worked 10 weeks out of a 12-week maternity leave getting a transcript done. I wasn’t getting paid a salary at that point." Kimmel notes that nearly all the members of her organization are women, and many are not public employees but contractors who run their own businesses. And she says reporters have to be trained, and to buy expensive stenography machines and computers, along with supplies such as paper and ink. Murphy says perhaps that should be changed – and that counties should buy and maintain the equipment and supplies and hire the court reporters and pay them appropriately. "If they are in fact legitimately doing overtime in order to get the job done, then they ought to be paid overtime for doing it. But this per-page charge is really I think works out to be substantially more expensive for us and for the defense." But Kimmel says she doubts counties have the money to buy all the machines and hire all the court reporters they’d need to keep their dockets moving – which is why they hire contractors. "They come in and they’ll sit in court and they’re not getting benefits and they’re – usually it’s a pretty reduced rate to cover the courtroom for the day, with the expectation that there will be transcript fees and they will be able to get that money to compensate them fairly for their work." Murphy says the total dollar figure that would be saved by this measure is probably in the thousands, which he admits isn’t significant to some counties and offices, but it is to others. But Kimmel says it is a lot of money for court reporters who’ve invested thousands in their equipment and training.