Public Policy
  Analysis, opinion & ideas from Steve Harry



Circuit court reporters charge outrageous fees for transcripts

July 24, 2016


A few months ago, I paid $360.60 for the transcript of a 10-day trial. I thought I was paying 30 cents a page. Turns out I was paying 4 times that, $1.20 per page. And I got no paper; just computer files (which is what I preferred). They were emailed to me.


The reason I was charged $1.20 per page instead of $.30 is that the software used by court reporters packs 4 of what they consider a page onto 1 of what I consider a page. Here's a sample:


If you want a trial transcript, you don't get it from the court. You get it directly from the court reporter, and the court reporter pockets the money. How do they get away with charging $360.60 for computer files that cost maybe $10 for the time it took to email them?


The Freedom of Information Act says a public body may charge a fee for providing a public record, limited to actual mailing costs and the actual cost of duplication including labor, the cost of search, etc. However, the courts are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The governing statute is MCL 600.2543:



This law was probably written before there was any such thing as a computer file.


The work of a court reporter is important and difficult, requiring special skills and training. They deserve to be well-compensated, but their only pay should come from the court. They should be paid by the page or for the time spent in court or some combination of the two, whatever is fair, but that should be their only compensation. Any member of the public who wants a copy of a transcript should get it from the court, and the court should provide it at cost. Ideally, the court should allow transcripts to be downloaded from its website free of charge.


Paper copies of trial transcripts may be found in case files that are available to the public in the Circuit Court Clerk's office. There you can have copies made for 30 cents a sheet. And if the case record has been moved to the Court of Appeals in the Hall of Justice, they will make copies for 50 cents a sheet.


Here's why the current system is unfair. Suppose there are 2 court reporters and each does a 10-day trial. One case attracts a lot of public interest, the other does not. Both court reporters do the same amount of work, but the one who did the popular trial sells multiple copies of the transcript for $360.60 while the other sells none.


Another reason the current system is unfair is that now that I own a copy of that 10-day trial transcript, I can give it away to anyone who asks for it. Or I could sell copies for, say, $50 each. All I'd need is 7 takers and I'd almost have my $360.60 back. It was the John Kelsey trial, in case you are interested.


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