Underpaid court reporters threaten to walk out of criminal cases in Broward

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Broward court officials are working to keep dozens of court reporters on the job after they filed notice to stop covering criminal trials later this month, a development that could grind the justice system to a halt for the most serious felony cases in the county.

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Boss Reporting and Bailey & Associates, the two firms that provide court reporters for the criminal division of the 17th Judicial Circuit, have each filed a 30-day notice terminating their contract, each complaining that they have not received a substantial raise in their rates for more than 20 years.

At stake are murder trials and other violent felony proceedings that depend on court reporters to keep an accurate record of what takes place in front of the 24 judges in the north wing of the Broward courthouse, including the upcoming death penalty trial of rapper and accused murderer YNW Melly, whose case is still in jury selection.

“This dispute could paralyze the system until there’s a resolution,” Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said. “Death penalty cases require the presence of court reporters, in person. I’m not sure you can waive a statutory rule.”

Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter said the dispute between the court system and the reporters is close to a resolution, but he was not in a position to disclose the amount of a raise he can offer. It will have to be significant to prevent a walkout, according to e-mail communications between court administration and one of the two firms.

YNW Melly murder trial gets moving with jury selection

Currently, court reporters in Broward are paid $110 per session for two sessions a day, plus $5 per page for transcripts that they provide. Overtime is $32 an hour in 15-minute increments.

Even doubling that base amount is too little, too late for the court reporting firms.

“The rates date back 20 years and without an increase, it is not advantageous for the stenographers and myself to continue providing services to the 17th Judicial Circuit,” Donna Kadosh, president of Boss Reporting, said in her letter providing 30-day notice to back out of the contract.

Broward courts have offered $200 an hour, but even that would be less than what court reporters are paid in Miami-Dade County — they get $245 per session, though their sessions are a half-hour longer than Broward’s.

In a letter to Broward Court Administration, Trish Bailey Entin said federal court reporters earn $800 a day in Broward and $1,000 a day in Miami-Dade. The reporters pay all social security and federal taxes on the money they collect, and Bailey Entin said they were struggling to make ends meet.

Both sides agree that technology has not yet shown that it can provide an accurate record of trial proceedings — a digital recorder cannot stop a hearing to ask a lawyer or witness to speak more clearly or to instruct arguing lawyers that only one person is allowed to speak at a time.

And appellate courts rely on the human reporters to swear under oath that the transcripts they provide are accurate.

“I’m going to definitely increase their rates,” Tuter said Tuesday. “I think we’re going to have signed contracts very soon.”

The Bailey reporters are set to leave on May 19.


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