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One-page, handwritten union agreement stalls court monitor changes until 2021

A one-page, handwritten memorandum of agreement between the Connecticut Judicial Branch and the court monitors’ union has further postponed cost-saving recommendations made nine years ago by a special state committee until 2021, according to a new state audit.

The Judicial Branch’s Committee on Court Recording Monitors and Court Reporters issued four recommendations regarding the state’s production of court transcripts in 2010. To date, only one recommendation regarding compensated leave time has been enacted.

The other recommendations included eliminating the practice of allowing court reporters and monitors to produce transcripts for private parties on Judicial Branch time, adopting uniform standards for the type of work reporters and monitors can perform and creating a list of outside companies who could potentially perform transcription services.

In 2017, however, “the department entered into a one-page, handwritten memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the court recording monitors’ union that effectively postponed the decision on the issue of court reporting monitor production of transcripts on state time for private parties until the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2021,” the auditors wrote.

The department agreed in the MOA with AFSCME Local 749 – which represents court recording monitors — not to outsource official written transcript production to other companies. Vice President of AFSMCE Local 749 is Sotonye Otunba-Payne, who works for the state as court recording monitor.

“The MOA effectively postponed any implementation of the committee’s recommendations related to court reporting monitor production of transcripts on state time,” the auditors wrote.

Court reporters and monitors can earn additional income and boost their state pay and pensions by producing transcripts for other state agencies. The auditors note that between 2014 and 2017, the Judicial Department paid out $728,471 in fees to court recording monitors in addition to their salaries.

There is no way to know how much the court recording monitors earned for producing transcripts for private parties while on state time, although those fees are not applicable to their total state earnings or pensions. 

The auditors’ findings regarding court monitors mirror their 2018 audit of the department, which found the department had not yet implemented the recommendations of the Committee on Court Reporting Monitors and Court Reporters.

But the hastily prepared MOA with the union appears designed to protect the second income stream for court reporters and monitors to produce transcripts for private parties during state time.

The Judicial Department agreed with the auditors’ findings but said the MOA “was entered into in good faith negotiations between the employee union and the Branch,” and said the department will “determine if any statutory changes are required in order to outsource transcripts,” after the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021.

The Judicial Department began making digital recordings available for purchase in 2018.

The audit also found the Judicial Department paid out over $10,000 in mileage expenses for a retired employee to commute from Bridgeport to Hartford after the employee was rehired temporarily by the department. 

The employee lived in Bridgeport and was assigned a “regular duty station” in Bridgeport, the employee drove to Hartford for work 179 out of 255 work days.

“Although it became evident that the employee was mostly working in Hartford, the department took no corrective action to change the duty station until our auditors brought it to the department’s attention,” the auditors wrote.

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