The observation of The Bee's editorial board that family law court proceedings should have an official record is correct ("Family court needs to enter electronic age," Feb. 14). The editorial's conclusion that electronic recording is the solution is not.
Sacramento Superior Court did use electronic recording in family law proceedings in years past. The assertion that, "The system worked just fine back then," however, is historical fiction.
Far too many recordings were fuzzy, muddled, inaudible and unintelligible. Imagine sitting in a large room, at a large table, with five or more people all engaged in argument. Some talk loud, some soft, some fast, some slow. Often all are talking at once. This does not lend itself to a clear and concise official record.
Court reporting by a certified shorthand reporter is far more advanced and efficient than electronic recording. Reporters produce a more precise, clear and certain record. That is what an official record should be precise, clear and certain.
The editorial notes that litigants and attorneys, who were unable to remember what the judge's orders were, could use recordings to refresh their memories. This confuses the issues of convenience and justice. It may be convenient for a party or an attorney to have an audio recording of the proceeding to refresh his or her memory, but convenience is not the issue.
Justice is the issue. Justice demands a precise, clear and certain official record of proceedings.
The editorial also notes that if a family law litigant wants a record of the proceedings, he or she must "purchase the services of a court reporter" at $239 for a half day. The cost for a court reporter for the vast majority of our hearings, the "30 to 40 cases a day" The Bee identifies, is only $30 and the fee can be waived for low-income litigants. The $239 reported by The Bee is for trial or long cause hearing, not for regular hearings, and that fee can also be waived for low-income litigants.
The Bee concludes its editorial with, "The lack of a record, any record at all, has become an issue of simple justice." There should be an official record, but electronic recording is not the solution. In the family law courts and elsewhere, only skilled court reporters can be trusted to create a reliable record of trial court proceedings.
Matthew J. Gary is a Sacramento Superior Court judge, Family Law.