Caught in the eye of the storm

Bobbi Fisher

By Bobbi Fisher

On September 10, Hurricane Florence made her presence known on the weather radar with an alarming size. Forecasters predicted a strong Category 4 hurricane was headed toward the Wilmington, N.C., area – to include where I live and work as an official reporter in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Mandatory evacuations began for our area on Tue., Sept. 11. Mandatory evacuation means, if you choose to stay, you do so at your own risk; rescue attempts, if needed, may not be possible. Since we have only lived here for three years, we checked with our seasoned neighbors to see if they were going to evacuate or stay. Our angst grew when they told us they would leave for this projected monster of a storm.

Facebook Live is a wonderful tool to use to get live local weather updates without having to stay glued to a television. If you “like” your local news channel, they will send you notifications when live feeds are about to start so you can tune in. It also offers an opportunity to actually chat with your meteorologist to ask specific questions. I find it a wonderful tool for emergency planning.

With the generator fueled and ready to go and a few trips to the grocery store to stock up on cases of water and food supplies, we decided we would stay home and ride it out. We live about three miles from the oceanfront but far enough inland where storm surge wouldn’t really affect us.

Fisher Courthouse in Horry County, S.C. after Hurricane Florence

I am an official reporter for Family Court in Horry County (Conway/Myrtle Beach). My husband also works in the same courthouse building with me but for the Clerk of Court’s office. We had one hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, so as I was heading in to court, my judge called me and told me to turn around and go home. By then, roads had already started to close and I wasn’t able to turn around where I was in the road because they literally had just put up barricades. I had to make a huge loop north and then turn back south to get back home. Roads were starting to shut down literally as the minutes were ticking away.

After returning home that morning, we started to watch The Weather Channel to track Hurricane Florence. They were now projecting it would come to Wilmington then turn a sharp southwest, heading straight over our house. It was then we decided we better evacuate to our family in Northern Virginia. This began the task of packing everything we could. We have two pit bulls, so we decided to take both of our cars – one dog in each car.

Along with the normal clothing items for the next seven days, I packed up my reporting equipment. I had just purchased a new Luminex writer the week prior, so that was the very last thing to go in the car. Along with my writer, I packed up a separate bag with my laptop and my external hard drives (now I’ve converted to Dropbox). I left my hard copy court dockets in the filing cabinet because I scan all of those anyway. I made sure that any other papers and equipment were high enough off the ground in case we did have water inside our home. As a reporter, even in time of crisis, you must consider securing your equipment and your files the best way you can.

As we started planning our evacuation, another fear was making sure we would have enough fuel to make the six-hour trek through the Carolinas to get back to Virginia, as thousands of people were fleeing for safety and we weren’t sure of the gas situation along our route. In fact, I ended up calling ahead just to make sure at least one station had enough fuel in their tanks for us to refuel. We left at 4 a.m., and even at that hour, our local police were monitoring every intersection. The lane reversal was in effect, which meant that all lanes were only running westbound. It was a pretty neat experience to be driving on the wrong side of the road!

There are two major ways in to the Myrtle Beach area: the 501 Bypass, which runs in front of Lake Busbee; and the 501 Business, which runs through the historic town of Conway. Traffic also has to pass over an old bridge in Conway that is scheduled to have major repairs done in the next few months, so a lot of people were very worried about whether the bridge would even hold up for this amount of traffic, which included tractor trailers and heavy equipment trucks.

The Waccamaw River, which runs through Conway, is the runoff water from the rivers that start in North Carolina, where the hurricane dumped several inches of rain. The National Guard quickly started dumping huge piles of sand and dirt and massive sandbags to create a dam on the 501 Bypass so we did not lose our main highway. Helicopters flew overhead delivering sandbag after sandbag to the nearby cold ash reserve to try to contain the pond waters from seeping into the Waccamaw River flood waters.

Even 10 days after the hurricane, we waited for our rivers to crest and recede. Hundreds of people were frantically packing their belongings to try to save what they could, and it would take many, many days before those homeowners would be able to return to assess their damage.

Reserved court reporter parking spaces at Fisher Courthouse after Hurricane Florence

It would take a few days before the flooding would crest locally for us, so at least we had time to prepare. Court ended up being closed from Tues., Sept. 1, through Mon., Sept. 18.

When the waters started rising at the courthouse, the court reporter parking spaces became filled with up to three (or more) feet of water, and then the waters started to encroach on the judge’s parking area as well. The reserved court reporter spaces where I normally park were now busted up to install huge drainage equipment.

Downtown Conway looked like a war zone. With the water rising, many streets were impassable and closed, leaving you to try to figure out how to maneuver around town. The Waze app is another tool that many people used to get around during the storm. Because the roads were closing by the minute, the Waze app had real-time information on which roads were open and would direct you that way.

Several hundred homes were flooded as a result of the overflowing rivers. Along I-40 in North Carolina, hundreds of dead fish littered the highway after the waters receded. Displaced animals could be seen trying to survive the waters: A crocodile was seen swimming at the local dog park. Eels and snakes were now inside people’s homes. Fire ants built “chain” bridges and floated on top of the water. One of our court clerks even captured video of a wild hog swimming through the flood waters in the back of the courthouse and walking out next to her window.

Once the mandatory evacuations had been lifted and we were allowed to return to our homes, we began the quest to figure out how to get home. With many, many miles of highway along I-95 in North Carolina and South Carolina under water, we decided to go west, then south, then circle back east; a trip that would take us 11 hours compared to our normal six-hour route.

For us in the Myrtle Beach area, it wasn’t so much the wind damage but the flooding as a result of the North Carolina rivers that flow downstream to us. Even almost a month later, things still have not returned to normal for us. Many are still displaced from their homes. We’re just getting our local roads back to normal. Schools were out three weeks because of the weather, and many of them were turned into shelters. And now the mosquitos have taken on a life of their own. (I hear they’re pretty big!  Almost quarter size!)

There is one thing to say about something this eventful: The community spirit really shines through. There are still so many food/supply drives and fundraising events going on to help those in need. “Carolina Strong” is the motto we live by here, and it really shows in our spirit to overcome and rebuild once again.

Bobbi Fisher, RPR, is an official court reporter from Myrtle Beach, S.C. She also serves as a member of NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) published an article, “NCSC helps courts prepare for disaster,” in their October 2 bulletin.

Lexitas climbs to #712 on the list of the fastest-growing 5,000 companies in the U.S.

Inc. magazine revealed that, thanks to an impressive three-year growth rate of 698 percent, Lexitas has reached the rank of No. 712 on the 37th annual Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.

Read more.

Take your business to the next level at the 2019 NCRA Business Summit

Take your business and yourself to a whole new level at the NCRA Business Summit, formerly the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference, in sunny San Diego, Calif., from Feb. 1-3, 2019.

Freelancers, firm owners, and managers all will find something in the expanded program, which will include two keynote speakers, compelling panel discussions on topics critical to the growth of the profession, and even more networking opportunities than in previous years. Also making a comeback is the Super Bowl Party to close out the event – another great reason to stay overnight Sunday for an extra few days to really get to know this one-of-a-kind city.

In addition to the networking events and backdrop of San Diego, the NCRA Business Summit will feature business-focused education and access to high-end speakers and panelists who will not only inspire your business development but will also become a part of your network to help bolster your company into the future.

Guts, Grit, and Glory: Strategies and insights for transforming your selves, teams, and businesses

The Business Summit will feature keynote speaker Eunice Carpitella, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. At the core of this workshop, Guts, Grit and Glory, is the practical idea that simple shifts in our routine patterns of interaction and mindset make it possible for business leaders to include, engage, and unleash everyone in solving problems, driving innovation, and achieving extraordinary outcomes.

As business owners embrace a fierce pace of change in the business world, merely having an answer today or a solution to a problem now is insufficient for what lies ahead. The way we navigate and respond to these changes is paramount to our success as business leaders. We will learn and practice models for change that build trust, promote effective relationships, and create environments that elicit our best selves.

This strategic workshop will provide attendees with the opportunity to work “on” your business rather than “in” your business. Attendees will be invited to consider making small changes and implementing simple norms that, when applied, generate big results that can be applied by everyone at every level, from the C-suite to the front line of any organization, large or small.

Workshop participants will consider why business owners and leaders fail. Let’s face it, we all know how challenging it can be to do things differently. In fact, studies show that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, less than 20 percent are successful in changing their habits. The same holds true in a business environment. We have all worked hard to become experts in our field; yet, mastery does not guarantee sustainability or ensure legacies.  In order to thrive, we must now become relentless and curious learners.

This workshop is highly experiential and will comprise a multitude of learning modalities to include an interactive and informative presentation, round-table discussions, individual reflection, and opportunities to connect at large by tapping into the expansive and talented resources among all participants.

Attendees will be inspired to practice new behaviors of personal courage, innovation, and inclusion that they can implement upon their return to the workplace.

A Superbowl Party for the Win!

Wind down your Business Summit experience with one final networking night at the NCRA Super Bowl Party. Come for the food, come for the commercials, come for the game, but most of all come for the connections you can make with other like-minded business people. The most valuable player award will go to everyone who attends and learns more about how to help their businesses and the profession at large prosper in the future.

Come early and stay late. This is an event where everyone goes home a winner!

Registration now available for the NCRA Business Summit, Feb. 1-3, 2019, San Diego, Calif.,

4 reasons to attend the NCRA Business Summit

Registration is now open for the NCRA Business Summit, an educational event with robust content, actionable takeaways, and networking opportunities, to be held Feb. 1-3, 2019, in San Diego, Calif. Here are four reasons why any professionals who own or lead court reporting, captioning, and legal videography firms, including freelancers, will want to attend this event.

  1. This is an event for everyone who owns their own business – anyone who wants to learn more about running and growing their business, whether they are a freelancer, a manager, the owner of a small firm or a large firm, or whether they are mostly interested in captioning, court reporting, or some other aspect of the profession. If you’ve seen this event as one for a small group in the past, we hope that you will look at all the materials and consider if this event is a good fit for you.
  2. One of the keynote speakers, Eunice Carpitella, a professor with Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, will explore the idea that, in a world of incredible change, it is even more important to build trust and relationships. Carpitella helps individuals find ways to make their companies unique and help them thrive in the current atmosphere. In fact, the point of the entire Business Summit is not just to give good content to our companies – large and small – on making good business decisions for a few days out of the year, but also to aid firms build networks that will help grow their business for the entire year.
  3. The planned panel-led discussion about third-party contracting is a topic NCRA is addressing for two important reasons. As a best practice, national organizations should be setting the table for topics of national importance, and we plan to continue this practice. It is NCRA’s responsibility to educate our members and to hear both sides of the conversation, which is how the Association makes good decisions about the future. Come and be a part of this open dialogue.
  4. The most important networking event of the Business Summit is returning this year with the Super Bowl Party on Sunday. This won’t be the only networking event, but you won’t want to miss the chance to kick back and truly enjoy yourself without pressure during this networking event. There will be something for everyone: great food, debate about the best commercials of the year, and the chance to root for the best teams in the NFL – all while enjoying the company of colleagues from around the country.

Early registration rates in effect!

Registration fee includes:

  • All programming on Saturday and Sunday
  • Opening Reception
  • Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday
  • Super Bowl Party

Visit NCRA.org for more information and to register.

Report from the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee meeting

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) met on Oct. 3 for the last meeting of their second term. This committee comprises organizations in the telecommunications and accessibility realms and provides recommendations on accessibility regulations for the full commission. NCRA has participated for many years in this committee as subcommittee members of the Video Programming subcommittee, which occasionally crafts recommendations on captioning regulations and best practices for the full committee to consider. In attendance at this meeting were NCRA President Sue Terry, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC; Board Member Steve Clark, CRC; members Kelly Linkowski, RPR, CRR, CRC, CPE, and Darlene Parker, FAPR, RPR; and NCRA’s Government Relations Manager Matthew Barusch. The meeting was captioned by a live captioner, with captions shown in the room and streamed on the Web, along with StreamText captions.

Much of the agenda for this meeting was dedicated to consideration and approval of recommendations from other subcommittees, as well as a robust discussion on methods to increase consumer engagement. However, a portion of the meeting was dedicated to a review of possible topics of consideration for the DAC’s next term. Included on this list is the issue of automatic speech recognition, including the possible development of technology-neutral captioning quality metrics. As stated by Will Schell, Advising Attorney for the FCC’s Disability Rights Office, the recommendation is for the committee to “explore opportunities and challenges of developing technology-neutral metrics for closed captioning quality, with an eye toward facilitating objective comparisons between different captioning technologies, including automatic speech recognition, in terms of their ability to yield accuracy, completeness, synchronicity, and placement.”

Barusch gave a short speech towards the end of the meeting, reaffirming NCRA’s interest in this topic and commitment to assisting in the development of such metrics.

“Given the rise of ASR usage, especially in the broadcast captioning industry, this topic is particularly important for the DAC to consider,” Barusch said. “We have a number of concerns that this technology is not ready or able to meet the standards set by the FCC in 2014 and feel that it is being implemented to the detriment of consumers.”

Visit the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee page for more information.

Retirement strategies: What I would tell my 20-year-old self

By Lesia Mervin

Sandy Bunch Vanderpol asked if I could provide any additional advice based on my years as an official. Here are a few additional thoughts on retirement savings specifically for officials.

Employee versus freelance

One word: benefits. As a court employee for more than 38 years, I have employee health insurance and retirement benefits available to me. This is one of the many reasons I have chosen the path of court employee over freelance self-employment.

Know your benefits

Understand how your retirement plan works.

When we’re employees, it is important that we understand what benefits are available. Understanding them is the first step to taking full advantage of the benefits.

I sought out professional financial counseling to develop strategies for a successful retirement. Federal and state government employees are covered by different retirement systems depending on when you were hired and where you work.

You may or may not have had Social Security taxes deducted from your paycheck. Whether Social Security benefits are going to be available to you in retirement is a very important point to know, so you can plan accordingly.

Calculation formula

Determine what formula your employer uses to calculate retirement benefits. Find out if the formula for calculation is years of service credit, age at retirement and final compensation, or some other formula. Calculate the estimated benefit at retirement so that you know what you need to do now to meet your retirement goals in the future. Once you know the formula, look at one of the retirement calculators on the Internet that you can input the information for an estimate of monthly retirement benefits you will receive. Some employers also may have access to an online calculator through their retirement plan companies.

Deferred compensation plan

To defer or not to defer? Deferred compensation plans let employees set aside part of their annual salary to be paid at some point in the future, presumably retirement, when your tax situation may be different than it is today. Money grows tax deferred until paid out to the employee. There are no required minimum distributions.

The maximum contribution for 2018 is $18,500. Employees age 50 or older may contribute up to an additional $6,000 for a total of $24,500. Because the purpose of deferred compensation plans is to save for retirement, early withdrawals are strongly discouraged. There is a 10 percent IRS penalty for withdrawals before the age of 59 ½.

My transcript income will not be included in my employee retirement benefits. Deferred compensation is a great way to supplement your retirement income to cover the loss of transcript income.

What I would tell my 20-year-old self:

  • Take advantage of deferred compensation on Day 1. At the young age of 30 — it seems like it was young now, but in the grand scheme of retirement savings, it was years too late — I began taking advantage of deferred compensation. I started out small. For every $100 taken out of my paycheck, it earned back approximately $60 due to the tax savings.
  • I did something right when I slowly began increasing it over the years in small increments; I hardly noticed the difference in my paycheck. Still, I sometimes imagine how much larger my account would now be if I had started on Day 1.

Fully fund HSA/FSA

If you have a flexible health plan through your employment, use it. Many courts offer a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) plans to pay for copayments, deductibles, some prescription drugs, and some other health care costs.

If you have the option, I’d suggest taking advantage of this system. It reduces your taxes because, when you set aside money in an FSA or HSA, you don’t pay taxes on this money and you can use it to pay for some health needs. Additionally, contributing to an FSA or HSA frees up additional money that would have been paid to taxes that you could use to increase your funding for Deferred Compensation plans your employer may offer.

Purchasing additional years of service credit

Maximize years of service credit. The first three years of my court employment, I was employed as a per diem reporter. I did not have access to the retirement benefits offered to full-time employees. I was able to purchase those three years of service credit to increase my years of service for retirement calculations.

Seek professional advice to see if this is an option that is worth exploring. Deferred compensation funds may be allowed for purchase of service credit.

 

Lesia Mervin, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, is an official reporter and freelance CART captioner based in Visalia, Calif. She can be reached at realtimecsr@comcast.net.

This article should not be relied on as financial advice specific to your situation. As always, NCRA encourages individuals to reach out to a trusted CPA or other financial advisor to review your personal situation.

TCRA officers’ guest blog offers tips for lawyers needing a court reporter

Lexblog.com posted a guest blog on Oct. 3, written by Texas Court Reporters Association’s president Shari J. Krieger, RMR, and president-elect Lorrie A. Schnoor, RDR, CRR, offering tips to  help lawyers have a greater likelihood of having a reporter when they need one.

Read more.

Pay It Forward: Saving for retirement (my personal experience)

By Sandy Bunch VanderPol

Sandy Bunch VanderPol

Throughout my entire 43-year career as a self-employed deposition reporter, I’ve prioritized funding my SEP IRA to the maximum amount each year. Not only does this benefit me now that I’m at “retirement age,” but it’s benefited my entire family and will continue to do so into the future. I’ve been paying it forward since I was 24 years old, and my plan is to continue to pay it forward by funding my SEP IRA as long as the law allows me to do such. I would challenge each of you to join me in saving for the future. It is never too late to start.

I’d like to share a few tips I have learned over the course of my career, which have made it possible for me to save for my retirement.

Start your plan today to save for retirement
Don’t wait! You can’t rely on social security, the government, or even an inheritance. When I started court reporting at the age of 19, I waited five years to start a SEP IRA. Had I not waited, I would be in an even better financial situation today, thanks to the wonders of compounding interest. It is always tempting to justify waiting another year to start your retirement account, but don’t fall into that trap. Look at the visual below, which is a chart from a wealth management company. I saw a similar one when I was young and it certainly got my attention. I made a plan and started my contributions.

Even if you are starting late, it is important for you to know that you are not alone. Every dollar of investment you put into your retirement account makes a difference. It is never too late.

Each month set aside your retirement contribution
As with my self-employed quarterly tax estimates, I set aside my retirement contribution each month. I’d suggest that you do the same — or, at a minimum, put something into your retirement account each quarter. You don’t have to fund your SEP IRA until April 15th of the subsequent tax year. You can fund your retirement every month or in one lump sum.

Note: Funding your retirement sooner rather than later allows you to earn more on your dollars, depending on how your SEP IRA funds are invested.

I always planned to contribute the maximum amount the law allows to my SEP IRA.

What is a SEP IRA?
A SEP IRA account is an IRA set up for people who own their own small business, and many freelance reporters fall into that grouping. I learned that, as a sole proprietor, I could make annual contributions between 0 to 20 percent of my net adjusted self-employment income (or net adjusted business profits) into my SEP IRA. Also, SEP IRA contributions are very flexible. The percentage of contribution can be changed at any time and may be skipped in a bad year. I didn’t skip any year — I kept up my routine contributions and made my retirement contributions a priority in my budget. SEP IRA contributions are generally 100 percent tax deductible from personal income.

Note: Contributing to your SEP IRA reduces the taxes owed to both the state and the federal government. You can consider this, as I have, as the government helping you to fund your retirement.

Automate your savings
Be disciplined. I set up automatic retirement contributions each month, as this allowed my retirement to grow without having to think about it. Many money management companies have an automated funding service available, and you can often make regular contributions to your SEP IRA from another account within their financial institute and even to self-direct your money to the investments of your choice.

Extra money? Don’t just spend it
My financial advisor used to tell me, “Dedicate at least half of the new money to your retirement plan. And while it may be tempting to take that tax refund or O&5 income and splurge on a new designer purse or a vacation, don’t treat those extra funds as found money. Treat yourself to something small and use the rest to help make big leaps toward your retirement goal.”

So every time I received a check from an O&5 depo, I didn’t spend it – at least not all of it. Instead, I increased my contribution percentage. Remember, the more income you make from your O&5 depositions, the more you can invest into your retirement account, so the more you need to put aside to make the funding.

Make a budget — rein in spending
Sometimes, over the years, my dedication to this goal meant I had to reconsider other things I wanted. I examined my budget and looked at ways to reduce my monthly expenditures, such as insurance costs. As I’ve bought homes, I always looked for one that I was way overqualified for. In other words, I didn’t stretch my budget by buying a higher-priced home. As my income rose, I “moved up” and have finally landed on five acres with a home my husband built and a second modest home in Tahoe. Patience was my friend in this journey.

In conclusion
Good luck on your journey to retirement. There will be many challenges along the way (I want that new car, a bigger house). Keep your retirement goal in mind, front and center. Enjoy the journey of life along the way. Don’t be so frugal you don’t enjoy life. Keep a balance, for sure. Just remember, for every dollar you invest in retirement, it is less you owe in taxes to the government. I was delighted to learn from my CPA this year that, on a side-by-side analysis with the new tax plan, I will be saving between 15-20 percent in taxes due in 2018. So, this money will go to retirement planning or investment planning — as much as I’d love to take a ski trip to Europe.

Sandy Bunch VanderPol, FAPR, RMR, CRR, is a freelance reporter based in Lotus, Calif. She is also credentialed as a Realtime Systems Administrator. She can be reached at realtimecsr@calweb.com.

This article should not be relied on as financial advice specific to your situation. As always, NCRA encourages individuals to reach out to a trusted CPA or other financial advisor to review your personal situation.

NCRA member recognized by International Association of Women

​​The International Association of Women announced in a press release issued Sept. 25 that the organization has recognized NCRA member Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, as a 2018-2019 Influencer.

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Why you should always hire a stenographic court reporter for your legal proceedings

iCrowdNewswire posted a press release on Sept. 27 issued by Christine Phipps, RPR, CEO of Phipps Reporting in West Palm Beach, Fla., that covers the differences between stenographic court reporters and recorders. It also explains the benefits of hiring a live court reporter to cover legal proceedings.

Read  more.