Accident victims and others who seek damages in court occasionally doubt the independence of the judge, but who would have thought that they need to be wary of the most innocent-seeming of courtroom workers: the court reporter bent over the little machine taking down what’s been said?
According to the code of professional ethics of the National Court Reporter’s Association, a court reporter must be “fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings” and “guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.” Some states have incorporated these rules into civil codes.
But, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, some court reporting companies have made deals with insurance companies and other corporate litigants in which, in return for their vast legal business, they provide them with transcripts sometimes at almost 40 percent below market rates. In return, unbeknownst to plaintiffs, certain insurance companies get special services. Among them: companies are provided with the names and vital statistics of all parties to a deposition — even when the deposition is not made public. This information goes into a database, which is then used to track witnesses and plaintiffs in future cases.
“Citizens who seek justice in our courts should not have to wonder whether the court reporter taking their deposition is working for the defense,” says Massachusetts state representative Harold P. Naughton Jr. Fourteen states — Hawaii, Texas, Minnesota, Utah, West Virginia, New Mexico, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, Kentucky, Michigan, Arkansas, Indiana, and North Carolina –have adopted rules to ensure that contracting with court reporters doesn’t occur.