Santana: Justice Often Depends on The Bare Essentials

OC Superior Court Reporters Association Facebook Page

We all enjoyed Sunshine Week so much here at Voice of OC that we opted to extend the national celebration of government transparency by another week.

This Tuesday, we’re back in court.

Last week, after waiting a year for a series of public records, I wrote that our newsroom was excited to finally get our day in court to challenge the dangerous notion forwarded by the County of Orange that County Supervisors are allowed to act like feudal lords, able to conduct public business, with public tax dollars, completely in secret.

We filed our original lawsuit a year ago, ironically also during Sunshine Week – challenging official denials of a series of official emails about an incident where County Supervisor Todd Spitzer handcuffed an evangelist while armed at a local Wahoo’s restaurant.

Yet when it came to finally getting our day in court last Tuesday in front of Judge Walter P. Schwarm, Superior Court administrators couldn’t field a court reporter to allow justice to function.

Just as attorneys for both sides geared up on Tuesday, for a showdown a year in the making, they visibly started to scramble over something seemingly unrelated.

Attorneys kept asking court clerks where the court reporter was? Who would provide an accurate record of the hearing?

Court clerks looked at the attorneys and Judge Schwarm in a way that you knew something was wrong. Then they publicly announced there were no available court reporters.

They couldn’t find one available court reporter in the entire Superior Court building at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in a highly publicized case.

Apparently, administrators have cut back the hours of about 90 court reporters to save money.

Yet who is saving money, I’m not sure.

We had to pay our lawyer.

And the county counsel there to oppose Voice of OC also got paid.

Many court workers, include Judge Schwarm, also were rightly paid for their time.

This Tuesday, we get to do it all over again.

Schwarm announced last week that he already had a tentative ruling in mind.
He rescheduled our hearing for this coming week, acknowledging that the dispute over the records has been ongoing for some time.

Yet the whole affair impressed upon me how, more and more often, key functions of our government – things like court reporters to document proceedings – are being trimmed back, underfunded.

Shortages like this, created in the interests of saving money, often end up shutting down vital public services, like our courts.

The impacts just happen quietly so most of us don’t notice.

Well I saw this one first hand.

It reminds me again that defending democracy often comes down to making sure that basics, things like clerks and court reporters, are effectively funded.

Without them, the First Amendment is often the first one that gets kicked to the back of the bus.

  • Paul Lucas

    keep at it Norberto

  • fogfollower

    The lack of staff court reporters in California’s courts is an ongoing problem stemming from the severe cutback in court budgets from the Great Recession. California’s court system has not had its funding fully restored. Courts have slashed and burned court reporting services to protect their budgets. Right now the majority of California’s civil courts are not staffed by court reporters provided by the court. Litigants must provide their own court reporter whose fees, which may be fine for the free market, are cost prohibitive for most parties. The end result is a two-tier court system where only those of means get access to the full protections under the law. Those without money have no record to support their cases. Which is all too ironic considering that the courts are expected to provide justice for all instead of justice for some with money.

    • LFOldTimer

      “The end result is a two-tier court system where only those of means get access to the fully protections under the law.”

      Hello? It’s always been that way. Money buys justice for the most part in the US court system.

      A $500/hr lawyer who has a caseload of 25 will get you a much better deal than a public defender who has a caseload of 125. Common sense.

      Some attorney who golfs with the judge will do wonders for your case.

      “Justice for All” is a myth. And anybody who buys that nonsense has no clue what goes on inside the actual system. All they know is what they watch on TV, which propagates myths and lies.

      With that said, I believe Norberto has an excellent chance at a victory here. This is a highly publicized case which involves the media. The worst thing you can do to the court system is to show that it has no integrity. A ruling in favor of the county would tend to show that the courts and the county government are in cahoots. The media would be all over it. When the public loses faith and confidence in the court system society falls apart. So they have to keep up some semblance of appearance. Since Judge Schwarm was reported to say that he already had a tentative ruling in mind I would give it 10 to 1 odds it favors VOC.

      Winning the ruling is not Norberto’s problem. And he will likely be awarded attorney fees that the taxpayers will have to fork over – not Spitzer. The problem is getting all the information from the county that he’s entitled to. My guess is that the shredder is running hot. How can you prove something existed when it’s buried 10 feet deep in a landfill – unless you have an informant on the inside. Nobody on the inside would be willing to put their neck on the line for VOC. People have bills to pay and kids to feed. Who would need that aggravation in their lives? Martyrs are at a premium in government work.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Not one Court Reporter in the OC?

    Classic.

  • verifiedsane

    The problem with going to court to seek relief and justice, is that you’re going to court…another dysfunctional & corrupted government bureaucratic boondoggle….from out of control & institutionalized judicial corruption with zero oversight, all the way to the unavailability of vital support services…once you’re in court….it’s no longer about justice, truth, or the law…just a long & costly attorney/court centered & self serving procedural hell leading to nowhere; where those with the insider/political connections and/or the money; are able circumvent anything even vaguely resembling equal and equitable justice for all. It’s been said the game is rigged & predetermined in advance of it even being played. Our judicial system is a tarnished sad example of this motto. The last defense before tyranny is our justice system; once that well has been poisoned, were are all doomed to what happens next.