The Coastal Post - November, 1995

No Transcript, No Appeal

BY SANFORD GROSSMAN

It wasn't until recently that I realized the power of a court reporter. They are the people who quietly sit near the judge and cryptically press the keys of what looks to be a cross between a typewriter and desktop calculator, taking down what they hear during a court proceeding, making strange notations on narrow fan-fold paper. Modern machines also record the keystrokes to a cassette tape for rapid translation to normally-readable hard-copy by computer.

When the outcome of a trial is appealed, the court reporter prepares a supposed verbatim transcript. The usual turn-around time is two to three weeks. The need for transcripts of my trial, that results from the lies of people associated with the Marin Humane Society, became clear when the verdict was announced. Sentencing was the following day, and the day after that a Notice of Appeal was filed. Judge Taylor—the current head of the Criminal Appellate Department—knew in a day or two, officially, that transcripts of all ten days, and the sentencing hearing, were needed by me. That was March 6th. When you read this, at least eight months will have passed. Without all the transcripts, no opening brief can be filed. Thanks to more lies, I have served 100% of my sentence; any benefit of the appeal, regardless of the outcome, may now be only academic.

The long-standing practice in Marin County is that each judge has a specific court reporter regularly assigned to him. When an action of a judge is appealed and a transcript ordered, it is this court reporter who prepares the transcript, what amounts to a diary that will be used against the person who is, essentially, her boss. In this context, however, it is a private business transaction, ordered by, and paid for, the person requesting the service. The dispatch with which it is prepared, and the accuracy of it, rests on the court reporter, this near-employee of the judge.

In my situation, the need for a full transcript on appeal was made clear to Judge Taylor of the Superior Court early in March. In mid-April, Dolores Gilson, the Court Reporter regularly assigned to Judge Vernon Smith, promised the transcripts "within sixty days." In mid-June, not having received a single page, I wrote Mrs. Gilson. I asked her why the transcripts were not completed and when I could expect them to be delivered. She replied that it would be ANOTHER "sixty days." I responded with a lengthy and comprehensive letter to her, with copies to Judges Smith and Taylor and to my court-appointed attorney. In it, I explained her reasonable responsibilities and how her failure to perform was detrimentally pivotal to my life. I demanded that her preparing my transcripts take priority over all other work, and that she replace herself as she did for her then-recent vacation and do nothing but work on my transcripts until they were done. It wasn't until early August that the first two transcripts arrived. By late August five more transcripts had been prepared. A few weeks after my release, three more were provided. ONE TRANSCRIPT REMAINS MISSING. Until it is provided, the opening brief of the appeal cannot be properly prepared; so the substantive progress of the appeal process remains static.

Of course, I am not so naive, or paranoid, as to think that Reporter Gilson has a personal agenda such that she would take it upon herself to sluggishly prepare, or withhold, a transcript. In fact, I am pragmatic enough to realize that the trial judge—Vernon Smith—DOES have a personal "stake" in the progress and the outcome of the appeal, and that he can easily make his position and desire known to Mrs. Gilson, either directly, or through innuendo. Given this lead, I can understand how she would feel compelled to comply, especially having confidence that there would be no adverse consequences to her, at least not locally. But, indeed, the converse would be true. The point of all this is that a court reporter, by delaying the preparation of a transcript, for whatever reason, can have as much control over the life of a criminal defendant as can a judge, except the judge would not be able to get away with such a thing because it would be too overt. The scenario apparent here is more subtle, with a civil servant taking the blame, and the hands of the judge remaining unsoiled. Pretty neat setup.

Is there a conspiracy against me? I'm sure not going to accuse anyone of that, but Mrs. Gilson sure isn't doing anything to cover her ass when the prudent thing for her to do would be to protect herself. All she would have to do is produce that one remaining transcript and the appearance of impropriety, at least, would be eliminated. But why should she? Why would she want to disappointment her boss—the desires of whom can easily be expressed directly or be communicated "between the lines"—with less than obedient service? Her job security is certainly more important than the rights of a private citizen. To her, at least. So it seems to me. But what Mrs. Gilson apparently does not understand is that in such a contest she is directly, and personally, responsible for effectively preventing a meaningful appeal, and that because of that reality there are consequences that could befall her from which neither the District Attorney or even her boss could protect her.

A criminal defendant, found guilty, has a Constitutional RIGHT to an appeal, and to a speedy one at that. There is no one that I have found that would argue with that assertion. At issue is what constitutes speedy, meaningful, and fair. The DUTY of Mrs. Gilson is to NOT exercise discretion in a situation when she is being relied upon and there is NO discretionary freedom to accomplishing what is her legal, and practical, function.

With 100% of my sentence having been served, what will now be the effect of an appeal? When a new trial is ordered, the convictions and the horrible terms of the probation will be dissolved. Will the D.A. then retry the case? Almost certainly. There has been no concern about the cost to the taxpayers thus far, why should he start being concerned about saving taxpayer money now? And if I am again convicted, can the Court impose an additional sentence? Nope. So the exercise will become repeating the appeal/new-trail doublet until there is a trial without appealable issues, all at taxpayer expense, all to benefit the interests of the Marin Humane Society.

I recently wrote a letter to Judge Smith in which I told him that I had what I thought was a reasonable expectation of having my appeal considered by the local appellate court (three judges of the Superior Court, the first step towards the California State Supreme Court, if necessary) before the end of this decade. I asked him that if he was not going to do something soon about the remaining transcript, I would like to be put into suspended-animation, by the process of freezing, until my appeal was to be heard. There are three conditions: (1) That I be guaranteed a virtual reality experience, when thawed, of any event I missed while "on ice" that I would have otherwise attended; (2) That one copy of all issues of Time, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, the Marin IJ, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post printed during my "absence" be retained for my perusal when I am revived, and (3) That all of the costs would be at public expense. I am anxiously waiting either the receipt of the transcript or a direct response to the letter.

As promised in a letter to each, from jail, I am preparing a lawsuit against both Judge Vernon Smith and his court reporter, to be filed in Federal Court, for violation of my civil rights. It is time that "an outsider" with the power to force the status quo in the "Hall of Just-Us" to change, had a guided tour of some of the day-to-day practices of some of the judges in Marin County how it effects county employees and the people that they are hired to serve.

Why should YOU care about any of this? Because the people that we have elected to monitor compliance with the law in our county community, and those public employees over which they have control, are NOT, THEMSELVES, OBEYING THE LAW. It is a double standard that can, and does, put you, or someone important to you, at risk.

Next month: A proposal for an alternative to the current animal-control contract with the Marin Humane Society that will save Marin taxpayers approximately $500,000 per year, keep most of the remaining $1,000,000 IN THE COUNTY for recirculation within the local economy—thus reducing taxes—and will help rehabilitate those who would otherwise become a financial burden to the taxpayers.