New Rule Effective July 1, 2001
Today, a last-ditch effort to overturn a rule adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court that will ban insurance companies’ practices that seek to gain advantages over other parties in litigation through advantageous deals with court reporters was thwarted when a House Committee voted down a resolution against the rule. The vote today means that the new rule, the culmination of a three-year effort by court reporters, attorneys, judges, citizens’ and consumer organizations to ban the preferential deals, will go into effect on July 1, 2001.
“The trend of state legislatures and state supreme courts that have considered this issue has been to ban or strictly curtail preferential deals between court reporters and insurance companies or other corporate defendants,” stated Pamela Pressley, staff attorney for the California-based consumer rights organization, The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). “This new law should send a strong message to litigants that they cannot demand preferential treatment from any officer of the court, including court reporters.”
So far, including the new Ohio rule, 24 states have recognized the serious threat to the impartiality of the judicial system posed by insurers’ special deals through the passage of legislation or court rules:
Several other states have similar proposals currently pending, including Alaska, Washington, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
The American Judges Association (AJA), the National Conference of Metropolitan Courts and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America have resolved to support such measures. The AJA
recognizes that “court reporters are officers of the court whose impartiality, as with judges, must remain utterly beyond question in order to ensure the enduring confidence and faith from which our judicial system derives its legitimacy.”
FTCR has compiled a first-of-its-kind white paper documenting the most egregious abuses posed by preferential insurer deals with court reporters which the state laws seek to curb, including:
As part of many contractual arrangements with insurance companies, court reporters are required to provide a computer diskette version of the deposition to the insurance company and to the contracted court reporting agency. The agency then databases all depositions for that insurance company that can then be used to their advantage over other parties in future legal actions.
Insurance companies are actively using court reporters to invade the privacy of consumers by requiring the collection of personal, identifying information either through the completion of a “witness information sheet” that is turned in with the completed transcript or the entering of this private information directly into the record. Once in the hands of the insurer, there is no control over who may access this personal information that may be shared with the insurers’ affiliates or subsidiaries without the permission of the individual.
Many court reporters have complained that they have been asked by insurance company counsel to stay after a deposition to record a summary of what happened in the deposition as dictated by the insurance counsel– a prime example of how court reporters are being used by insurance companies as part of their litigation support team to give them an advantage over opposing parties. In a complaint to the State Bar of California, one court reporter stated that she was asked to not report any further depositions by the insurer’s counsel when she tried to explain that she believed it was unethical for her to be taking dictation from the attorney of his account of the deposition.
Insurance companies and other corporate defendants or their intermediaries are also attempting to control when the other parties to a case will receive copies of deposition transcripts by directing the court reporter to deliver the original and all copies of the transcript directly to the insurance company or their intermediary.
“These abuses place the court reporter in a position where they are essentially an advocate for the defense, rather than a neutral, impartial officer of the court,” stated Pressley. “Consumers, judges and attorneys across the country are calling upon all states to follow the growing trend towards adopting stronger standards to restore public faith in the judicial process.”