California Court Reporter Board Fails to Protect Consumers, Crushes Working People

Attention California consumers: In the court reporting profession today there are three modalities for recordation, stenotype stenography, voice writing, and digital recording. In California, the stenographers are among the most heavily-regulated court reporters in the country. To give an example of this, in California, it is mandatory to have a Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) license to practice shorthand reporting. Now let’s juxtapose that against New York, where the CSR license is a voluntary thing that simply allows one to hold themselves out as a CSR and is not required to practice court reporting.

Recently there has been a debate about whether the licensing board has the ability to regulate digital court reporting, someone going in and recording testimony instead of stenotyping it. The licensing board of California decided not to protect consumers and stated it could not regulate digital. Its failure to regulate anything but stenographers means that consumers that are not using stenographers are facing a Wild West, caveat emptor-type reality.

The reason for this, though unstated, is pretty clear. My field is facing massive corporate consolidation and the big business end of things wants to start replacing stenographers with digital reporters. Licensing boards in California and Texas have been happy to let them do it. In Texas, a writ actually had to be filed to get the government to enforce the law.

There have even been rumors that at least one member of the California licensing board sold their business to a larger company around the time the decision was made not to regulate digital court reporters. When alerted to this fact, the Attorney General of California claimed it could not investigate because they’re responsible for defending the board. So basically the regulatory authority there to protect consumers isn’t protecting consumers, and the regulatory authority meant to enforce the law isn’t willing to take a glance at it. A nation of laws that don’t mean anything.

Letter from the California Attorney General after I raised concerns that something questionable might be happening in the California Licensing Board.

A new law has been passed, non-CSR firms can register with California and the California CSRs that work with non-CSR firms can face enforcement action if that firm isn’t registered with California. Basically the working people, the stenographers, are required to know if a firm is a CSR-owned firm or not, and everybody else is off the hook. You can read more about the situation from Protect Your Record Project’s announcement below.

There are a few ways to look at the situation. Many of us do not believe digital is the equivalent of stenography, but let’s accept the equivalency argument for a second. This would be like California regulating personal injury attorneys and not commercial claims, then turning around and telling personal injury attorneys that they could face enforcement action if they work with a firm owned by someone that is not a personal injury attorney. It’s basically splitting hairs in the direction of allowing the unregulated practice of court reporting while limiting court reporters’ economic opportunities to only certain firms.

At this point, California consumers would do well to ask the board what there is even a court reporting board for. Stenographer misses a word? You have the full backing of the government to come down on that person. Digital recorder botches a transcript? Tough luck, you’re on your own. Does this happen in other licensed fields? Can I just claim I’m a “digital doctor” and bypass California’s medical licensing laws?

I look on with a mix of mirth and despair as the government regulations meant to protect consumers are weaponized against my fellow court reporters. This continues for as long as California attorneys and consumers allow. The government has made one thing clear: It does not intend to meaningfully protect consumers.

Addendum:

A reader pointed out that I misread the information. My article previously stated that non-CSR firms were not required to register. I am now informed that they are required to register. That is an important distinction and so I have updated this post.

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