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Law Practice,
Administrative/Regulatory

Sep. 30, 2022

New law will make it easier to identify whether court reporter is legitimate

Assembly Bill 156, signed by Governor Newsom on Sept. 27, will help attorneys and consumers recognize whether they have a licensed professional serving as the deposition officer.

Mary Pierce

Finally, the type of fiasco detailed in the article titled "Make Sure Your Court Reporter Is Really A Court Reporter" (Daily Journal, April 13) that I co-authored with Melissa Buchman, Esq., earlier this year should cease to occur. The deposition transcript of Ms. Buchman's family law client was seriously flawed due to 55 missing pages of testimony. Ms. Buchman objected to its admissibility and told the court that the transcript was not a full and accurate transcript of the proceedings, while her opposing counsel countered that the transcript was "flawless." The transcript was admitted, and Ms. Buchman's request for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) for her client was denied.

After months of dogged persistence by Ms. Buchman's client, the court reporting agency that produced the deposition transcript finally admitted that 55 pages were missing from the booklet they originally produced as "certified." However, by the time they rectified that error and produced a new transcript which included the missing content, it was too late to change the judge's mind.

What Ms. Buchman didn't know at the time was that the deposition officer that attended the deposition was not a licensed Certified Shorthand Reporter in the State of California, but rather a Notary Public who simply has the authority to administer the oath to a witness. Ms. Buchman couldn't have known this because the individual introduced himself as "the reporter" on the record, and his title within the deposition transcript was "court reporter." Further compromising Ms. Buchman's ability to know that he was not a real court reporter was the fact that the deposition took place early on during the pandemic, and she and her client attended the proceeding remotely. Therefore, she could not observe that he was not using a stenography machine to take down the testimony.

Up to now, only the term "Certified Shorthand Reporter" and its acronym, "CSR," were legally protected titles. Anyone could call themselves a "court reporter" without consequence. As a result, the practice of nonlicensees using titles which would indicate to most people that a person is a licensed Certified Shorthand Reporter has become widespread, causing many consumers of court reporting services to be misled about what product they were actually getting and who was providing those services.

You see, while all Certified Shorthand Reporters are deposition officers, not all deposition officers are Certified Shorthand Reporters. Under California law, only a transcript prepared stenographically by a Certified Shorthand Reporter is automatically admissible at trial (CCP 2025.340(m)).

Earlier this year, the two statewide associations in California that represent Certified Shorthand Reporters, the Deposition Reporters Association of California (CalDRA) and the California Court Reporters Association (CCRA), collaborated on the proposed expansion of protected titles for our profession. Both associations recognized that consumers of our services were being duped into believing that they had a highly skilled, trained and professionally licensed Certified Shorthand Reporter making the record of their proceeding, when, in fact, they did not.

That issue should now be rectified. AB 156, signed by Governor Newsom on Sept. 27, provides an overdue and necessary expansion of protected titles that will help attorneys and other consumers to recognize whether they have a licensed professional or not serving as the deposition officer. This bill provides that "use of the words 'stenographer,' or 'reporter,' or of the phrases 'court reporter,' 'deposition reporter,' or 'digital reporter,' in combination with words or phrases related to the practice of shorthand reporting, indicates, or tends to indicate, certification as a shorthand reporter." Consequently, in the future only a licensed CSR may use any of those terms or phrases.

Remember, you do not have to proceed with a deposition if you do not wish to have a nonlicensee be the guardian of your record. CCP § 2025.330 (b) states, "Unless the parties agree or the court orders otherwise, the testimony, as well as any stated objections, shall be taken stenographically. If taken stenographically, it shall be by a person certified pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 8020) of Chapter 13 of Division 3 of the Business and Professions Code."

In the case of Ms. Buchman and her client, the deposition officer's only official credential was that of a Notary Public. He used equipment to audio record the testimony, and the recording was later transcribed by different individuals, none of whom held any recognized license, and the different sections were then assembled and produced as the final transcript. Well, except for one very large section of important testimony that was omitted during the assembly process.

So while the deposition officer referred to himself as the "reporter" on the record and "court reporter" within the transcript, he was actually what is often called a "digital recorder."

Now, to be clear, there is nothing illegal about a deposition officer having only a notary credential and using audio recording equipment. You just need to be aware that the product produced by a non-CSR does not meet the standard for automatic admissibility under the CCP. Although digitally prepared transcripts have "certificates" at the end signed by the unlicensed deposition officer and transcriptionist, neither document has any legal standing. Because, again, in California only a licensed CSR is vested with the legal authority to certify a transcript.

How can you know if you have a Certified Shorthand Reporter or a digital recorder before you start a deposition or other proceeding? Ask the court reporter for their license number -- you can even ask to see their license - or you can confirm their license on the Court Reporter Board website (www.courtreportersboard.ca.gov).

And then how will you know if you have a properly certified transcript? You just need to look at two pages - the cover page and the reporter's certificate, typically the last page of the transcript. Again, look for "CSR" and the license number that follows. Per the Code of Regulations (section 2406), a licensee is required to list their CSR number on both of these pages in a transcript, as well as a business card or other business-related printed materials. If there is a CSR number properly listed on these two pages, you have a legally certified, automatically admissible transcript.

Did you know that the Code of Civil Procedure makes no provision whatsoever for the preparation of a transcript that is not prepared stenographically by a CSR? In fact, 2025.530. (a) states, "If there is no stenographic transcription of the deposition, the deposition officer shall send written notice to the deponent and to all parties attending the deposition that the audio or video recording made by, or at the direction of, any party, is available for review, unless the deponent and all these parties agree on the record to waive the hearing or viewing of the audio or video recording of the testimony."

Don't risk having a crucial piece of testimony rejected at trial due to improper certification. Always insist on having a Certified Shorthand Reporter serve as the deposition officer and confirm that they are indeed licensed. I am confident that this new law will help to eliminate the confusion and deception that has become prevalent, and the beneficiaries will be the legal profession and all consumers who rely on legally certified transcripts to pursue the proper administration of justice.

#369361


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