The Citizen Police Review Board played the role of Rodney Dangerfield last month: No respect. After an officer failed to appear for a March 18 hearing, the board was beset by another no-show at a March 31 hearing. Although, this time, it was just a transcript.
Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger says the transcript -- which is from a trial related to an ongoing CPRB hearing -- was unavailable because of a billing dispute with the court reporters' office.
"It has to do with the city of Pittsburgh taxpayers being taken advantage of by another government agency," she says, arguing that the court reporters tried to overcharge the board.
The court reporters' office -- which transcribes court proceedings in Allegheny County -- has two sets of rates for transcripts. The sets are broadly defined as "Government Agency Rates" and "Private (non-government) Rates," the latter being more expensive.
Government rates range from $1.25 per page (for 30-day returns) to $2 per page (for a transcript within 18 hours). The private rates start at $3 per page (30 days) and go up to $6 for a transcript produced in 18 hours.
Pittinger says her office was initially told that it would have to pay the private rate for a transcript it ordered Feb. 6.
"We are here, charged to do the bidding of the people," Pittinger says. "We are created by and a function of the people's government."
The Citizen Police Review Board is an independent agency (created through a 1997 referendum to amend Pittsburgh's Home Rule Charter) that investigates complaints of improper police conduct.
The seven-member board, which is appointed by the mayor, is unpaid; however, its staff and investigations are funded by the city. The board did not make a decision at its March 31 hearing, in part because the meeting stalled without the transcript.
"You have a hearing delayed because of this," says Pittinger, though she admits that, given the complexity of the case, it may very well have taken more than one evening to resolve anyway.
Pittinger and the city solicitor prepared a motion to submit to President Judge Joseph James, but filing it formally proved unnecessary as the court reporters' office is allowing the CPRB to pay the government rate in this instance. A more permanent resolution on what constitutes a "government agency" is still in the works.
"We had a question arise about the Review Board and we went back and forth," says court-reporter manager Jo Lynne Ross. "I have no idea. This was never questioned before."
Pittinger says the board does not frequently order transcripts, and prior to this hearing she hadn't fully researched the pricing procedure.
Ross says "government agency" can apply to any level of government (city, county, state or federal), but not necessarily to every agent (meaning entities like the Review Board). She's loath to define what constitutes a government agency at the moment because the rules are currently being analyzed and rewritten.