During the summer of 2014, lawmakers throughout the state of North Carolina were forced to make more than $3 million in cuts from the court system budget. Over the last five years nearly $134 million in cuts have been made to the system, which has resulted in the elimination of over 600 court system positions. Without all of the necessary personnel to perform the duties handled by eradicated positions, the state’s courthouse staff is being overworked and underfunded.
The lack of funding has created a major problem with the court system – an overwhelming lack of court reporters. According to the trial court administrator for Mecklenburg County, the work that needs to get done sometimes doesn’t get completed.
Court cases all across North Carolina are being postponed or cancelled altogether as a direct result of the lack of sufficient court reporters. The budget cuts are largely to blame and have had a ripple effect though the court system. There has been a significant decrease in pay of nearly 50 percent over the five years that those cuts have been administered. That means that when all is said and done and things like research time and other factors are taken into consideration, the hourly wage of court reporters in North Carolina is falling dramatically.
Despite the budgetary situation – or more precisely because of it – there is actually something of a silver lining, at least from the perspective of the state’s court reporters. In the majority of cases in which a public court reporter is not available, often trial lawyers are faced with having to delay their clients’ trials for several months or cancel them outright. Since that is rarely a viable option, many attorneys are opting to hire private reporters and pay them out of their own pockets at a higher rate just so that the work can get done and trials can move forward as scheduled. It is certainly not the ideal situation but it is a way for court reporters to make up for the statewide budget cuts.