Court Reporter Spends Time In Jail When Transcript Is Not Finished

September 10, 2003 ( - Failure to compile a transcript of a high-profile Texas murder trial, garnered a Dallas County court report a contempt of court charge and a Labor Day weekend behind bars.

However, May Belton had plenty of warnings to either get the report done for the May 2002 capital murder trial of John Battaglia – who was sentenced to death for killing his two daughters – or face possible jail time. The nine-judge panel on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals first asked for the transcript in August 2002 and granted deadline extensions until February 2003, then until April 2003, according to a Dallas Morning News report.

Finally determining enough is enough, the court then ordered Belton to explain why she had not completed the work in May 2003, leading to a contempt of court declaration in June and even then she was offered another chance to explain why the record was not ready. Belton was then ordered to jail on August 29.

The judges’ order stated that she must spend at least 72 hours in jail and remain there until the record is complete. Dallas County jail officials said Belton spent three days in jail during the Labor Day weekend and was released without completing the transcript. Officials with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not know why she was released and were examining the order’s compliance Monday.

Court reporting requires meticulous recordkeeping and long hours in trials. When transcripts are ordered for appeals, reporters are expected to produce the transcripts in their off time. In Belton’s case, the state law mandated appeal of Battaglia is pending the completion of the initial trial’s transcript.

Troy Bennett, clerk for the appeals court, said the court has two or three contempt cases each year involving reporters, as well as attorneys who do not file briefs on time. In 1989, for example, a court reporter spent about three weeks in a Texas jail for failing to deliver a death penalty trial transcript on time.