Court Reporter Shortage Backs Up Cases @WatchDogBen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - You've probably heard the phrase "justice delayed is justice denied." Well, it's happening right here in North Carolina. For example, 2 Wants To Know talked with one lawyer who says his property dispute case was supposed to be heard in September, but it still hasn't gone to court.
A statewide shortage of court reporters is to blame there. They write down the record of what happened. A record juries may want to go back and look at. A record judges could read to decide an appeal. And the Forsyth County DA Jim O'Neill says without them delays happens more than you'd think. His county lost three of five court reporters. So that courthouse had to close down one of its two court rooms.
"We're already spending the money to have two court rooms operating because we've got two judges and you've got two clerks and you may have prosecutors ready in both courtrooms. But unless we have that valuable court reporter nothing can happen," O'Neill said.
Court Reporter Shortage Backs Up Cases @wfmy
The DA for Davidson and Davie Counties, Gary Frank, even says the backlog could get so bad prosecutors might start making more plea deals - letting more bad guys out on the streets.
"Not being able to have as many sessions of court will eventually lead to a backlog, which will eventually lead to someone -- in an attempt to try to move that docket -- to be giving out better pleas and letting worse guys back out on the street," Frank said.
The court reporter shortage is because state lawmakers cut the pay of every court reporter like Lori McCoin Jones.
"It was insulting, but it was also scary because what happened was you had experienced court reporters who said hey I'm not typing for a dollar 25 a page, and they left," McCoin Jones said.
In the past North Carolina paid court reporters $2.50 per page of a transcript. But last year lawmakers sliced that in half... to a buck and a quarter. In Lori's case it's a thousand dollar a month difference.
"While it's really bad for the reporters, we're skilled professionals. We can find jobs doing other things. It's really bad for people. The people of north Carolina," she said.
2 Wants To Know took these concerns to State Senator Stan Bingham. He's the co-chair of the Senate Judicial Appropriations Committee. That group makes decisions about the courts' budget. After the conversation, Bingham says his mind was changed...he's plans to bring up the pay cuts in the short session this May
"As we have many things, we'll try something and realize it was a mistake or we need to compromise or make changes. And that's in effect what's happening," Bingham said.