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Time’s Up for So Cal Stip

Author: Po Waghalter

November 5, 2019 8:00am

The end is near in the life of the Southern California Stipulation, aka “So Cal Stip.”  Sometime in August 2019, and unbeknownst to many unsuspecting deposing attorneys, Southern California court reporters united and collectively decided to take a stand against the (infamous) So Cal Stip. All of a sudden, attorneys throughout So Cal were (mostly politely) told by court reporters that they would not comply with the So Cal Stip, and an all-too-accepted-without-question custom that reportedly dates back to the 1970s[1] would quickly begin to disappear.

Support came quickly in the form of a Court Order in Kern County: Presiding Judge Judith K. Dulcich specifically issued an Order indicating rejection of Southern California stipulation for submission of unsealed original deposition transcripts on October 3, 2019.[2] This Order mandates strict compliance with Code of Civil Procedure section 20.25.550 and goes into effect for all depositions noticed after November 1, 2019.

The specific text of the Order reads:

By Order of the Presiding Judge:

There has been a past practice of allowing attorneys to submit unsealed original depositions transcripts to the Court under what is known as the Southern California Stipulation (SoCal Stip), in which the court reporter is relieved of his/her duty under Code of Civil Procedure § 2025.550 and the original transcript is sent directly to the witness or the witness’ attorney for reading and signature. When deposition transcripts are handled properly per Code Civ. Proc. § 2025.550, the physical original transcript is retained by the court reporter throughout the entire production process, safeguarding its integrity until the reading and signature period has elapsed for the deponent. At the appropriate time, the court reporter must produce an original sealed transcript with attached corrections, if any, and deliver it to the noticing attorney. The transcript is then preserved for filing with the court in its sealed form.

With all the advancements in technology since the SoCal Stip’s initial development, including electronic transfer and signature capabilities, as well as document and communication security, the rationale for the SoCal Stip no longer exists. Accordingly, the Court will no longer allow unsealed original transcripts to be submitted to the Court under the SoCal Stip. Rather the Court will require attorneys to comply with Code Civ. Proc. § 2025.550, which will safeguard the integrity of the original transcript and exhibits and prohibit the potential opportunity for a party to tamper with the physical original transcript or exhibits when court reporters are Il relieved of their duties.

This order shall be effective, and Code Civ. Pro. § 2025.550 shall apply, to all depositions noticed on or after November 1, 2019.

IT IS ORDERED.[3]

Considering the swift support in an entire County, other Southern California Courts may soon follow.

The “So Cal Stip” – generally foreign to all attorneys outside of Southern California – amounts to the attorneys’ stipulated decision to relieve the court reporter of his or her duties under the Code of Civil Procedure (section 20.25.550) such that the court reporter would mail the original deposition transcript (and exhibits) to the witness’ attorney, and the witness’ attorney would handle any corrections and maintain the (now unsealed) original.

In simpler terms, the attorneys’ stipulation to waive the court reporter’s duty under Code of Civil Procedure section 2025.550 means that the security mechanism inherent in the Code – placing the duty to ensure a sealed original transcript to the neutral court reporter, instead of obviously non-neutral witness’ attorney – is disregarded. This arguably compromises the integrity of the original transcript and any and all exhibits, as it completely disregards the court reporter’s codified duty to maintain the original for a specific time and purpose, before mailing the sealed original to the party noticing the deposition, who is required to “protect it against loss, destruction, or tampering.”

In support of the position to refuse to comply with the So Cal Stip, Regional Vice President Nina Kirsch of Veritext Legal Solutions, asserts the court reporters’ desire to protect the integrity of the record: “Court reporters are rightfully honoring their responsibility to protect the integrity of the record, by refusing to abide by the SoCal Stip.”[4] This concern effectively suggests that the record may be compromised if unsealed and in the hands of the attorney maintaining the record – a disappointing reflection of lack of faith in attorneys, also officers of the court, but of course, is the prerogative of the individual.

Vincent Altadonna, whose wife is a court reporter, more interestingly and hilariously states that the So Cal Stip is “That B.S. practice that devalues my wife’s work product and makes her lose money! BOO-HISS!”[5]

Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 2025.550, subdivision (a), states : “ … the deposition officer shall securely seal that transcript in an envelope or package endorsed with the title of the action and marked: ‘Deposition of (here insert name of deponent),’ and shall promptly transmit it to the attorney for the party who noticed the deposition. This attorney shall store it under conditions that will protect it against loss, destruction, or tampering.”[6]

It appears that the Court reporters are right. Specifically, the operative and mandatory word is SHALL, not “may.” Moreover, there is no subsequent section or legislative comment related to this Code section indicating that the parties, attorneys, or any other individuals may outright stipulate to the disregarding of a clear mandate of the Code. More disconcerting, however, was the expectation of court reporters to comply in light to the clear wording of the Code. Arguably, a long-standing and generally unchallenged custom (until now) continued on, until court reporters decided they had enough.

Chances are high in this author’s non-expert opinion, that most attorneys – like this author – have never bothered to read this particular Code section. Admittedly, this author has only done so recently, when confronted with this united stand and progressive movement by court reporters, but mostly, out of curiosity. Since practicing in Southern California for the past decade, this author robotically adopted this learned So Cal Stip, and regurgitated it at each and every deposition, as has been the custom, and it simply appeared to be the courteous thing to do. Moreover, it was always expected and likely most appreciated by plaintiffs’ and witness’ counsels, who stood to benefit by not having to bear the cost of ordering a potentially costly transcript. Upon thoughtful and unfortunately, only recent reflection, this stipulated courtesy among lawyers completely disregards the interests of Court reporters and the Code of Civil Procedure section 2025.550.

Takeaway

When we know better, we should do better. It is time Southern California attorneys do away with the So Cal Stip, completely. And may all court reporters properly collect the fees they rightly earned and deserve.

 

[1] Koller & Kramm, The End of the SoCal Stip, Attorney at Law magazine (Aug. 13, 2019), https://attorneyatlawmagazine.com/end-socal-stip.

[2] Miscellaneous Order No. STO-19-0003, IN RE: COMPLIANCE WITH CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE § 2025.550 AND REJECTION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA STIPULATION FOR SUBMISSION OF UNSEALED ORIGINAL DEPOSITION TRANSCRIPTS.

[3] Id., emphasis added.

[4] RE: THE SOCAL STIP, Veritext Legal Solutions, https://www.veritext.com/images/2019/07/Veritext_SoCal-Stip_-July-2019-1.pdf, emphasis added.

[5] The Deposition Reporter (Fall 2016), https://dra.memberclicks.net/assets/newsletters/dra-2016-q3.pdf, emphasis added.

[6] Code Civ. Proc., § 2025.500, subd. (a), emphasis added.

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