While both sides agree that integrity matters when it comes to the accurate and timely transcription of court proceedings, the state’s court recording monitors are protesting what they believe is a move by Judicial Branch officials to outsource their jobs.
“This is history,” said Sotonye Otunba-Payne, a recording monitor in the Judicial District of New Haven courthouse. “We are in charge of the history of the court record.”
Otunba-Payne and several other court recording monitors testified Wednesday against portions of Senate Bill 964, the Judicial Branch’s operations bill, which they say opens the door to elimination of their jobs and their potential to earn extra income on their own time.
Calling the monitors the “unheralded backbone of any court proceeding,” Charles DellaRocco, the president of AFSCME Local 749 that represents 1,500 Judicial Branch employees including the state’s 200 court recording monitors, said portions of the bill contained language “we fear would enable the Judicial Branch to achieve something they have long sought, which is to outsource the transcription work performed by the monitors we represent.”
The original version of the bill would have given certain court officials the authority to approve other “entities” to record and transcribe court proceedings, DellaRocco said.
The language was removed before the public hearing on the bill Wednesday, he said. But he said the union and the court monitors are going to continue to rally against outsourcing. “The union would be foolish to drop this issue,” DellaRocco said Thursday. “Just because they’ve taken it out of SB 964, that doesn’t mean they won’t do it other ways.”
The Judicial Branch recognizes the quality of the work the court reporting monitors do, said Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the Judicial Branch. She said the branch was “trying to meet the requirements of the auditors while maintaining our agreement with the union not to allow outsourcing while complying with state statutes” at the same time, she said.
“We’re committed to ensuring that high-quality, timely transcripts are available to the parties (involved in a case) and others,” Farley said.
The union and the recording monitors have been concerned about outsourcing since a 2010 Judicial Branch report by the Auditors of Public Accounts indicated that it was possibility. A memo sent to all court monitors in December indicated that the Judicial Branch would seek a change in the law this session to allow for “expanding the pool of individuals who can produce transcripts of court proceedings.”
State auditors also recommended that court recording monitors not be allowed to transcribe proceedings while on state time.
The monitors are paid by the Judicial Branch to be in the courtroom recording the proceedings. They are also paid by attorneys and other individuals per page for transcribing proceedings outside of work hours, said DellaRocco, who insisted that none transcribe on state time unless they are working on appellate transcripts, which is one of their job requirements.
The court recording monitors who testified Wednesday bristled at the thought that outside, untrained “entities” were capable of providing accurate, timely and professional services similar to their own.
The Judicial Branch already allows the public to buy recordings of court proceedings at $20 a disk, said Cathy Plavcan, a Stamford Superior Court recording monitor. “You can hear different people talking, you can hear the attorneys talking to their clients on the recordings,” Plavcan said.
She also pointed out that if three different people buy the same disk, that three different transcripts of a proceeding could be produced. “Someone’s liberty could be at risk,” she said. “Putting in one small word could impact someone’s freedom.”
In addition to the professional service they provide to clients and court staff, their work transcribing outside the courtroom is vital to their income and to the community, Otunba-Payne told legislators.
“This is work that must be performed outside of the normal hours of daytime court operations. Court recording monitors perform the duties with utmost precision, integrity, timeliness and professionalism,” she said. “We do not get a dime of overtime. We are paid on a per-page fee set by statute. My colleagues and I believe the Branch’s pursuit of outsourcing would lead to the elimination of our court transcription work and ultimately our jobs. I would also like to point out that court recording monitors are nearly 100 percent female. Outsourcing to a private corporation would be devastating to us, to our families, and to the communities where we live, work and pay taxes.”
The same bill also expands the definition of mandated reporters who deal with children and concerns other court operations including sentencing-review guidelines and the appointment of family court magistrates.
The Judiciary Committee is expected review the bill in the coming weeks.