A lack of court reporters has caused court in Aiken County to shut down twice this month, according to the Aiken County Clerk of Court, but a state official said the problem is not as severe as it seems.
Aiken County Clerk of Court Liz Godard said shortages in court reporters have caused problems with the court system for about two years.
“It's gotten more prevalent recently,” she said, adding that two days earlier this month were canceled because the state could not provide a court reporter.
“When court is on hold, no one can work or go forward, and all the work you've prepared to get there cannot proceed because there's no court reporter to take down the record,” Godard said.
Court reporters are provided and assigned by the S.C. Court Administration. There are currently 106 court reporters serving 46 counties in South Carolina and 22 job vacancies, according to Rosalyn Frierson, director of the Court Administration.
A court reporter is responsible for creating word-for-word transactions of legal proceedings. Aiken County can have up to four courts operating at anytime: criminal, civil, family and non-jury, said Godard. Larger communities like Columbia, Greenville and Charleston can have many more.
Godard said civil court was canceled next week because all the scheduled cases either settled or continued; however, she found out on Monday that a court reporter was not available for family court. She was then told on Tuesday that a civil court reporter was moving to family court.
“If our court administration had not found a court reporter, I would have had to cancel family court next week, or day by day,” Godard said. “It is a juggling game as to who is available and then finding one.”
Court schedules are worked out well in advance, said Godard.
“We work with the attorneys on both sides and their clients, and if something happens, we have to call those and reschedule, so all that work we've done we have to re-do,” she said.
Canceling court has far-reaching effects for many, said Godard. If court is canceled on a Wednesday, which is when child support rule cases are typically heard, up to 150 cases will not be heard and civil process staff will have to “start over again, because they had a court date and we just canceled it,” Godard said.
If someone is picked up on a bench warrant on a Friday night and court is canceled on Monday, that defendant could have to wait until Tuesday to go before a judge, Godard said. The lack of court reporters also has financial implications, such as when jury summons are sent out to 200 potential jurors.
“If we don't have court because there's no court reporter, they're coming to court, they're being paid $20 a day and then I send them home,” Godard said. “There's a lot of scenarios that can happen if there's no court reporter or judge.”
Frierson said the administration is hiring court reporters “as fast as we can.” She added that there has been an exaggeration about the reported shortage.
“It's being made to seem like there's a crisis, but I wouldn't say there's a crisis,” she said. “There's a situation that occurred in Aiken recently, but that's not to say that it's a crisis statewide.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard.