EDINBURG — Court reporters will see a substantial bump in pay on their next paycheck after the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court Tuesday unanimously approved a request to increase their salary.
The annual salary for all district, county and auxiliary court reporters will be $98,000 effective immediately.
Until now, each judge had set the salary for his or her own court reporter based on their respective court’s annual budget. The lowest paid reporter — assigned to the 275th District Court, which is currently without one — earned $78,000 annually, while the two highest paid reporters in the 139th and 93rd District Courts earned $95,716, according to information from the county’s Department of Budget and Management.
While a $98,000 annual salary may seem high, 370th District Judge Noe Gonzalez told commissioners it is standard in the state.
“There is a dire need to not only attract more court reporters but retain those that we have,” Gonzalez said.
Cameron County, to which Hidalgo County has lost multiple court reporters, pays these employees $97,000 despite the fact it is half the size and its courts have smaller caseloads. The new $98,000 annual salary is on par with Travis County and under El Paso and Fort Bend counties, which pay $100,000 and $115,000, respectively.
Four of the county’s courts are currently without a reporter, which is not helped by the statewide shortage of court reporters, and judges worry their court reporters could move to another Hidalgo County court in order to earn more.
Official court reporters are an integral part of the legal system because they create verbatim transcripts of all legal proceedings, and without them the judicial process comes to a halt.
“We have courts that are working, unfortunately not at full capacity because of lack of staffing,” Gonzalez said, adding, “In order for us to effectively and efficiently run our courts, we need to properly staff them …”
Before voting, Precincts 1 and 4 Commissioners David Fuentes and Ellie Torres inquired as to how this new compensation would take into account court reporters’ varied experience.
Gonzalez said this is something the county “will have to tweak” as it goes, noting none of the county’s court reporters have expressed concern about the equal salary.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez also asked if the court reporter positions differed across the various courts, to which Gonzalez assured him the duties and responsibilities of all court reporters are the same. The only difference, he said, is the workload, which is based on both the amount and types of cases heard by each judge.
The salary increase will cost the county approximately $150,000 annually, according to budget officer Sergio Cruz.
If House Bill 3361 passes, which Gonzalez said is expected, the legislation would generate an additional $450,000 annually for the county, Cruz said.
The bill, which Gonzalez worked with state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, to craft, would raise the civil case filing fee in Hidalgo County by $15. It passed unanimously in the house Wednesday, and will now move to the Senate for a vote.
Hidalgo County’s court reporters are also working with South Texas to create a court reporter certification program locally as the nearest one is in Corpus Christi, the district judge told commissioners.