July 28, 2016

ABA urges California high court to require record of trial court proceedings for indigent litigants

CHICAGO, July 28, 2016 — The American Bar Association has filed an amicus brief, asking the California Supreme Court to mandate that state trial courts provide court reporters for indigent litigants, if necessary, to ensure equal access to justice.

The ABA brief, filed Wednesday, supports the claim of Barry S. Jameson, an incarcerated, indigent, self-represented litigant whose medical negligence case against a California prison doctor was dismissed after opening statements at trial. Although Jameson appealed the dismissal, his appeal was unsuccessful because he did not have any record of the proceeding as a result of a San Diego Superior Court policy that official court reporters are no longer provided in civil cases and that indigent fee waivers do not apply to private court reporters.

The ABA noted in its brief that it has long encouraged trial courts to assist self-represented litigants in navigating the courts. It said federal and state constitutions require meaningful access to the courts and that the San Diego Superior Court policy “effectively closes the doors of the Courts of Appeal based solely on (a party’s) ability to pay for access, and the locations where they litigate their claims.”

“The ABA has long encouraged trial courts to provide court reporters in order to maintain a full and useful record of proceedings for use by the courts and litigants alike, as well as to take any number of other actions to ensure that self-represented litigants can meaningfully access the courts,” the ABA brief said

While the court informed Jameson 10 days before trial there would be no reporter provided by the court, the ABA brief said “there is no indication in the record” that the trial court explained the potential impact of that situation or of alternative resources for transcribing the proceedings. “The trial court’s failure to do so indicates that the trial court did not ‘take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial’,” the brief said, pointing to ABA trial court standards language as well as the Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

The ABA’s brief in Barry S. Jameson v. Taddese Desta is available here.

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