COPE: Conflict of interest: Remaining professional despite relationships

By Donna Cascio

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a president judge for an officialship in a small judicial district served by two jurists in rural Western Pennsylvania. The judge’s secretary was his wife. Little did I know at that first meeting that I too would enter a lifelong journey of dealing with relationships that linked my professional world with my personal world.

After I was hired by that president judge, I learned that the judge’s brother was a practicing lawyer. The court administrator was careful to make sure that that attorney did not appear in proceedings before that judge. As I was soon to learn, there was another lawyer in that judge’s family. His cousin was the district attorney (DA), but that relationship was deemed distant enough so that the DA was able to prosecute cases in front of either judge. The daughter of our other judge, termed the associate judge, was married to a practicing lawyer; that lawyer was prohibited from appearing before his father-in-law.

Does this sound confusing? Well, wait, because it continues. And I added to the mix.

As time went on, I married a lawyer who was a principal in a local law firm (the Cascio law firm), which included his father and brother, among others. Adhering to Code of Professional Ethics No. 2 (avoid situations that are conflicts of interest or appear to be) and No. 3 (avoid the appearance of impropriety), of course, affected my assignments in certain cases.

When a court reporter has a relationship with a party that compromises the reporter’s impartiality, that relationship at the very least has to be disclosed and an agreement to proceed obtained by the parties affected, and at the very most must be avoided (see Advisory Opinion No. 2, Reporter’s relationship to litigants; 1987, 2013; and No. 3, Reporting for a spouse’s law firm; 1987; 2013).

Continuing in my career, that lawyer I married ascended to the bench. By this time there was a new set of judges and a new president judge. Anticipating the inevitable situation of working together, my husband had sought an opinion from the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. The opinion expressed that there was no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct if I continued my work as an official reporter and that I could report proceedings that were held in his courtroom. Despite the ruling, our new president judge preferred that I would work in my husband’s courtroom only if absolutely necessary, meaning all other reporters were either absent or swamped with work.

This was in a three-judge county with only three reporters. We called it working without a net. We use a pooling system of reporters. However, my husband’s busy courtroom and my inability to rotate into it regularly created some difficulty with the flow of work in those 15 years until our president judge retired and his rule was abolished.

In 2006, when my husband became president judge, the ruling from 1990 was dusted off, and I began a regular rotation of working for every judge. I guess this means I have more experience than most in evaluating and dealing with appearance of impartiality. However, in a 50-mile radius of my home, I personally know three court reporters married to Pennsylvania State Court trial judges, so I am not alone.

The husband-and-wife relationship in the courtroom may seem curious to some. I always emphasize that the judge and the court reporter are the impartial people in the courtroom. In jurisdictions where there is sufficient staff to adhere to a rule of not working together, that is fine. In my situation living in a small town, that is impossible.

By the way, my brother-in-law is still practicing law at that same law firm, and so I disclose that relationship to every out-of-town counsel even though my husband obviously has no tie to that law firm. But by this time, that relationship is well known. At the current time, our judicial district has sought a ruling from the current Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges on some other relationships. Of our three sitting judges, the current president judge’s ex-wife practices law with the Cascio firm, my husband’s brother continues to practice law with the firm, and our newly elected judge is a former partner from the same firm.

The ruling from the Ethics Committee was that any contested matters emanating from the Cascio law firm must be heard by a specially appointed senior judge.

My point in sharing that bit of confusing data is because jurists in my court are acting with care to adhere to standards of acceptable judicial conduct, so they have sought this ruling to guide the court operations going forward.

There may exist in some states licensure or advisory boards to help guide reporters’ professional conduct. We in Pennsylvania are not so lucky. But just as our state courts have the ability to seek guidance from an Ethics Committee, so too do we reporters on a nationwide basis have the ability to seek guidance from a bona fide body so all actions we take can have sound reasoning and we can avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Court reporters have the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics as well as the set of Public Advisory Opinions, conveniently accessible on NCRA’S website. In addition, NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics stands ready to discuss any situation brought before them by any member (if not already addressed in a current public advisory opinion).

According to Priority #4, Advocacy, in Vision 2018, NCRA’s Strategic Plan, NCRA will continue to “establish, perpetuate, and promote standards of conduct for court reporters.” In Priority #5, Professional Development, it is clear that “NCRA will establish and refine standards of knowledge, competence, and professional practice.” Thus, we can be assured going into the future that NCRA will remain our guide for any questionable issue.

Donna Cascio, RDR, CMRS, is an official court reporter in Somerset, Pa. She is also a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

 

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Code of Professional Ethics

A Member Shall:

  1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.
  2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the Member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.
  3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.
  4. Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.
  5. Be truthful and accurate when making public statements or when advertising the Member’s qualifications or the services provided.
  6. Refrain, as an official reporter, from freelance reporting activities that interfere with official duties and obligations.
  7. Determine fees independently, except when established by statute or court order, entering into no unlawful agreements with other reporters on the fees to any user.
  8. Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value. Pro bono services as defined by the NCRA Guidelines for Professional Practice or by applicable state and local laws, rules and regulations are permissible in any amount.
  9. Maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
  10. Abide by the NCRA Constitution & Bylaws.

No. 2 Reporter’s relationship to litigants (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

Upon appearing for a deposition or any other proceeding, the reporter finds that the reporter is related to one of the attorneys.

Is it the reporter’s responsibility to advise counsel of the relationship?

Discussion

If the reporter becomes aware of any relationship that may reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality, it is incumbent upon the reporter to disclose that relationship as soon as known. This gives counsel the opportunity to object or waive any objections on the record to the reporter’s reporting of the proceeding. If any objection is raised, the reporter must withdraw and offer to attempt to obtain another reporter. Counsel may elect, however, to select a reporter of their own choosing.

Reasons requiring disclosure include, but are not limited to:

  1. The reporter is related by blood or marriage to an attorney of record, an attorney present at the deposition, a party or a deponent. “Related by blood or marriage” is defined as including a parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, great grandparent, great grandchild, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew or the spouse of any such person.
  2. Any other relationship which may reasonably cause the reporter’s impartiality to be questioned.

Obviously, it is not possible to list all relationships that may be a conflict of interest or give the appearance of a conflict. Therefore, the Committee recommends that whenever a reporter is unsure of whether to disclose a relationship, the reporter should disclose the relationship as soon as known. For further discussion on this topic, please refer to Public Advisory Opinion No. 3.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that failure to disclose any relationship that might reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality is a violation of Provisions 1 and 2 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reporting proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.

No. 3 Reporting for a spouse’s law firm (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

A reporter’s spouse is a member of a law firm that schedules a reporter for a deposition or other proceeding. Because the spouse will conduct the proceeding, the reporter refrains from taking the proceeding but requests another reporter to cover it, from whom a percentage commission is to be received. When other members of the spouse’s law firm schedule proceedings, the reporter reports them.

Is it a violation of the Code of Professional Ethics (1) for the reporter to schedule proceedings for the law firm of the reporter’s spouse, (2) for the reporter to send another reporter and retain a commission therefor, or (3) for the reporter to report proceedings for other members of the law firm?

Discussion

With respect to the facts cited above, the reporter may schedule proceedings for the spouse’s law firm. Second, the reporter was acting prudently by requesting another reporter to cover the proceeding, and the retention of a commission is permissible. The reporter should not personally cover the proceeding, but should request another reporter do so. The reporter may report proceedings for other members of the law firm only if the following three conditions are satisfied:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s taking the deposition (which should be stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition).
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

If the reporter does not follow these steps, it would constitute a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions require that the reporter be impartial in all aspects of reported proceedings and guard against not only the fact but also the appearance of impropriety.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that scheduling proceedings for the law firm of a reporter’s spouse and requesting another reporter to take the proceedings being conducted by the first reporter’s spouse, and the acceptance of any part of the fee therefor by that reporter, does not violate any provision of the Code of Professional Ethics.

It is also the opinion of the Committee that for the reporter to report proceedings involving other members of the spouse’s law firm would be a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics unless:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made to all parties as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s reporting the deposition, and that such stipulation is stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition,
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

The applicable provisions of the Code of Professional Ethics state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.

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COPE: Like, share, post

By Marianne Cammarota

One of the first things I do when I log on to my computer is check my social media pages. I like to see the beautiful pictures of the flora and fauna of Nevada my friend Karen Yates has posted. I can’t wait to see the Case CATalyst tip Cindi Lynch has posted. And of course, all my stitching friends have posted their wonderful handiwork for me to ooh and aah about. I like to read about what my friends are doing because they keep me on a positive path, they inspire me, and they bring joy into my life.

Social media and technology have brought us all closer together, even though we may be thousands of miles apart or in another country. We are just a click away from our best friends 24/7.  It’s so easy to say whatever is at the forefront of our minds, sometimes without thinking about how it may appear to thousands of others who may be reading it.

I have been a reporter for a long time, longer than I like to say. Attorneys in New Jersey know me, and they talk to me about all kinds of things. It is distressing to hear them speak about court reporters texting while reporting a deposition – and I don’t mean during a break. No one would like a plastic surgeon to be texting while getting a rhinoplasty.

I have seen some reporters post messages that are less than courteous responses to others simply because they think their opinion is more worthy. And at the worst end of the spectrum, I’ve read some grievous posts that could be considered criminal in nature.

The profession doesn’t look good when an attorney says, “Do I now have to have a paralegal scanning the court reporter forums for posts about what may have happened during my deposition that he or she feels is unfair, unjust, or just plain doesn’t like me?”

We are sometimes caught up in the nitty-gritty of our everyday reporting life, keeping up with the latest and greatest technology. We must learn all the rules and regulations of our local, state, and national associations and boards. Sometimes all this information bears down on us so heavily that we forget the simplest rules that do us the most good.

Our Code of Professional Ethics states: A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession. Sounds simple and easy. But every time we write an angry response, post a nasty, ill-natured complaint, or do a discourtesy, we chip away at the profession.

A Mexican proverb says, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” If we can keep our posts positive, we can do no harm.

Marianne Cammarota, RDR, CRR, is a freelance reporter in Bridgewater, N.J. and a member of the NCRA Committee on Professional Ethics.

How to schedule Chinese depositions

A blog posted May 4 by the JD Supra Business Advisor addresses how to schedule Chinese depositions since they are illegal in mainland China. Author Suzanne Quinson from Planet Depos in Washington, D.C., suggests instead moving deposition locations to Hong Kong where the proceedings are legal.

Read more.

New Professionals: Tips from the pros

By Annemarie Roketenetz

It’s not uncommon for new professionals in any field to face anxieties when starting out in their chosen career. This is especially true for those entering the court reporting and captioning professions, whether it’s a new internship or a new job.

But take heed, newbies. According to the pros, the three major concerns when starting a new position typically involve first impressions, working with others, and making a lasting, positive impression. And there are numerous ways to deal each of them.

According to Kevin Hunt, a freelance reporter and owner of Jack W. Hunt & Associates in Buffalo, N.Y., a first impression can make the difference between landing a job or being shown the door, regardless of how well someone writes. “When a reporter goes to a job, they’re representing the reporting firm as a whole, and if their clothes are inappropriate or they are not well-groomed, that’s probably not the image the firm wishes to present. That goes for not just the visual impression, but the auditory and olfactory impressions as well.”

NCRF Chair Jan Ballman, RMR, CMRS, owner of Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn., agrees that first impressions are instant. “Whether it’s fair or unfair, we are judged based on how we appear and whether we have our act together. You should be mistaken for counsel, not the witness,” she said. “If you come screeching through the conference room door for a deposition stressed out, in a huff, in a sweat, or otherwise agitated — whether because of traffic, or your GPS sent you on a wild goose chase, or your infant spit up on your shoulder just as you were leaving, or you had to turn back for your power cords — be assured of two things: First, counsel won’t care why you’re late; and, you’ve just started the day in a deficit when it comes to making a good impression.”

Ballman also stresses that the best and easiest way to create a good first impression is to look great, not average and not just good. “Look like you made an effort and that you belong in a room filled with highly educated professionals,” she advises.

In addition to looking professional, acting professional is also important in making a first positive impression. “I feel the most important part of making a good impression is arriving early, being friendly, having a good attitude, and being organized,” says Shelly Hunter, RPR, CRR, owner of Hunter & Geist, Denver, Colo. “As we all know, depositions are often stressful environments. Having someone in the room that is neutral to all parties and that can remain friendly in the midst of chaos can be a game changer. If a deposition is not going so well for a client, the last thing they want is a court reporter with a bad attitude.”

Don’t let your good impression down once you have established it. According to the pros, be sure to take the time to know the firm you plan to work with and understand its culture both in terms of employment and services offered.

In addition, be sure the work you produce is of high quality in terms of accuracy, readability, and usability. Hunt advises having a conversation with the transcript when proofreading. “The ultimate consumer of your service will not know how beautifully you wrote when they were speaking at 300 words per minute, they won’t know how skillfully you navigated the software used to translate, edit, and print the transcript; they will only make a determination of your skill as a reporter through the final presentation of the transcript. What are the attorneys and witness trying to verbally describe? If you don’t understand something, ask. In brief, if you want to know how your clients will judge you, remember this phrase: ‘It’s the transcript, dummy!’”

To help ensure an accurate transcript, new reporters should also not be afraid to interrupt the person who is speaking if they cannot understand what is being said. “I stress to my reporters that you must interrupt and you cannot rely on your audio sync,” says Hunter. “I stress that it is the reporter’s job to interrupt and get a good record.”

Ballman agrees. “As with anything else in life, it’s all about phraseology, phraseology, phraseology. If you can’t hear, you have no choice but to interrupt. It’s all about how you interrupt,” she says. “Think about how you would like to be interrupted if you were deep in thought and delivering a very important point in front of an audience, then practice doing that so it comes naturally when you have to interrupt attorneys in mid-sentence or mid-thought.”

According to the pros, maintaining lasting good impressions also takes work, and new reporters should make it a habit to keep positive attitudes both on and off the job, be helpful to others, and learn to be unflappable in the face of all things in the world of court reporting. “It’s not just a matter of doing a great job once and then being recognized for it; it’s a matter of doing an impeccable job consistently, over and over and over again,” says Ballman. “That’s how you set yourself apart.”

Hunter also advises that new reporters make it a habit to arrive early at jobs to ensure enough time to address any issues that might arise. “You may have forgotten something in your car. You may have trouble with your equipment. You may have gone to the wrong location. Being early allows you extra time to deal with situations that happen to all of us. You have extra time to add entries to your dictionary from the notice or the caption. Arriving early also allows you time to get acquainted with counsels who might have arrived early, as well. And most importantly, as a new reporter, arriving early will give you time to calm your nerves. There is a confidence attorneys have when they know the court reporter is set up ready to go and it is still 20 or 25 minutes before the deposition is to begin,” she says.

“New situations constantly arise, and as a professional court reporter, it is necessary for each of us to be aware of the guidelines that NCRA provides to assist us in acting ethically and professionally,” Friend continues. “While these guidelines from the Committee on Professional Ethics cannot envision every possible situation, they give a framework for all reporters – whether new or seasoned – on how to act appropriately, professionally, and without favoritism to any party in a case,” Friend advises.New professionals also need to ready for any situation that might arise and remain calm. One way is to be prepared, says Doug Friend, RDR, CRR, with Beouvich, Walter & Friend, Portland, Ore.: “Working as a new reporter can be stressful! Here you are on a deposition or in court, and there is no one to hold your hand, so it’s important to be prepared.

NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics can be found at NCRA.org/CodeofProfessionalEthics.

Annemarie Roketenetz is NCRA’s Assistant Director of Communications. She can be reached at pr@ncra.org.

 

Developed in coordination with the Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute

The Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute, NCRF’s newest initiative, officially launched at the 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo. It was developed to educate court reporting students and new professionals about professionalism, branding, and building a successful career. NCRF will be developing materials, such as seminars and articles, for dissemination for court reporting students and new professionals throughout their careers.

The Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute was created to honor Clark’s lifelong passion for journalism and education, as well as her love of the court reporting profession. Corrinne Clark is the wife of Robert H. Clark, for whom the NCRF library is named.

Tips, tricks, and the latest in trends shared with attendees at 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo

The wide array of sessions and presentations adorned with tips and tricks as well as the latest in trends at the 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo, held July 30-Aug. 2 in New York City, provided the nearly 1,200 attendees with a varied selection of educational choices.

NCRA member Gail Verbano, RDR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Boothwyn, Pa., led a lively discussion of what-if scenarios in a session called 25 Years On-the-Job Training in One Seminar, as part of the Judicial Track. Attendees discussed what to do when people speak too fast, if a lawyer answers for a witness or says ‘strike that,’ or asks the court reporter to leave a blank in the transcript. Other scenarios discussed included how to handle interpreters when witnesses answer in English and when and how to interrupt.

She also shared pointers from 25 years of being on the job, tips for producing cleaner writing, and a glimpse into what she packs in her case each time she takes on a realtime job.

According to Verbano, “we try to protect the record, but we can’t make the record.”

Captioners Linda Hershey, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP; Jennifer Schuck, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP; and Steve Clark, along with sign language interpreters Jana Owens and Rita Jo Scarcella, led on a panel entitled You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know – Ethically Speaking, as part of the Realtime Track. The members were representing CART Ethics Task Force, which was charged with creating a NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners, recognizing that the ethical issues that captioners face are often different than those faced by judicial reporters.

According to the presenters, many elements of the captioning NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners are similar to those on the judicial side. Some of the important differences are the higher emphasis on confidentiality and privacy, concerns about working with a minor rather than an adult, or the difference between a file and a transcript (which Schuck wrote about in the July 2015 issue of the JCR).

Because the Task Force was essentially developing ethical professional standards for the captioning industry, they included their partners in accessibility – sign language interpreters. The interpreters helped the captioners with discussions about verbatim transcripts, for example. A common misconception about sign language interpreters is that their interpretation is verbatim, which is not possible since American Sign Language and English have slightly different grammar and syntax. The sign language interpreters commented that working on the task force was a learning experience for them as well, providing them new insights in how captioners work with a similar client base.

Audience questions also promoted a discussion on issues related to accessibility and advocacy.

The Task Force submitted the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners for the NCRA Board of Directors’ approval and has gone to the next step towards implementation. Look for more information in the near future.

Bruce Balmer, CLVS, led a practical session on video files in legal videography where he reviewed the different types of video files currently used in the industry. During the session entitled I Have a Video File, but What Should I Give My Client? as part of the Business Track, Balmer said that authored DVDs are the most common formats, but predicted that MPEG-4 will become more common in the future. He pointed out that if videographers offer other formats – including multiple MPEG versions and synced versions of all formats – then clients will ask for them.

Balmer also ran through a series of questions that the videographer should ask the client to determine which format to use, such as what the video will be used for (for example, whether a trial is bench or jury), the client’s playback equipment, and if the video should be synced. He also addressed questions that the client should ask of the videographer, such as whether the videographer uses standard or high definition.

Balmer also provided a step-by-step demonstration of the TMPGEnc Video Mastering Works software, which is the industry standard for converting from the video source.

A wide range of national and international court reporting educators attended Motivating, Coaching, and Mentoring for Student Success, a session led by Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, and Karen Sole, RPR, CRI, CPE, which was part of the Teachers’ Workshop. Everhart and Sole began the session with a puzzle to encourage creative thinking and discourage the mindset of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “this is how we did it when I went to school.”

The interactive session covered topics ranging from types of engagement to the importance of setting high standards and appropriate boundaries to intrinsic verses extrinsic motivation. Attendees shared specific tips, such as using a school social media page to share briefs or celebrate student accomplishments (while keeping in mind FERPA privacy issues).

Everhart reminded attendees, “What we’re training our students to do is really difficult,” and it can be tempting for a student to fall under the trap of thinking, I’m not progressing because of the way the school or program is run. In court reporting, the honeymoon phase ends quickly, especially in theory. While instructors should find ways to provide their students with regular individualized feedback and support, at the end of the day, students need to spend the time in school thinking and behaving like their future profession. This includes tracking and assessing their own progress and connecting with their local, state, and national court reporting communities.

Maureen Walsh, CLVS, and Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CCP, teamed up to show the strengths of court reporters and legal videographers working together in the deposition setting during The Reporter and the Videographer Partnership, a session included as part of the Business Track. Walsh and Willette shared the workflow before, during, and after a deposition for both court reporters and legal videographers, as well as which certifications to look for and the types of questions to ask to find the right teammate. Both presenters emphasized the importance of using a CLVS, citing the quality of the CLVS Seminar and the rigorous exam. Walsh explained that, unlike any other legal videography organization, the NCRA program was developed specifically to help CLVSs support court reporters.

A common theme throughout the session was how court reporters and legal videographers can help each other. Willette suggested that the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate is valuable not just for a court reporter to earn, but also for a legal videographer to earn, explaining that an RSA-certified videographer who is working with a CRR-certified court reporter can assist with troubleshooting. In addition, the court reporter can hook into the videographer’s audio mixer (Walsh suggested bringing a splitter, 25-foot cord, and ¼-inch adaptor), which is higher quality sound than any audio backup system a court reporter may be using.

Marilynn Larkin from PosturAbility presented a session entitled Power Up Your Posture where she noted that good posture involves the entire body, that it’s dynamic and interactive, and that it can help relieve some body problems while preventing others, like back soreness. Attendees had the opportunity to practice specific stretches, both sitting and standing, to do before or during work, while Larkin continually reminded everyone to breathe and keep their shoulders down and core activated. She also reminded attendees to make their environment work for them rather than trying to fit themselves into the environment, offering tips like asking for a different chair if necessary or wearing comfortable clothing. The session was part of the Judicial Track.

Members who are interested in Larkin’s session can view her two-part series of posture available in the NCRA e-seminar library.

As part of the Realtime Track, Brenda Brueggemann, a professor at the University of Louisville and a CART consumer, led a discussion-based session entitled Composing Sound – A Workshop on Creative and Critical Thinking. Part of the session focused on adding “flavor” while captioning, an issue that was well-illustrated during the session itself. After attendees discussed a series of high-level questions about captioning in small groups, Brueggemann said that for a group in the back, she could hear words from the discussion, but she had no idea what the tone of the discussion had been. When one participant from the group said that they had been confused by the questions, Brueggemann said that the word confusion added just the right amount of context to interpret the words better. The attendees discussed the difficulty in adding flavor while captioning, first because captioners are so focused on capturing the words that it can be difficult to also catch ambiance, and also because it can be difficult to avoid using personal judgment while trying to add in flavor. One example would be how to describe background music while captioning.

Brueggemann also pointed out that sound studies are garnering more attention in the university and that recently captioning has been seen as an integral part of video rather than an afterthought.

During a session entitled Best Practices for Remote Reporting, NCRA members and Realtime Systems Administrator certificate holders, Robin Nodland, RDR, CRR, and Christine Phipps, RPR, attendees were provided with an overview of what remote reporting is and what it is not, why best practices are needed to ensure quality realtime is provided, and what business models currently exist in the realtime world.

Nodland and Phipps also shared best practices as they relate to protocols for attendees and working with audio proceedings.

Handouts and presentations for many of the sessions held at the 2015 Convention & Expo are available online at NCRA’s Convention & Expo Web page.

 

COPE: Working on updates – for you

By Holly Moose

Your Committee on Professional Ethics has been hard at work. It has completed its review and revision of Advisory Opinions 1 through 44, many of which were outdated and/or duplicative. This task was a major undertaking and spanned the terms of two consecutive COPE committees. Kudos to all who participated.

The goal was to combine opinions that were similar, update opinions that were outdated, and rescind opinions that were obsolete or where applicable state and local rules were too variable to allow for a generalized opinion. Given the pace at which technology advances, this process may have to be revisited again sooner than any of us care to reflect upon. But for now, such terms as “diskette” have been updated to reflect 21st century nomenclature and the hypotheticals updated to reflect current circumstances.

Here’s a synopsis of some of the changes:

Advisory Opinion 4 addresses altering the official record. A consensus was reached that it should not be the reporter’s responsibility to determine what constitutes a “material” change, but rather, that any change the Court wishes to make, even one of a grammatical nature, should be agreed upon by all parties before the reporter may alter the official record.

Advisory Opinions 19 and 37 addressed certification and confidentiality of transcripts. AO 37 was rescinded, and AO 19 was revised to apply the same standards regarding certification and confidentiality to electronic and paper transcripts.

Advisory Opinion 24 addresses a third party seeking to obtain transcripts, or the names and contact information of the attorneys involved, from a prior case in which the requesting party itself is not involved. A consensus was reached that the reporter should not provide transcripts, or any information contained therein, without the consent of all parties to the underlying case. It was further agreed that it should not be at the discretion of the reporter whether or not to seek such consent, but rather, that the reporter is obligated to do so, in fairness to all participants.

In addition to the revisions that were made, the Committee inserted cross-references wherever a similar opinion exists, in the event that one or the other is not quite what you’re looking for.

Your Board of Directors has been hard at work too! It dutifully reviewed each and every one of COPE’s suggested revisions and adopted them.

Consider browsing through the Advisory Opinions on NCRA’s website. You would be amazed at how many scenarios are described that you may have encountered yourself at some point in your career. It’s always interesting to see how others have handled it. Perhaps such a review will prepare you for a situation that may arise in the future and assist you in addressing it in the best possible way.

Never having studied these opinions before, but needing to do so in order to complete our task, I must say I find many of them as relevant today as the day they were adopted. Technology excepted, some things never change!

Holly Moose, RDR, CRR, of Sausalito, Calif, is an ex-officio member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

COPE PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION 38: An attorney requests a copy of a reporter’s backup audio media

By Linda Larson

The Committee on Professional Ethics reviewed the following scenario: While taking down the official record, a reporter makes an audio backup recording of a proceeding for use by the reporter only while preparing the transcript. During a break in the proceeding, an attorney requests a copy of the reporter’s backup audio media. What are the obligations of the court reporter under the Code of Professional Ethics?

The committee has determined that absent a court order to do so, the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics does not require that a reporter provide a copy of any backup audio media that the reporter uses to make the official transcript of a proceeding. If a court reporter chooses to give the audio to the requesting attorney, the court reporter should be aware of Provision Number 1 and Provision Number 4.

Provision Number 1 of the Code of Professional Ethics states that a member shall be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reporting the proceedings and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

Provision Number 4 of the Code of Professional Ethics requires that the reporter preserves the confidentiality and ensures the security of the information, oral or written, entrusted to the member by any of the parties in a proceeding.

In conclusion, if the court reporter decides to provide audio to the requesting attorney, then the offer should be made to all other parties in the proceeding. The audio should be carefully screened to be sure there are no confidential discussions inadvertently picked up on the audio that would violate Provision Number 4.
Linda Larson, RPR, CRI, is a member of the NCRA COPE Committee and a freelance court reporter and owner of Premier Reporting, LLC, with offices in Carlisle and Harrisburg, Pa. Linda can be reached at linda@premierreportingllc.com.

COPE PUBLIC ADVISORY OPINION 36: Reporting a deposition where the witness is appearing by telephone

By Linda Larson

Since the quality of audio on teleconferencing and videoconferencing has improved over the years, and to save money and time, more and more attorneys are choosing to take depositions by phone or videoconference. Often the court reporter is put on the spot when arriving at a deposition and the attorneys are expecting the oath to be administered over the telephone. There are two different scenarios in this opinion.

The first scenario is one where the court reporter arrives at a deposition to find that the witness will be appearing by telephone. There is a notary with the witness who will be administering the oath. What are the obligations of the court reporter under the Code of Professional Ethics?

A reporter is always bound by federal, state, or local laws. If there are no laws, rules, or regulations regulating the above scenario, then the COPE Committee believes there is no ethical violation for a reporter who is not in the presence of a witness appearing over the telephone to report the deposition. In addition to rules governing court reporters, the reporter should look to his or her notary rules or other applicable laws to determine if he or she is permitted to swear in a witness over the telephone. If not, then the witness should be sworn in by a duly authorized oath giver in the presence of the witness. The court reporter must prepare a certificate page that conforms to the circumstances under which the oath was administered. The reporter should obtain from the oath giver proper documentation of administration of oath for attachment to the transcript.

In the second scenario, there is no authorized oath giver in the presence of the witness who is over the telephone. The attorneys wish to waive the notarial requirement and stipulate that the oath given by the reporter, not in the presence of the witness, has the same force and effect as if administered in the presence of the witness. What are the obligations of the court reporter under the Code of Professional Ethics?

Again, a court reporter is always bound by federal, state, or local laws. Attorneys cannot stipulate to breaking laws. It is a violation of provision number 9 of the Code of Professional Ethics, which is maintain the integrity of the profession, to administer the oath over the telephone if there is a law stating that the witness must be with the court reporter or oath giver when administering the oath.

In conclusion, unless notary or other laws state otherwise, the witness should be in the same room with the court reporter so the court reporter can legally administer the oath. If this is not possible, then another notary should be with the witness; the notary will administer the oath to the witness and provide documentation to the court reporter to attach to the transcript stating that the oath was legally given by the notary.
Linda Larson, RPR, CRI, is a member of the NCRA COPE Committee and a freelance court reporter and owner of Premier Reporting, LLC, with offices in Carlisle and Harrisburg, Pa. Linda can be reached at linda@premierreportingllc.com.

Court reporters charged with fraudulent billing

Three Georgia court reporters were charged with racketeering, theft by taking, theft by deception, and giving false statements, according to an article on WBTV.com, a television station based in Charlotte, N.C. The charges were the outcome of an investigation into court reporting billing irregularities brought by the local district attorney. Police said that evidence of the fraudulent billing dates as far back as 2006.

Read more.

CONSTITUTION & BYLAWS: How well do you know your rights? ANSWER KEY

Article I: Name. The name of the organization?
Article I: The name of this organization shall be National Court Reporters Association (the “Association”).
Article II: Purposes. There are 13 purposes of this Association. Can you name at least one?
Article II: Definition: in the context of this document, stenographic verbatim reporting refers to that reporting technology by the use of symbols, manually or by stenographic machine.
The purposes of this Association shall be:
1. To assume responsibility for leadership and enlightenment of verbatim stenographic reporters and of the public regarding the special competency, importance, and value of verbatim stenographic reporters, and to promote verbatim stenographic reporting technologies by the use of symbols, manually or by stenographic machine, over alternative reporting methods.
2. To promote a broader understanding and acceptance of the verbatim stenographic reporter as an integral part of the judicial process.
3. To apply the knowledge and experience of verbatim stenographic reporters, working in cooperation with the bench and bar, toward the upgrading and improvement of the criminal and civil justice system, in order that the public good may best be served, and to promote a broader understanding within the profession of the responsibility of a verbatim stenographic reporter to participate actively in the achievement of this objective.
4. To encourage, establish, and maintain high standards of professional education, competence, and performance of verbatim stenographic reporters.
5. To conduct and promote lawful and proper technical and business research to enhance the services of verbatim stenographic reporters.
6. To promote lawful and proper professional ethics, as well as compliance with all applicable laws, including antitrust laws, for verbatim stenographic reporters.
7. To stimulate and encourage the establishment and maintenance of appropriate training and educational facilities and programs for persons interested in the profession of verbatim stenographic reporting, and to promote verbatim stenographic reporting as a successful career.
8. To cooperate with federal, state, and local governments, their agencies, and other organized groups for the benefit of the public and the verbatim stenographic reporting profession.
9. To conduct educational seminars and conferences relating to verbatim stenographic reporting.
10. To further the exchange of professional knowledge and to disseminate, by all appropriate means, to the extent permitted by law, accurate knowledge and information with respect to the verbatim stenographic reporting profession.
11. To advance the interests and general welfare of the verbatim stenographic reporting profession.
12. To promote and encourage development of realtime reporting skills and ethics to provide communication access pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
13. To do any and all things that are lawful and appropriate in the furtherance of these purposes.
Article III: Membership. This Article describes the various classes of membership and privileges of membership. Can you name the six classes of membership?
Article III: Section 2 – Classes of Members
The Membership shall consist of six classes:
a) Participating Members
b) Registered Members
c) Student Members
d) Honorary Members
as e) Associate Members
f) Retired Lifetime Members
Article IV: Dues. Who approves the membership dues?
Article IV: Section 1 – Annual Dues
a) The annual dues for each class of Membership shall be payable in United States funds and shall be set by the Board of Directors. Any increase in the annual dues for any class of membership from that of the previous year shall be recommended by the Board of Directors and shall be approved by the Voting Members at the annual business meeting (as defi ned herein). The Executive Director shall give notice of such recommendation to all Members in the official
publication or by written notice, as the Board of Directors may determine, not less than thirty (30) days preceding the date of such annual business meeting. The annual dues of Associate Members shall not exceed sixty percent (60%) of
the dues of Participating or Registered Members. The annual dues of Student Members shall not exceed fi fty percent (50%) of the dues of Participating or Registered Members.
b) The annual dues for Participating, Registered, Student, and Associate Members are due and payable by January 1 of each year.
c) For Members who are non-residents of the United States, the annual dues shall not be more than fifty percent (50%) of the dues otherwise applicable to the respective classes of Membership (except for Associate Members and
Student Members).
Article V: Board of Directors. This Article describes the composition and eligibility of the Board, the duration of office, voting, vacancies, and removal. Can a director who has served a full 3-year term be eligible for reelection? If so, when?
Article V: Section 3–Duration of Office
a) The nine (9) members elected as Directors shall serve for a term of three (3) years or until their successors have been elected. The term of the Directors shall begin at the close of the annual convention at which they were elected.
b) The nine (9) Directors shall be divided into three (3) classes of three (3) Directors each, determined by the expiration of their terms of offi ce, one (1) class of Directors to be elected each year.
c) No Director who has served a full three-year term shall be eligible for reelection as a Director until at least one (1) year shall have elapsed.
d) A member of the Board of Directors may resign upon presenting a written resignation to the President, and the resignation shall become effective upon acceptance by the Board of Directors.
Article VI: Officers. This Article describes the titles of the offi cers, election, qualifications, term(s) of office, and removal. Who are the current officers of the Association and what elected position do they hold? Which officer may serve more than one full term?
Article VI: Section 1–Titles
The Officers of the Association shall be a President, a President-Elect, a Vice President, a Secretary-Treasurer, the Immediate Past President, and an Assistant Secretary-Treasurer (as defined in Section 8 herein).
Section 2–Election, Qualifications, and Term of Office
The Officers (except the President, the Immediate Past President, and the Assistant Secretary-Treasurer) shall be elected each year by the Voting Members. The term of each elected Offi cer shall begin at the close of the annual convention at which the Officer was elected and the Officer shall serve until the Officer’s successor is elected. No elected Officer shall serve for more than one full term in the same office except the Secretary-Treasurer, who may serve for no more than three (3) consecutive terms. The President-Elect shall automatically succeed to the office of President at the completion of the President’s term of office.
Section 8–Assistant Secretary-Treasurer
The Assistant Secretary-Treasurer (who shall be the Executive Director of the Association) shall act in the absence of the Secretary-Treasurer, and shall perform such duties as may be assigned by the Secretary-Treasurer, or the President, or the Board of Directors.

Article VII: Executive Committee. What authority is specifically taken away from the Executive Committee?
Article VII: Section 1–General
The Executive Committee shall consist of the President, President-Elect, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Immediate Past President. The Executive Director (or designee from the professional staff) shall serve as a nonvoting, ex officio member of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee shall have and may exercise all the authority and powers of the Board of Directors during the interim periods between meetings of the Board of Directors. The Executive Committee shall inform the Board of Directors of any actions taken by the Executive Committee during such interim periods. In no event shall the Executive Committee have the authority to modify or rescind any action taken
by the Board of Directors.
Article VIII: Nomination and Election of Officers and Directors. How does a candidate get on the ballot?
Article VIII:
Section 2–Duties of Nominating Committee
The Nominating Committee shall meet at least ninety (90) days prior to the next annual convention of the Association and shall nominate one or more nominees for offices to be filled and report the committee’s nominations to the President and the Executive Director.
Section 3–Preparation of the Slate of Nominees
a) The Executive Director shall inform the Members of the slate of nominees for offices to be filled as presented by the Nominating Committee, together with pertinent biographical information for each nominee, at least sixty (60) days
prior to the annual convention.
b) In the event a nominee becomes unable or unwilling to serve, the Nominating Committee shall select an alternate candidate and transmit to the Membership its amended report as soon as feasible, but in no case later than a time
immediately prior to the annual business meeting. Members of the Nominating Committee may participate in any meeting by conference call or mail and such participation shall constitute presence in person at such meeting.
c) Any one hundred (100) Voting Members, no more than twenty-five (25) of whom are located in any one state, shall have the privilege of nominating a candidate for each of the offices to be filled by preparing and forwarding
to the Executive Director a written nomination received within 60 days after publication of the Nominating Committee slate, together with pertinent biographical information and a signed letter from each nominee confirming
their willingness to serve. Director nominations submitted under this provision shall specify which of the nominees proposed by the Nominating Committee is being opposed. Candidates nominated by petition who were not previously
considered by the Nominating Committee shall be required to complete the same application materials required of candidates who were considered by the Nominating Committee.
d) Following the closing of nominations, and in the event of a contested election, a ballot shall be prepared listing the names, by lot, of all nominees under the office for which they have been nominated both by the Nominating
Committee and by written petition of the Voting Members. The ballot shall be posted in the registration area at the annual convention meeting site.
e) No individual shall be a candidate for more than one (1) office.
f) In the event an office shall become vacant during the course of the annual convention and following the close of nominations, or in the event a nominee under subparagraph b) above becomes unable or unwilling to serve, the presiding
Officer shall entertain nominations for that office from the floor, and theVoting Members shall elect a candidate to fill said vacancy.
Article IX: Meeting and Voting. Who has a right to vote at the Annual Business Meeting?
Article IX: Section 3–Voting
a) Only Voting Members as defined in Article III shall have the right to vote.
b) Voting by proxy shall not be permitted.
c) All voting shall be conducted at the annual business meeting except that voting for contested elections (as provided in Article VIII, Section 4) and amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws (as provided in Article XVIII, Section 2) shall also include voting by electronic mail or other means of electronic transmission as shall be authorized and determined by the Board of Directors.
d) Members voting by electronic mail and other authorized means of electronic transmission for contested elections and amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws will have 12 hours to vote once the online polling process opens.
[Article III, Section 9(b) … Only Participating Members who are verbatim stenographic reporters and Registered Members who are verbatim stenographic reporters, as well as Retired Lifetime Members and Honorary Members who
have been verbatim stenographic reporters, shall be eligible to vote and/or make or second motions at such meetings or to vote by electronic mail or other means of electronic transmission as specifically authorized under Article IX
(“Voting Members”).]
Article X: Academy of Professional Reporters and Council of Academy of Professional Reporters. A candidate for Fellow includes performance in at least three areas. What are some of those areas of performance?
Article X: Section 2–Fellows
a) Election as a Fellow is a professional distinction that shall be conferred only by the Board of Directors upon a person of extraordinary qualifications and exemplary professional practice who serves as a credit to the profession of
verbatim stenographic reporting. A candidate for Fellow shall be a Registered Member with at least ten (10) years of experience and shall have attained distinction as measured by performance. Such performance shall include three
(3) or more of the following:
i) Publication of important papers, articles, books, or other written material
dealing with verbatim stenographic reporting, professional, or related subjects.
ii) Creative contributions to the welfare of the profession of verbatim stenographic
reporting.
iii) Significant and distinguished service to the profession as an active participant
on boards or committees of any association of verbatim stenographic reporters.
iv) Contributions in such areas as teaching, editing of publications, other board
or committee service, or education of the general public that have served to
enhance or promote the verbatim stenographic reporting profession.
v) Attainment of the Association’s Registered Merit Reporter, Registered Diplomate
Reporter or Speed or Realtime Contest Certificate.
Article XI: Council on Approved Student Education. What is the responsibility of the CASE?
Article XI:
Section 1–Council on Approved Student Education
There shall be a Council on Approved Student Education (“CASE”), which shall consist of at least five (5) members, including at least two (2) Registered Reporters, and at least three (3) reporting educators from NCRA-approved programs representing both public and private institutions. CASE shall be responsible for the approval and development of court reporter student training and education programs. The members of CASE shall be appointed by the President, with the approval of the Board of Directors, to serve three-year staggered terms.
Article XII: Structure. What committee is responsible for enforcing the Code of Professional Ethics?
Article XII:
Section 2–Committees, Councils and Task Forces
a) With the approval of the Board of Directors, the President may create and shall appoint members and chairs of such committees, councils and task forces as necessary, who shall serve for a term of one (1) year, unless otherwise specified.
b) Committee on Professional Ethics: There shall be a committee consisting of five (5) members, at least three (3) of whom shall be Registered Members and, when feasible, one (1) of whom shall be a Past President, appointed by the President with the approval of the Board of Directors. The members of this Committee shall be appointed to serve for staggered three-year terms. The Committee shall be responsible for developing, interpreting, and enforcing the
Code of Professional Ethics in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and Bylaws. The Committee shall function in accordance with operating rules and procedures that are subject to approval by the Board of Directors.
c) Constitution and Bylaws Committee: This committee shall consist of a minimum of three (3) members appointed by the President with the approval of the Board. The committee shall perform the duties assigned in this Constitution and
Bylaws for amending the Constitution and Bylaws, reviewing the Constitution and Bylaws from time to time, and making recommendations to the Board of Directors and the Membership.
d) Distinguished Service Award Committee: This committee shall consist of five (5) members, who may be past recipients of the Distinguished Service Award.
Committee members shall be appointed for a term of three (3) years on a rotating basis or for the unexpired portion of a term. This committee shall submit to the Board, not later than March 1 of each year, a list of candidates for the
Award, together with all available information about the candidates, and with their recommendation for selection. The Board may accept or reject each or all of the committee’s candidates or recommendations. The Board may not independently select its own recipient for this award.
Article XIII: Executive Staff. Who selects the Executive Director as employed by the Association?
Article XIII:
Section 1–Employment of Executive Director
There shall be an Executive Director who shall be selected by the Board of Directors and employed by the Association.
Article XIV: Fiscal and Legal Procedures. How often are the financial records of the Association audited?
Article XIV:
Section 15: The Board of Directors may appoint legal counsel to act as general counsel and to advise in the legal affairs of the Association.
Section 16: The Board of Directors shall appoint an independent certified public accountant to audit the financial records of the Association and submit an annual audit report.
Article XV: Indemnification and Insurance. Who may authorize the purchase of insurance on behalf of directors, officers, employees, and volunteers?
Article XV:
Section 2–Insurance and Funding
The Board of Directors may authorize the purchase of insurance on the behalf of any of its Directors, Offi cers, employees, and volunteers, against any liability asserted against or incurred by any such person which arises out of such person’s status as a Director, Officer, employee, or volunteer or out of acts taken in such capacity, whether or not the Association would have the power to indemnify and hold harmless such Director, Offi cer, employee, or volunteer against that liability under law. Such indemnification shall be limited to the proceeds of any such insurance policy that may be purchased and an additional Association funds that may be available for such purposes.
Article XVI: Affiliated Units. What is NCSA?
Article XVI:
Section 3–Definitions
a) The term “unit” and or “units” shall be synonymous with the term “association.”
b) A “state” shall be defined as a state or territory of the United States or foreign nation which is approved for membership in the National Committee of State Associations (“NCSA”) by the Board of Directors.
c) Only one affiliated unit may be recognized from any one state, with the exception of states wherein the number of NCRA members exceeds ten percent (10%) of total NCRA membership.
Section 5–National Committee of State Associations
A National Committee of State Associations (“NCSA”) shall be convened annually. NCSA shall be composed of two (2) representatives from each affiliated unit and two (2) alternates, who shall not be entitled to represent more than
one affi liated unit as a delegate, each of whom shall be appointed by such person’s respective affi liated unit. Each affi liated unit shall have no more than two (2) votes. In addition, delegates-at-large, with a voice but no vote, may be appointed by the President to serve on NCSA, representing states that are not affiliated. The President shall appoint a chair and vice chair to conduct the business of NCSA. The Board of Directors shall establish policies and procedures for the conduct and operation of NCSA.
Article XVII: Distribution of Assets. The funds of the Association are used only to accomplish what?
Article XVII: Distribution of Assets
The Association shall use its funds only to accomplish the purposes specified in the Constitution and Bylaws, and no part of such funds shall inure or be distributed to the Members. On dissolution of the Association, any funds remaining shall be distributed to one or more recognized charitable, educational, scientific, or philanthropic organizations to be selected by the Board of Directors.
Article XVIII: Amendments. Who may propose an amendment to the Constitution and Bylaws?
Article XVIII:
Section 1–Originating Proposed Amendments
The Board of Directors, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee or any three (3) Voting Members may propose an amendment to this Constitution and Bylaws.
Such amendment shall be submitted to the Executive Director and to the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, as set forth in Section 2 of this Article.
Section 2–Procedure and Action on Proposed Amendments
This Constitution and Bylaws may be amended by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Voting Members who are present and voting at the annual business meeting as well as the Voting Members who are voting by electronic mail or other authorized means of electronic transmission. Notice of such amendment with the text thereof must be fi led with the Executive Director and the Constitution and Bylaws Committee not less than ninety (90) days before the date of the annual business meeting at which the said proposed amendment is to be considered.
The Executive Director shall give notice of such proposed amendment to all Members in the official publication or by written notice, as the Board of Directors may determine, not less than thirty (30) days preceding the date of such
annual business meeting.
Article XIX: Miscellaneous. Can a committee advise in the setting of rates or charges for the profession?
Article XIX:
Section 1–Interpretation of Constitution and Bylaws
a) The Board of Directors shall be the fi nal authority on the interpretation of the Constitution and Bylaws.
b) Nothing in any article of this Constitution and Bylaws, or in any provision of the Code of Professional Ethics, shall be construed to require or permit the Association or any of its committees, councils or task forces to participate or advise in any way, formal or informal, in the setting of rates or charges for the profession, except for rates established by statute, rule, or order of court.