Group Sees Threat as an Attempt to Stifle Debate on an Important Civil Justice Issue
The nation’s largest court reporting company has threatened to sue a California consumer watchdog group over a white paper by the group that exposes the preferential nature of the company’s contracts with insurers and other corporate defendants. Such contracts give the corporations the upper hand over consumers that challenge them in court by allowing corporations access to secret databanks of witness testimony and giving other special services at discount rates not offered to opposing parties.
Esquire Communications, through its attorneys of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi, wrote to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) in reference to the white paper demanding that within 10 days FTCR “immediately cease and desist from disseminating the pamphlet,” and turn over “the names and address of all persons providing or disclosing to the Foundation Esquire’s trade secrets,” and “a listing and copies of all previously or currently existing materials that contain references to Esquire.”
To date, twenty states have banned or strictly limited preferential contractual agreements between any party in litigation and court reporters due to the appearance of partiality that such agreements raise. Similar legislative and court rule proposals are pending in several states around the country, including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New Jersey, among others.
“Court reporters should never be involved in helping any one side to gain an advantage over other parties in a lawsuit,” states Pamela Pressley, FTCR staff attorney. “Esquire has not only provided insurers special services through exclusive contracts, but is now trying to prevent public interest groups from discussing the ethical issues raised by such practices. We find it appalling that a company that has a duty to uphold the integrity of the judicial process would resort to attacking a non-profit, public interest organization’s free speech rights in efforts to end abusive insurance company practices.”
FTCR’s 1999 report, “Insurance Companies and other Corporate Defendants Strike Special Deals with Officers of the Court: A Growing Threat to the Impartiality of the Justice System” highlights the growing trend of insurers and other corporations entering into long-term, exclusive agreements with certain court reporting agencies that provide preferential pricing and other special services that are not equally made available to other parties in litigation.
Included in the report are documented examples of such special services provided by Esquire, including:
The National Court Reporters Association, the American Judges Association, the National Conference of Metropolitan Courts, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, among others, have adopted resolutions to support measures at the state and federal level that would ban any contractual arrangement between court reporters and interested parties in litigation that could create an appearance of partiality. Esquire Communications has lobbied in opposition to such measures in several states, including Texas and California. Court reporters are required under ethical rules and laws in many states to remain neutral, impartial officers of the court by not performing any services that tend to favor one side in litigation.
A copy of Esquire’s letter to FTCR and FTCR’s response available upon request. For further fact sheets on the issue of insurers’ special deals with court reporters and information on how to order a copy of FTCR’s white paper, visit the FTCR Fair Justice webpages at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/justice.