CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County court officials continue to face the dilemma of having a shortage of court reporters, stated President Judge Fredric Ammerman at Tuesday’s salary board meeting.
The county’s judges used to be served by three, full-time court reporters. However, two have left and the court is now down to one, according to previous GANT News reports.
At a previous salary board meeting in early January, Ammerman cited two reasons that the county hasn’t been able to replace the two court reporters.
First, he said there is currently a shortage of court reporters across the commonwealth. Secondly, he said is the county’s low pay rate in its advertisement for court reporters.
Ammerman said the court has been utilizing freelance court reporters. According to him, the average rate for a freelance court reporter is $326.63 per day.
He pointed out that there are 261 work days in 2016. He said when you do the math it will cost the county $85,250.43 for one freelance court reporter.
He said on some limited occasions this year, they will need two court reporters per day. On Tuesday he said, “At the last meeting, we reviewed the numbers; we’re still in the same boat.”
Ammerman said he was present at the meeting to request increases in the county’s hourly wage for the existing court reporter and the starting wage for the vacant court reporter position.
Commissioner John A. Sobel said although he knows the county has to provide court reporters, he wasn’t in favor of the requested salary increases.
He worried it would upset other county employees who would then make demands for the equivalent. He also believed it would create legal issues for the county.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said they had discussed it with a union rep, which represents the court reporters. He said it would mean the county would have to re-open the entire contract, which it has already negotiated and executed, and he didn’t believe that was desirable by either side.
Ammerman asked the salary board what they expected the judges and other court officials to do. He cited ongoing difficulties court officials have had in securing freelance court reporters.
“What’s the plan?” he asked. Looking to Sobel, he said, “You’re an attorney. You should understand.” Sobel said he did understand but this was not a county problem but a state and national problem.
Ammerman said even still the county must take criminal cases to trial, and there’s a timeliness factor. “What are we to tell the victims in these cases? Oh we can’t try this case because we don’t have a court reporter.”
Sobel asked what other judges around the commonwealth were doing to resolve the problem.
Ammerman said there wasn’t any real solution, and he wanted to match the pay rate in place in Clinton County. He said as long as they’re in demand, freelance court reporters will raise rates.
“We need them more than they need us,” he said. Sobel then asked Ammerman if he’d explored the possibility of using electronic recording equipment for court proceedings.
Ammerman said on March 2 he would be visiting McKean County with Court Administrator F. Cortez “Chip” Bell to see how its electronic recording system works for them.
However, Ammerman said he had a list of attorneys in McKean County who didn’t particularly like this method for recording court proceedings. He also noted it would be very costly to install and maintain.
Then, Sobel asked and Ammerman agreed for one of the commissioners to accompany them to McKean County.
Sobel said that the board could table action on the salary increase requests for the court reporter positions. However, Ammerman wanted to see where the members of the salary board stood on the matter.
Ammerman then made a motion for the starting wage of the vacant court reporter position be increased from $15.12/hour to $24.85/hour and for the hourly wage of the existing court reporter be increased from $20.91/hour to $32.54/hour.
When it didn’t get a second, Sobel declared Ammerman’s motion dead.