Jameson v Desta Decision: Great news for low-income Californians!

July 5, 2018


Media Contacts:

Salena Copeland, 510-893-3000 x106
SCopeland@LAAConline.org

Lorin Kline, 510-893-3000 x105
LKline@LAAConline.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 5, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – Earlier today, the California Supreme Court ruled in Jameson v. Desta (Case No. S230899). In an unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Court held that court reporters must generally be made available to indigent litigants.

Image of a court reporter’s stenotype machine

Barry Jameson filed this case in 2002. Jameson, who was indigent, was unable to afford to hire a court reporter for his trial, and the court did not provide one. When he tried to appeal his case, he was unable to do so because he did not have a record of the trial court proceedings. In 2016, the California Supreme Court took up the case. Specifically, the Court granted review in the case to determine whether the trial court’s policy of not providing official court reporters in civil trials, even for litigants that indigent enough to be entitled to court fee waiver, is valid.

The Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) joined with Public Counsel, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, Inner City Law Center, and others as amici to argue that court reporter fees must not be a barrier to appellate court access for persons who cannot afford to pay them. “This is a case about how lower-income Californians in some courts are unable to access justice. Without a verbatim record of court proceedings, they are unable to effectively appeal a lower-court decision,” said Salena Copeland, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC).

The California Supreme Court held Thursday that the San Diego trial court’s policy is invalid as applied to Mr. Jameson and to other individuals that are recipients of court fee waivers. They also held that, “an official court reporter, or other valid means to create an official verbatim record for purposes of appeal, must generally be made available to in forma pauperis litigants upon request.” In its decision, the Court recognized the importance of having an official court reporter, stating that failing to provide court reporters to indigent litigants “effectively deprives such litigants of equal access to the appellate process that their in forma pauperis status was intended to afford.”

Copeland said, “Unfortunately, the San Diego courts made a tough decision in a time of a budget crunch to deprive low-income litigants of their right to a record of the proceeding. People who have much higher incomes are able to pay for private court reporters, whereas lower-income people cannot. They cannot opt out of the consequences of a court’s budget decision.”

Added Erin Smith, Executive Director of the Family Violence Appellate Project, “This decision will help the thousands of low-income survivors of domestic violence who depend on a transcript to appeal trial court decisions that put them and their children in danger of abuse, but who can’t afford to hire their own court reporter. With today’s decision, the Supreme Court has helped the level the playing field so low-income survivors of abuse can have equal access to justice.”