People of modest means and advocates of access to justice received some welcome news recently. On July 5, the California Supreme Court, in Jameson v. Desta, held that litigants who were entitled to fee waivers must be able to obtain a court reporter free of charge. The court found that not providing a court reporter in such situations is incompatible with both California statutes and case law on access to justice.
The court wrote that an official court reporter, or other valid means to create an official verbatim record for purposes of appeal, must generally be made available to in forma pauperis litigants upon request.
The case began when Barry Jameson, an indigent prisoner, filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court accusing a prison doctor, Dr. Taddese Desta, of medical malpractice. The Superior Court dismissed the case three times and Jameson appealed each time to the Fourth Appellate District. The Appeals Court reversed and remanded each time and the case went to trial in 2014. The Superior Court had stopped providing court reporters because of budget cuts by this time.
The trial ended with the grant of nonsuit against Jameson. Jameson attempted to appeal, but there was no record or transcript available. The Appellate Court said that without such a record, it couldn’t reach the merits of Jameson’s argument that the trial court got it wrong. He argued the case should be reversed and remanded for a new trial that would include a court reporter, but the Court of Appeal found there was no legal error and ruled against him. Then, Jameson appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court.