Guide to Court Work
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1. Introductions: Make a Good Impression
Introduce yourself to the clerk and bailiff. Give the clerk your card with your CSR number on it. Ask for the clerk’s card. The clerk can be a valuable resource for you, but do not treat them like they work for you. Most clerks are very helpful and can make copies of things such as exhibits, motions, exhibit lists, etc. You can also offer to go to the copy machine and make your own copies.
Give your card to counsel. If you are there for a law and motion matter, check the calendar to find out where you are on the calendar. There could be several court reporters there to report other matters, so set up your equipment and wait in the jury box or wherever the staff directs you until your matter is called. Make sure you have enough cards for the attorneys.
2. Get to Know the Judge and Preferred Procedures
Introduce yourself to the judge. Ask him/her how they would like you to handle when you need to stop the attorneys or witnesses for overlapping, or speaking too fast, or just to clarify something. Most judges don’t have a problem with you handling the proceedings; however, there are some who prefer that you go through them. You might want to ask him/her how they would like to handle sidebar conferences. Some judges want those reported, which can be a challenge logistically, so it’s better to know ahead of time before they come up. Find a number for an official reporter or reporter manager in the county you are working in. They can help you with anything you might need, like formatting questions, indexing, how to handle appeals, etc.
3. Statutory Rates
Since you are acting as the official or official pro tempore the statutory rates apply. The statutory rates are 85 cents per folio or 100 words for the original and 15 cents per folio for a copy purchased at the same time. If the order is received after the original order, a back order basically, is charged at 20 cents per folio. If another copy is ordered at the same time as the back order, that copy is charged at 15 cents per folio.
4. Use CCRA’s Official Compendium as a Resource
Buy an Official Compendium. It has all the code sections that govern all proceedings in court, including appeals, confidential proceedings, whether it’s criminal, civil, or juvenile. It is an invaluable tool. If you don’t have one, order the freelance one too. You can order them from CCRA. Go to cal-ccra.org.
5. Your Trial Begins: The Agenda
Arrive early to set up. Most courthouses make you go through the magnetometer or metal detector so take that into consideration when deciding what time you should be there. In the larger courthouses it can take a long time to even reach the magnetometer. Also, make sure you’re not bringing any forbidden items into the courthouse, such as scissors, nail files, knives, pepper spray, etc. Each courthouse is different. Some may not even allow containers with liquids or knitting needles.
If you are there for a jury trial, a trial usually starts with in limine motions. Oftentimes, they will pick a jury first or voir dire. Some civil attorneys don’t want that reported so don’t be alarmed if that happens.
Next step is opening statements, followed by the presentation of the plaintiff’s case. The clerk or judge swears in the witness, not the reporter. You proceed with direct examination, cross-examination, redirect examination, and recross-examination until the questioning is complete. At the end of the plaintiff’s case, they may make a motion to dismiss for various reasons. If the judge denies their request, the defense puts on their case. It goes the same way as the plaintiff’s. Then you will have jury instructions and then closing arguments by both counsel. The plaintiff gets to make a final closing after the defense since they have the burden of proof. Sometimes the judge instructs after the closing arguments instead of before.
The clerk marks all the exhibits. You can get an exhibit list from the clerk. You may want to check exhibits as you go along, because at the end of the trial, the exhibits are returned to counsel. Oftentimes, counsel will let you take the judge’s exhibit notebooks for your reference.
6. Keep a Personal Log
Keep a personal log that contains all the pertinent information: case name, case number, department, the judge. It’s a good idea to keep track of the witnesses who are called in a log. It’s possible there will be more than one reporter who’s reporting the trial, so coordinate with the other reporter, if possible. If you are only reporting the trial for one day, leave a copy of your log for the other reporters who will be reporting the matter. Leave your name and contact number on the log in case you need to be reached by the other reporters.
7. Realtime or not?
It’s up to the reporter if they want to provide realtime for the judge. Most judges like it; however, the court will not pay for it, so they realize they can’t require someone who’s not employed by the court to provide it. Some judges order the parties to pay for the realtime hookup for the judge. Be prepared to bring a throw-down laptop for the judge if you cannot connect to the court’s network.
8. How to Handle Readback
The reporter needs to be available for reading back to the jury, if necessary, so make sure you have work to do to pass the time or clean up the testimony in case of readback. They will want you available at a moment’s notice. If there’s more than one reporter, they all need to be available or have the testimony edited so one of the reporters can read back to the jury. Have an index prepared so the reporter can find the testimony as easily as possible. Teamwork is key.
There are guidelines for how to handle reading back to the jury. It varies with the judge. Some judges just have the reporter go into the jury room and read back. Other judges want it done in open court. You cannot talk to the jury about the case or your opinions on it. You read the portion they want and leave.
When reading back to the jury, you only read back the questions and answers. And you only read back a question that has an answer. If there’s an objection to a question that has been sustained, you skip that question. No colloquy or objections are read back to the jury.
9. Appeals: What you need to know
If there’s an appeal, you do have to follow the laws that govern how an appeal is put together. Those are found in CCRA’s Official Compendium starting with Rule 8.830 for civil appeals. Rule 8.834 governs reporter’s transcript on civil appeals. If there are several reporters, coordinate with the other reporters to compile the transcript. Someone has to take the lead and be the primary reporter.
Rule 8.838 discusses the form of the record which indicates a transcript should contain no more than 300 sheets in each volume. Also, appeals need to have an index of exhibits that specifies when an exhibit is marked, received, refused, or withdrawn. There needs to be a chronological and alphabetical list of witnesses.
The index goes in the first volume with an appellate page and title page and list of the days of the proceedings. Also, on the cover page of each volume you need to indicate which dates are contained in that particular volume.
There are timelines that apply to how much time is required for the transcript to be filed with the clerk of the court. Those timelines are in the Compendium. You may be allowed to ask for extensions of time; however, it varies from county to county how much time you are able to ask for. Some counties have the time already built in to the due date. There may be consequences for failing to file the appeal transcript timely, so be sure to check with the court reporters or court reporting manager in the county as to how extensions for time are handled and the approved transcript format. All courts and appellate districts are different.
10. The Closing Statement
Hopefully these tips will alleviate some of the stress of going to work in court. It really can be fun and interesting, especially if you’re fortunate enough to see a case from start to finish. That’s one thing freelance court reporters always say they enjoy, because with reporting depositions, you never know how it turns out.