Budgeting error could shut down Illinois courts

Court reporters play a critical role in the American legal system. However, an oversight on the part of the State of Illinois may leave many court reporters out of work and many courts unable to hear cases until added funds are found to pay these legal professionals. A change in the way group insurance premiums and pensions are funded has left local courts without the funds necessary to hire the needed court reporters for upcoming cases and hearings. This could seriously hamper the ability of Illinois courts to dispense justice and hear cases in upcoming months. While no solution has yet been identified, state and county authorities are exploring options to deal with this major budget shortfall.

Flawed spending plan for Illinois

In an effort to cut costs across the board, Illinois lawmakers shifted the burden of paying for pensions and group insurance for court reporters to the local courts. By transferring the other costs of court reporting services from the General Revenue Fund to the Personal Property Replacement Tax Fund, Illinois hoped to reduce the overall costs of court operations at the state level. Unfortunately, local courts simply do not have the available funds to make up the shortfall, which is expected to amount to $14.3 million statewide by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Mandated court reporting

Under Illinois law, felony cases and those involving juveniles are required to have live court reporters on duty. Other types of cases could potentially be covered by less effective electronic recording devices; however, even these options would still require transcription and review by qualified court reporters to ensure accuracy and to satisfy legal requirements for note taking and monitoring. Failing to meet these requirements for live court reporting could close down some Illinois courts as soon as the end of the month of March.

Limited options

While lawmakers scramble to find new funding sources for the state court system, Illinois counties are looking at a number of options to try to maintain operations through the end of the fiscal year. Some ideas that have been floated include closing down some felony courtrooms altogether, reducing salaries, and delaying cases until after funding becomes available again. At the state level, lawmakers are considering implementing a supplemental appropriations measure or authorizing the governor to reallocate funding from other areas to cover the expenses associated with court reporting services throughout the state. In the worst case scenario, however, courtrooms may be closed down temporarily. This could create a significant backlog of cases for Illinois courts after June 30 of this year.

The threatened shutdown of court services in Illinois highlights the importance of the court reporter in the modern legal system. Court reporters provide accurate records of the proceedings in criminal and civil trials and assist in depositions of witnesses to acquire evidence and testimony. These legal professionals are vital to the smooth operation of courtroom proceedings and deliver reliable, responsive services to ensure fair treatment for all parties. The dilemma faced by Illinois courts should serve as a wake-up call for other states regarding the value of court reporting in the legal arena.