Are state courts still in the stone age?

Federal district and bankruptcy courts generally audio-record conferences, oral arguments, hearings, and trials. Besides, a court reporter is typically present to transcribe the proceedings in real-time as they occur. In comparison, many state courts have been very slow to adopt and use technology, even technology such as recording devices, which have been around for years.  The slow adoption of recording devices and other technology by state courts will continue to cause harm to litigants and their attorneys.

The Wisconsin state court case, Edward A. Vanderventer v. Hyundai Motor America, is an example of the disastrous consequences of not using a recording device.

In February 2020, following an 18-day trial, a jury returned a verdict against Hyundai for over $32 Million for a defective design of a driver’s seat, which contributed to severe injuries to the driver caused during a rear-end collision. Hyundai wants to appeal the verdict, but it cannot do so because the court reporter has failed to deliver the trial transcripts, and there is no recording of the proceedings. Hyundai paid the court reporter $10,000 to expedite the transcript.

It is now almost a year since the trial, and the court reporter has still not delivered the transcripts. After months of delay, and missing court-ordered deadlines, in November 2020, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals sanctioned the court reporter and imposed a fine of $1,075.  In December, the trial judge issued a warrant for the court reporter’s arrest after failing to appear in court to explain why she had not produced the transcript. Police then went to her home, but she skipped town.

Hyundai is arguing that without a transcript of the trial, they will be deprived of their appellate rights, and as a result, they should be granted a new trial.

If ultimately no trial transcript is produced, the failure will have caused a long delay in the resolution of the case, a waste of the attorneys’ time, effort, and expenses, a waste of judicial resources, a waste of the jury’s time, and distress to the injured plaintiff.

To prevent something like this from happening again, the state courts must enter into at least the 20th century, if not the 21st century, and equip courtrooms with audio or video recording devices.  Even today’s use of Zoom or other similar software for court proceedings is better than not having any recording at all.

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