Advisory Opinion 39
Holding a Transcript Hostage (2001)
Statement of Facts
A member of the NCRA Board of Directors has requested an opinion from the Committee on Professional Ethics regarding ethical issues involved in the following scenario: The litigants in a case order a transcript and it is not produced because the court reporter and agency owner are fighting amongst themselves about payment for the reporter’s services.
The Committee believes that a court reporter has an ethical and professional responsibility to timely produce the transcript when it is requested. This ethical obligation to produce the transcript takes precedence over any internal dispute between the reporter and agency owner.
If the transcript is not produced in a timely manner, the litigants are being denied access to the judicial record which may jeopardize their lawsuit. This practice violates Provision 1 of the Code of Ethics. Provision 1 requires the court reporter to be “fair … toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings.”
Further, the Committee considers financial disputes that result in the transcript being “held hostage” by the court reporter, knowing that the litigants may be harmed by the refusal to provide the record, is also a violation of Provision 9 of the Code of Ethics, which requires the court reporter to maintain the integrity of the court reporting profession.
The disputes between court reporters and agency owners are issues that are best addressed in a written contract that details payment arrangements and transcript production while the reporter is with the firm and also what happens after the court reporter leaves the agency.
If the court reporter still feels that he/she has no assurance of payment and the agency owner still feels that he/she has no assurance of production, they may find a neutral party to act as an escrow agent and hold the court reporter’s payment until the transcript is produced.
Even if these efforts fail, the transcript must be timely produced and then the dispute can be settled through the courts or by arbitration or some other form of alternative dispute resolution.
The Committee believes that the court reporter has an ethical obligation to produce the transcript in a timely manner and that this obligation takes precedence over any internal dispute between the reporter and agency owner.
If the reporter refuses to produce a transcript in a timely manner in order to gain leverage in a payment dispute with the agency owner, this refusal constitutes a violation of Provisions 1 and 9 of the Code of Ethics.
THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION REFLECTS THE STATUS OF THE LAW IN MOST JURISDICTIONS. MEMBERS ARE REQUIRED TO CONFORM TO THE ACCEPTED PRACTICES SET FORTH IN THIS PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION TO THE EXTENT THAT SUCH PRACTICES ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR OWN APPLICABLE STATE AND LOCAL LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS.