State court recording monitors object to Judicial Branch plan to outsource

February 16, 2019

Sotonye Otunba-Payne spends her days, and many of her nights and weekends, listening to recordings of court testimony and producing printed transcripts — word-for-word records of the proceedings that serve as the official court record.

Every case she covers in New Haven Superior Court is different, and most of them involve complex terminology. Over the past weekend, and on the recent state holiday, she spent 26 hours producing a 193-page transcript about aquaculture and the seaweed industry.

Otunba-Payne, who has been working for the state Judicial Branch since 1998, is one of 200 court recording monitors. She’s also a regional vice president of their union, AFSCME Local 749. The court monitors and the union went on high alert recently after learning their employer is positioning itself to outsource the production of court transcripts once the current contract expires in June 2021.

The court monitors, who the union says earn between 57,000 a year, say they supplement their salary by as much as one-third by producing transcripts and rely on the funds to make ends meet. Though they are state employees, the transcript work is treated as a separate enterprise.

The court monitors are considered self-employed for purposes of producing transcripts. They charge private entities 10 a page, plus state tax, to produce transcripts, with the price depending on how quickly the transcript is needed. State and municipal employees pay 6.75 a page. A monitor who produced a transcript for a recent trial said she earned 20 a day per case, but the recordings, which are provided on a CD or as an MP3 file, are not available for a week after an order is placed.

“It is certainly our goal to be open and transparent and provide as much information as we can,” said Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the Judicial Branch. “We have been talking about making those audio recordings available for a very long time. We had hoped we would be able to do it proficiently. We ran into technology issues, and it’s a manual process right now to provide the audio.”

The accessibility of audio recordings could mean less side work for the court recording monitors.

“We can negotiate that,” said DellaRocco, the union president.

The union is more concerned that the Judicial Branch, which has submitted language in a court operations bill that proposes assuming the authority over court monitors that is now in the hands of lawmakers, could outsource their work and eliminate or reclassify their positions.

Farley, the external affairs director, said this week that she was aware of the union concerns and that the branch recognizes the valuable contributions of the court monitors.

“We wanted to position the branch so that if we needed to expand the pool of people who could produce the transcripts, we could,” she said. “The decision about exactly what we may want to do may change.”