Groups of court reporters rally at State Capitol for fair pay

About 30 court reporters held an “Off the Record” rally on April 16 at the State Capitol, to draw attention to their long-standing quest for a fair per-page pay rate, that has not been increased in 38 years and is one of the lowest in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of MAFCR, MAPCR, and MECRA

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Members of the Michigan Association of Freelance Court Reporters (MAFCR), Michigan Association of Professional Court Reporters (MAPCR), and Michigan Electronic Court Reporters Association (MECRA) gathered in Lansing on April 16 for an “Off the Record Rally” at the State Capitol to achieve an increase for Michigan’s per-page rate, which is set by the legislature, and has not been increased in 38 years.

Michigan's current page rate of $1.75 per page is one of the lowest page rates in the nation, according to organizers of the rally. By comparison, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio have page rates in excess of $4 per page.

House Bill 5046, sponsored by Nate Shannon (D-District 58), increasing Michigan’s page rate to $3.75 per page, passed the Michigan House of Representatives on November 1, 2023, in a 104-6 vote; and is stalled, awaiting a hearing in front of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee. Since 1998, more than a dozen bills on this subject have been introduced; none have come to fruition.

The group of about 30 court reporters from around the state—some from as far afield as Traverse City—gathered near the legislators’ entrance at 9 a.m. on April 16, to grab the attention of senators as they arrived for session.

“Most senators were in a hurry but a few said they wanted to learn more as they walked past,” says Kara Van Dam, a Certified Electronic Recorder (CER), owner of Ace Transcripts, and co-founder of MAFCR.

The group then observed the proceedings from the gallery, where they were joined by Sen. Paul Wojno (D-District 10) who talked to them about the profession and its struggles, and how the page rate has affected freelancers and court-employed court reporters.

After the session, Sen. Wojno invited the group to the Senate floor for photographs, where the court reporters had the opportunity to speak with Senators Stephanie Chang and Ruth Johnson.

“We were told there was support for our bill and that it was on their radar but there are other bills they need to take up first.  We still don’t understand how a 38-year pay freeze is not a priority,” Van Dam says.

“There was also discussion of a ‘companion bill’ that has not yet been introduced dealing with deposition fees, that they would like to have a Senate hearing on at the same time. We were left with the impression we would not get our hearing until that bill was introduced. Our understanding is that ‘companion bill’ deals with deposition fees and aims to control predatory practices. While this issue does involve court reporters, it’s completely separate from fees charged for court transcripts and affects two separate groups of court reporters.
Deposition transcripts page rates are not regulated by statute and they are free to charge whatever page rate they would like. We’ve seen draft language of the bill and MAPCR, MECRA, and MAFCR would have no objection to the language as currently proposed.”

Van Dam notes the group is frustrated to have this “companion bill” hold up the process.

“The longer our bill is stalled, the longer court reporters responsible for producing appellate transcripts suffer under this ancient page rate and litigants are unable to get the transcripts they need in a timely manner,” she says.

“I would like to apologize to all the litigants whose appeals have been delayed because of the backlog. We understand how important your cases are and the negative impact the delay in getting your transcripts have on your appeals. We are trying as hard as we can to work through the voluminous amount of transcript orders with limited court reporters willing to do this work.

 “We’re navigating the political maze as best we can without the expertise of savvy lobbyists or powerful PACs,” Van Dam notes. “The more time we have to spend working on HB 5046, the less time we are able to work for litigants and get transcripts produced. If this page rate comes through, we will be in a position to recruit talent back to the field of court reporting and work through the backlog and improve turnaround times, but our hands are bound by the archaic and crippling statute.”

The group remains cautiously optimistic about the prospect of pay reform, she adds, and that all the legislators the court reporters have spoken with express support for the bill. There also is no public opposition to HB 5046.

“However, we’ve been in this position before where legislators say they support the bill but no action is taken,” she says. “We’ve also been in the position where one chamber passes the bill with a near unanimous ‘yes’ vote but it dies in the second chamber.”

According to SCAO, there are fewer than 1,400 court reporters licensed to prepare transcripts in Michigan.

The low per-page rate has caused a shortage of court reporters willing to work at the 1986 rates, and those that continue to produce transcripts are suffering from severe caseload fatigue. In 2020, there were 248 registered court reporting firms in Michigan; as of February 14, 2024, that number has dwindled to 84 firms. This shortage affects appellate courts, court administration, counsel, parties, the public, and anyone navigating Michigan courts.  

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