In response to the Illinois budget crisis, Madison County court reporters began taking furlough days on Monday.
Chief Judge Dave Hylla said the court reporters will be furloughed three days each week, leaving six court reporters on duty at a time – a significant decrease from the regular 14. He plans for the furloughs to last through April 15, marking the end of the next pay period, while he figures out how to stretch what money the courthouse has.
“I don’t know how this will affect us,” he said. “We are taking this day-by-day.”
Hylla said furloughs can only be stretched until April 15. If the funds aren’t available after that deadline, he said he will have to institute layoffs, which will affect 10 out of 16 court reporting staff.
The Madison County court reporting staff currently includes 14 court reporters, one supervisor and one supervising assistant. Hylla said that if layoffs are carried out, the two supervising roles and eight court reporters would lose their positions.
He added that he expects potential layoffs to only last until July 1, but that also depends on whether the court gets full funding for the next fiscal year.
During the current furlough, the courthouse will staff six court reporters to cover the civil division, Criminal Justice Center and Bond County Courthouse.
“If we only have six court reporters working in the whole circuit, it’s going to be pretty tight,” Hylla said.
He explained that according to state laws requiring a speedy trial with an official transcript in criminal cases, the present court reporters will be dispatched to cover criminal trials above anything else “to ensure that we don’t have to let anyone free based on not being able to try a speedy trial.”
Hylla said he would ask court reporters to volunteer their time before he would allow those accused of serious crimes to be released without a trial.
Additionally, the Illinois Supreme Court requires court reporters be present at juvenile delinquency proceedings and family court proceedings involving child interviews.
“We will guarantee as much as humanly possible that every proceeding that the law requires a court reporter, a court reporter will be there,” he said.
While Hylla is hopeful that he will have enough court reporters to go around at any given time – considering there aren’t typically six trials happening at once – he said he may have to continue cases where there aren’t enough court reporters present.
“I’ve never seen six trials going on at the same time, so it’s not realistic,” he said, “but we have to be prepared for anything.”
However, if parties request a court reporter present for civil proceedings and don’t want to continue the case, Hylla added that they may hire freelance court reporters to provide an official transcript of the proceeding.
Hylla anticipates that pro se litigants will be affected by this change the most. He explained that if they can’t afford to hire an attorney, then they probably can’t afford to hire a court reporter. But they have every right to an official transcript for appealing purposes.
“Do you want to proceed without a reporter or continue your case? Those are both bad choices in my mind. That will be the worst aspect of this,” Hylla said.
In instances where a case continues and a court reporter is not present, he said parties may still appeal their judgments but will have to rely on an order from the judge rather than a full transcript.
“It’s not as good as verbatim, but it’s something,” Hylla said.
Madison County isn’t alone in its challenges. Chief judges across the state have had to make alternative plans with smaller budgets, including furloughs and layoffs for hundreds of court reporters state-wide.
The court reporter shortage stems from former Gov. Pat Quinn’s authorization of a $35.7 billion fiscal 2015 state budget too large for the state to support. The budget was also $14 million short in its allocation for court reporters.
In an effort to curb more courthouse budget crises across the state, the Illinois House passed Speaker Michael Madigan’s House Bill 317 on Tuesday, which includes appropriations needed for funding court reporters, among other things.
Hylla said a move like this was needed.
“Until there is a bill with a number on it, there’s not much chance of anything happening,” he said.
Thinking ahead, Hylla said he has given some thought to what he will do next year if the courthouse doesn’t receive its full funding, saying he isn’t sure how they will continue covering all of the court proceedings without the proper finances to do so.
“I don’t have a plan in place, but I don’t want to sit here and act like I’m oblivious that we may have reduced funding,” he said.