If she can’t interpret an email, how can she interpret the law?
FORT WORTH, TEXAS
June 21, 2017
She has only been on the bench 6 months and attorneys and family advocates are already challenging Judge Baca Bennett’s competency. This post will only address our concern about Judge Baca Bennett’s ability to interpret an email.
Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) sent a letter to Judge Baca Bennett objecting to the transcription fee her court reporter quoted for a court record. The quote was $6.75 per page, plus binding and production fees.
PPC requested a transcript from another court earlier in the year and the cost per page and additional fees were less. The email requested Judge Bennett to consider setting a lower cost for court records in her court for a couple of reasons. The first reason is the cost per page for court records in her court are not consistent with other Tarrant County courts. The second reason is the Texas Government Code states the district judge shall set an appropriate rate for court records when a person objects to the cost.
Our letter emailed on June 6, 2017. Please pay particular attention to the text in red.
According to Sec. 52.047 of the Government Code, a person can object to the transcription fee for a court record from a court reporter. The section states, as the judge, you shall determine a reasonable fee for the record.
Your court reporter is charging $6.75 per page, a $20 production fee, and .50 per page for exhibits. The grand total for a 120 page transcript is $893.25.
On January 26, 2017, I requested a transcript from the 233rd District Court from Luanne Spurrier, and the charge was $6.50 page and $6 for binding. If I requested a 120 page transcript from the 233rd District court, the fee would be $786. Your court reporter is charging $107.25 more than the 233rd District Court. Both court reporters are employed by the county and there should be consistent rates between the courts.
The TCGOP Executive Committee is well aware of Tarrant County’s inflated court transcript rate as we passed a resolution regarding court recordings in the family courts last year. I gave testimony before the TCGOP Committee and shared PPC’s research on transcription costs across the country. The average national rate court reporters charge is $1.25 per page.
Judge Bennett, I am asking that you reduce the rate per page for court records in your court, including the request I have made to Betty Lynn Cade. Please see attached invoice.
Sec. 52.047. TRANSCRIPTS. (a) A person may apply for a transcript of the evidence in a case reported by an official court reporter. The person must apply for the transcript in writing to the official court reporter. The official court reporter shall furnish the transcript to the person not later than the 120th day after the date the:
(1) application for the transcript is received by the reporter; and
(2) transcript fee is paid or the person establishes indigency as provided by Rule 20, Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure.
(b) If an objection is made to the amount of the transcript fee, the judge shall determine a reasonable fee, taking into consideration the difficulty and technicality of the material to be transcribed and any time constraints imposed by the person requesting the transcript.
(c) On payment of the fee or as provided by Rule 40(a)(3) or 53(j), Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the person requesting the transcript is entitled to the original and one copy of the transcript. The person may purchase additional copies for a fee per page that does not exceed one-third of the original cost per page.
(d) An official court reporter may charge an additional fee for:
(1) postage or express charges;
(2) photostating, blueprinting, or other reproduction of exhibits;
(3) indexing; and
(4) preparation for filing and special binding of original exhibits.
(e) If an objection is made to the amount of these additional fees, the judge shall set a reasonable fee. If the person applying for the transcript is entitled to a transcript without charge under Rule 40(a)(3) or 53(j), Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court reporter may not charge any additional fees under Subsection (d).
(f) If the official court reporter charges an amount that exceeds a fee set by the judge, the reporter shall refund the excess to the person to whom it is due on demand filed with the court.
Now, let’s see Judge Bennett’s response letter on June 12, 2017. Please read the third paragraph and see the error of interpretation in Judge Patricia Baca Bennett’s statement.
The letter from the judge was obviously and error, so PPC asked the judge to revise her letter because PPC never stated the cost of the transcript was $6.00 a page. Her court coordinator sent an email and stated:
“Judge Bennett referenced the fact that your email claimed that the 233rd charged $6.00 per page. She also referenced an email that Luanne R. Spurrier sent to you on January 26, 2017 stating she charges $6.50 per page.”
This was what we will call a ‘WOW’ moment. As petty as this fact might seem, Judge Baca Bennett flat out refused to re-read the email and correct her error. Ms. Olson did not state in her email another court quoted $6.00 a page, she said $6.50 a page. We have to ask, is this incompetence or willful ignorance?
Since she failed comprehending this email, or acknowledging she made an error, how is she interpreting the law in her courtroom? Future observations and posts about this courtroom might answer this question.
And just for the record,
(1) Tarrant County Court Reporters are paid two times the national rate for other court reporters with a salary of over $101,00 a year.
(2) Transcripts costs are paid privately to the court reporters and the county does not receive any of the money paid directly to reporters to transcribe records. This is all private income for court reporters. (The court reporters own the court records and evidence too.)
(3) The Tarrant County Criminal District Court #1 (felony court) court reporter charges $4.00 a page. ($2.75 a page less than Judge Patricia Baca Bennett’s court.)
(4) The Charlotte Observer wrote an article on February 10, 2014 and it stated, “According to the AOC study, which was done by the staff of the National Center for State Courts, the average state-employed court reporter earns $53,000 in salary and $1.25 for every page of a court record transcribed.” (Read story here: N.C. weighs necessity of court reporters; ‘it’s all about the money’)
For now, we rest our case. More on court watcher’s observations in this court later.
READ: Why digital recordings are needed in all Texas courts. If it is good for North Carolina, then it should be good enough for Texas.