A shortage of court reporters in South Carolina has recently forced courts in Aiken County to cancel proceedings with short notice to judges, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants and others.
During the first week of August, two court days were suddenly canceled because the state could not provide a required reporter, said Aiken County Clerk Liz Godard. The lack of court reporters has been an ongoing issue, she said.
“It’s not the first time it happened,” Godard said.
As of Tuesday, the state had 22 vacancies for court reporters, said Desiree Allen, the manager of court reporting and court interpreters for South Carolina Court Administration.
The state always has vacant positions because of normal turnover and retirements, Allen said. However, the problem has been exacerbated by the advent of additional judges for circuit and family courts, said
Brenda Sigwald, the president of the South Carolina State Court Reporters Association.
In July, six additional judges were added to family court and three to circuit court.
“We’re desperate for court reporters,” Sigwald said.
While she is actively seeking to fill the positions, Allen said there’s a lack of qualified applicants for court reporters, who must be nationally certified.
“As qualified court reporters apply, they are hired,” Allen said.
Canceling court suddenly is an injustice to people who show up for hearings and those held in jail awaiting bench warrant hearings, Godard said.
If family court is canceled, court papers served by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office for child support
hearings must be served again, she said.
“It’s a hardship on the public and the staff,” Godard said.
Godard was notified by e-mail Aug. 1 – four days before the canceled court sessions – that the state was still searching for a court reporter for Aiken County. On the morning of Aug. 5, the
clerk’s office called court administration and was told a reporter was not available.
The state employs 102 court reporters who serve circuit and family courts in 46 counties, Allen said. She could not say how often court is canceled because of the shortage.
Cynthia First, the president of the South Carolina Court Reporters Association, an organization mostly for
freelancers, said the shortage is caused by a lack of training schools in the state.
Midland Technical College, one of the state’s leading training centers for court reporters, discontinued
its program in 2010, according to its Web site.
First said the state needs to consider hiring freelance court reporters to prevent cancellations.
“There’s no reason a trial should be put off when there are freelancers that would like to be hired for a trial,” said First, who is a freelancer and founder of EveryWord Inc., a freelance court reporter service.
Sigwald said hiring contract workers would come at a higher cost for the state because freelancers often charge expensive hourly rates.