A law that works a hardship on the public

Regular Badlands readers may have noticed that the 157-pp official transcript of the trial-court hearing on the CEQA case brought against Merced County and the Riverside Motorsports Park by San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and the Merced County Farm Bureau was removed last weekend from the site. This was done pursuant to the following notification from the president of the California Court Reporters Association and the advice of attorneys.

Mr. H....

The official transcript of the court hearing in the case of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center vs. County of Merced must be removed from your Web site, Badlandsjournal, pursuant to Government Code Section 69954(d).

(d) Any court, party, or person who has purchased a transcript may, without paying a further fee to the reporter, reproduce a copy or portion thereof as an exhibit pursuant to court order or rule, or for internal use, but shall not otherwise provide or sell a copy or copies to any other party or person.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Lesia J. Mervin
CSR #4753, RMR, CRR
President - California Court Reporters Association

Tulare County Trial Courts
211 S. Mooney Blvd., Room 303
Visalia, CA 93291
(559) 733-6561 X 130
(559) 967-1765 (cell)

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail transmission, and any documents, files or previous e-mail messages attached to it, may contain confidential information that is legally privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, or a person responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of any of the information contained in or attached to this message is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. If you have received this transmission in error, please immediately notify me by reply e-mail at lesia@quik.com , and destroy the original transmission and its attachments without reading them or saving them to disk. Thank you.

We have several remarks to make about this tendentious interference with freedom of speech.

First, as frequent readers of court transcripts produced by California court reporters, we can understand how their guild might wish to assert a copyright similiar in force to that of any other novelist to protect the product of her creative genius. Court transcripts, although "official" and definitely public documents, are not always accurate.

Secondly, we sympathize with court reporters' difficulties extracting payment from unscrupulous attorneys for their official and public productions. In the case where Whiplash Willie is representing Duane X against MegaCorp, Willie doesn't always pay for the transcript. Likewise with the litigator from Slaughter, Gutbubble and Trash, representing Acme, Inc. v. ABC Import-Export on who pays the rent on the container full of 16-p nails on the Oakland docks. Also, it is possible that in this particular case, which has involved stories of the project proponent not paying legal bills, respondents have not paid for their transcripts. Should petitioners and the public on behalf of which they sued, who have paid their bills, be punished?

However, the court reporters' effective lobbying to assure them their justly deserved fees -- righting what is apparently an historical wrong done to hardworking, underpaid court reporters -- works an unfair disadvantage on the public bringing and supporting lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act. These are cases in which petitioners represent the public against their land-use authorities. More than 100 people testified or tried to at the public hearing before the Merced Board of Supervisors on this project. In fact, at the close of that marathon session, an elderly farmer remarked in the elevator: "Only the Raptors can save us now." Many of them supported the bringing of the lawsuit against Merced County and RMP. In CEQA, the public brings the suits against their local governments. The public unable to attend a full-day court hearing of the case should have the right to read the transcript. Despite the view of local organizers and public officials that CEQA is something to be memorized like Scripture to spice up public comments and staff overviews of projects, the public best learns it seeing arguments in local trial court made by petitioners and respondents about projects in the public's own backyard

We appreciate the difficulties court reporters face that occasioned this law. But the Legislature should amend Government Code Section 69954(d) to allow transcripts of cases brought on behalf of the public to be shared with the public. Private property rights in public documents strike us as peculiar doctrine.

Bill Hatch