Maintaining a freelance mind-set in an official world

By Risa Entrekin

Many reporters accept an officialship after years of freelancing and feel they can relax with only one person to keep happy: the judge. After the excitement wanes, however, complacency often manifests itself in job dissatisfaction and frustration. The official who maintains a freelance mind-set in an official world can avoid this and enjoy a successful and pleasant career. Here are a few thoughts on how to succeed at the business of officialships without really trying:

Technology: In this ever-changing world, the steno machine remains a steady, trustworthy foundation upon which we must build an environment to meet client demand. The “client” may be a judge, court administrative staff, a probation or parole officer, attorneys, pro se litigants and their families, or any combination of the above.

As new attorneys emerge on the scene who have been immersed in high-tech gadgetry since before they started kindergarten, the reporter’s ability to respond to their needs becomes increasingly important. Whether it is emailing transcripts in various formats or live streaming a realtime feed to off-site participants, an awareness of technological advancements and the willingness to acquire the skill and equipment necessary to respond to those advancements is crucial. One way to become familiar with the latest advancements is through technology itself: participating in Facebook groups, watching YouTube “how-to” videos, and attending NCRA and other conferences either in person or remotely.

Maintaining and improving one’s skill is always a worthwhile goal that will benefit the client as well as the reporter. A trial involving technical subject matter will always be extremely challenging, but it can be more successful and less stressful when a reporter is at the top of his or her game. Some courts even offer pay incentives for additional certifications.

Financial considerations: An officialship may create new and challenging financial considerations that are best discussed with an accountant or tax advisor. Although taxes will be withheld from salaried income, it may be necessary for the reporter to file estimated tax payments to avoid underpayment penalties. Keeping transcript income and estimated taxes in a separate account may be helpful.

Keeping good financial records is burdensome and time-consuming, but it is a necessary evil. Some officialships require additional record keeping that can seem like “busy” work to the busy reporter. However, this record keeping is simply a job that must be done. The best attitude to cultivate is one of acceptance instead of procrastination.

Organization: When time is short and days in court are long, a consistent method of organizing work and maintaining records is a necessity. Constantly prioritizing transcript requests is a must. The “Sticky Notes” tool available on the Windows desktop or the use of Microsoft OneNote can assist the reporter to be continually aware of what task needs the most urgent attention.

Proofreading on a mobile device can allow the reporter to make more efficient use of unavoidable time delays. Files can be sent and received from a proofreader using the same technology. Develop a quick and effective way of preparing a job or case dictionary for a realtime feed. This often is the difference between a mediocre and excellent realtime transmission. The official may find it helpful to organize the most urgent tasks at the close of a workday.

Teamwork: Unlike the freelance world where the reporter is often working autonomously, teamwork is extremely important for the official. Officials live in an uncertain world of budget cuts and work study evaluations, and they share their world with courthouse personnel who often do not understand or appreciate the reporter’s contribution. Officials often face threats of being replaced by other technology. The reporter’s best reaction in the face of uncertainty is to become invaluable at the courthouse. As with any public-sector job, the reporter will work with a myriad of people from a variety of backgrounds who possess many different attitudes and work expectations. A reporter should always strive to maintain a professional attitude and keep the interests of justice as his or her top priority.

Teamwork also includes working well with a future team, the reporters who will assume the official reporter positions of the future. Create a method of communicating with the reporters of tomorrow about how records, audio files, rough drafts, and final transcripts are stored. This lasting legacy furthers the cause of justice. An “In Case of Emergency” file which can be easily accessed by others will ease the transition and save time. The file should include passwords, file locations, account numbers, locations of keys, and any other information the court reporter considers important.

Professionalism:  It is human nature to have short memories of positive experiences and lingering memories of negative situations. This is one of many reasons for the official reporter to endeavor to develop and maintain a high degree of professionalism. The NCRA Code of Ethics is an additional incentive. Frankly, another reason to always maintain professional integrity is because the legal community is often relatively small and closely knit. A reporter may not know that the doddering old attorney fumbling with the newfangled evidence presentation method used to be the judge’s law partner or that the intake clerk struggling to get a degree may end up clerking for the judge before he accepts a position with a stellar law firm.

Reporters should always avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The official who becomes complacent about their duties can sometimes relax this standard and become friendlier with attorneys who frequent the courtroom. Giving advice and commenting on a case is always inappropriate, regardless of how well a reporter knows an attorney. The official should treat everyone equally, both in the courtroom and after the fact.

Always strive to honor commitments made for transcript production. Maintain communication with the requesting party throughout the production process if necessary. A late transcript now and then is inevitable and unavoidable, but a late transcript preceded by no communication from the court reporter is unjustifiable.

The official sometimes has more flexibility to volunteer with state and national associations, and yet freelancers often carry the lion’s share of this burden. Officials should encourage students by mentoring them if at all possible. This encourages the student and allows them to be more comfortable in an intimidating setting. This connection with students can benefit both the student and the working reporter. Providing pro bono services or transcribing interviews through NCRA’s Oral Histories Program are other ways officials can contribute to their profession.

An unknown author once said, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Officials should faithfully preserve the record with skill and professionalism, always being cognizant of their contribution to our collective destiny.

Risa Entrekin, RDR, CRR, CMRS, CPE, is an official based in Montgomery, Ala. She also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. She can be reached at risaentrekin@gmail.com.

 

Realtime writing and realtime scoping in Jamaica

By Linda Bland

It isn’t unusual for me to receive a call from a court reporter asking how to upgrade his or her writing to offer realtime writing as a service or how to transition to captioning or CART providing. However, I was very pleased when I received a call from Ms. Tessa Lewin of the U.S. Embassy, asking me if I would be interested in discussing how the Court Reporting at Home Realtime Writing Professional Development Program might train 44 official reporters for the Supreme Court of Jamaica. I immediately responded, “Yes! Absolutely! I would love to develop just this kind of project.” Having previously trained realtime writing court reporters in Zambia and Sierra Leone, Africa, my mind began immediately thinking how this might be accomplished.

Justice Bryan Sykes and his committee had determined that their reporters could benefit from upgrading their skills for realtime writing and speed, as well as other areas. Just the idea of the project was exciting. A great deal of thought and planning had already been developed by Justice Sykes and his committee, comprised of reporters, justices, IT department personnel, etc. By the time I was contacted, the committee had already had established a series of goals. When we met via video conferencing, I made a few more recommendations.

The Chief Justice of the Jamaican Supreme Court was so committed to the project, she allotted time during the workday for all reporters to be able to practice. How generous was that? Each morning, one group of reporters/students would be allowed to practice while other reporters covered court, and each afternoon they reversed roles. Being paid to train — who could refuse that offer?

A few months later, we entered into an agreement, and on Jan. 5, 2015, the project began. I had agreed to seven goals:

  1. Assess the reporters’ current speed writing level
  2. Assess the reporters’ realtime writing proficiency
  3. Train the reporters in Eclipse Audio Synchronization
  4. Make necessary steno dictionary conversions, build dictionaries, and make modifications
  5. Train two official supreme court reporters as trainers in all aspects of training, with emphasis on developing speed tests (writing the tests, counting in word and syllabic count, dictating the tests and proctoring speed tests)
  6. Implementing speedbuilding via the CRAH student platform
  7. Train two official supreme court reporters/trainers to update academics and customize them for Jamaican legal terminology, including study materials and tests.

I have learned during my many years of training reporters, captioners, and CART providers that all projects have challenges, and this one was no different. It would never have gotten off the ground without the dedication of Ms. Tanya Chung-Daley and Ms. Deline Cunningham, RPR, the court reporters designated as the two individuals who would be trained to be trainers of all future reporters for the court.

Our almost daily meetings, which later evolved into weekly meetings over the Internet, became an exciting, enjoyable part of my day. These ladies, fortunately, are so talented, it mde training them tremendously easier. In addition to handling their daily duties covering court, they had to go home to develop and dictate tests, or modify academics for the Jamaican judiciary, and countless other assignments I heaped upon them. They were working extended hours daily and weekends for months and months. And when I asked for materials back by Friday, I received them on Tuesday or Wednesday instead. My job was to stay ahead of them, to ensure that the next step in the training process was already prepared to prevent anyone from having to wait on any component of the project.

Our first two goals were to determine the reporters’ current speed and accuracy in translation. Imagine how difficult it is to schedule tests for this many reporters who have daily, ongoing court assignments including transcripts. Many of these reporters did not work in the Supreme Court in Kingston, Jamaica, but rather were in the circuit courts in cities all around the country.

Any court administrator knows the difficulty in simply keeping all courts covered. However, covering all the courts and scheduling the reporters for testing purposes was quite a feat. We had to test on three different dates, utilizing three different tests for speed at three different speed levels, as well as for realtime. The tests were graded utilizing NCRA grading guidelines, “What Is an Error?” as well as with a view toward the number of large and small drops the reporters were experiencing, how many of the errors were written correctly in steno but not contained in their dictionary, punctuation, and so on.

We then had a basis from which to work. We knew the speed levels we needed to address and the degree of the reporters’ translation accuracy. Knowing that the reporters and justices would benefit from audio synchronization, our first step was to introduce that feature. However, just as with all of us, some of us know our CAT software better than others, and it appeared some of the reporters required a review of some of the basic Eclipse features before we could introduce audiosync. Therefore, although basic training on the software was not a component of our agreement, I knew it was imperative, so I decided to employ someone who could refresh and walk the reporters through the basics.

Who could train my Jamaican reporters/students? I contacted an old acquaintance who put me in touch with Dineen Squillante, who is a certified Eclipse trainer. After one conversation with Dineen, I knew she was perfect for this project. Dineen developed a checklist for what we felt every reporter needed to know for basic realtime setup and editing, steno dictionary preparation, and so on. Each reporter was asked to fill out the checklist, designating which areas they felt needed additional training. Upon receipt of that information, Dineen developed multiple webinars that she presented to the trainers and that were recorded and provided for the trainers’ use in training the remaining reporters.

After the trainers determined that all the reporters were proficient in the basic features, we turned to dictionary building, conversion, and modifications, working on numbers, punctuation, etc. Dineen said, “Working on this project was one of the most enjoyable assignments of my entire career.”

Developing a literary, jury charge, or testimony test involves a great deal more than one can imagine unless you have served on a committee for the NCRA. Thankfully, we have counting software now that counts by word count as well as syllabic count. However, these software programs are not always 100 percent accurate and often require “tweaking.” Because of that, I felt it was important to teach the trainers how to compose a test, count the words in both word count and syllabic count, and dictate it. There is truly an art to dictating correctly and accurately. It can be the difference between being able to pass a test or fail one. It takes a great deal of practice for most instructors, but fortunately, once again, the trainers adapted to dictation quite easily.

Tanya and Deline, as well as the wonderful IT staffer, Duane Carr, teased me often about learning to “speak Jamaican.” When I would think the test “did not make sense,” I would be educated on certain phrases and how “it is spoken in Jamaican.” And without Duane’s IT expertise, we would never have completed this project.

We placed dictation developed by Tanya and Deline on my company’s student platform for the Jamaican reporters to practice, in addition to providing them access to hundreds of hours of our dictation if they chose to practice that as well. Tanya and Deline reviewed and edited our academics to determine what modifications were required for Jamaican law. We modified those and placed those on the platform as well, allowing their tests to be automatically and immediately graded, designating the errors they made and what the correct answer should have been.

And finally, I wanted the trainers to know how to edit or scope realtime. I called upon Dineen once again to train my trainers in realtime editing. If you haven’t tried realtime editing with your scopist, you have to do this. It saves a tremendous amount of time, and it is so easy. Do not be afraid to learn a new feature of your CAT software.

An awards ceremony was held for the reporters after they learned the realtime theory and writing concepts, and Deline and Tanya demonstrated realtime editing/scoping for all those present. While one wrote, the other edited the transcript simultaneously. If you aren’t familiar with realtime editing/scoping, your scopist may be in a different room, a different city, or even a different state, editing while you are writing the assignment.

In February 2016, my work ended. The materials for the Jamaican Project had been provided for realtime writing theory, speed building, and academics. The trainers and reporters had been trained in basic Eclipse, audiosynch, and realtime scoping. However, as we know, the road to building sufficient speed and accuracy and developing one’s steno dictionary are ongoing projects, and I knew Deline and Tanya to be quite capable of handling anything required by the Jamaican Supreme Court.

Deline stated, “The experience as trainers was a challenging and demanding one; however, with encouragement and assistance from Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, we were able to triumph over all the hurdles.” Tanya added, “Yes, and we are truly grateful for this experience.”

So, “Mon,” I didn’t get a trip to Jamaica, but I made a lot of wonderful Jamaican friends along the way, and we spread realtime writing to yet another part of the world. I am so grateful Court Reporting and Captioning at Home was chosen for this project and grateful also for all the assistance through the State Department, U.S. Embassy, the Jamaican Supreme Court, their IT Department, and of course, all 44 of the Jamaican Official Court Reporters.

My advice to you: Don’t stagnate! Realtime is attainable for anyone who is willing to put forth the effort. Don’t think that you can’t change your style of writing or that you are “too old.” You don’t have to change your entire theory at all. However, in all likelihood, you probably need to add a few realtime writing concepts to your theory. Remember, we all modify our theory somewhat, don’t we? We think of new briefs, or find another way to write our numbers, or a new way to write a “family” of words or contractions. We find new groups of phrases that work well for us.

If you want it, realtime is there for you to master – even from the comfort of your home. It requires taking one realtime concept at a time and mastering it to prevent you from causing hesitation in your writing. Writing realtime well isn’t accomplished in a one-day seminar, or even a week or a month. It can take anywhere from 90 days to a year or longer, depending upon how much work you need to employ to update your theory, how much time you make to practice, and how disciplined you are to completing your training. Every realtime writing concept you incorporate into your writing improves the translation, reduces the amount of time it takes to edit a transcript, and provides you more time to practice. It’s a win-win situation. However, you must take the first step to begin your journey.

Linda Bland, RMR, CPE, is the owner of Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, SSD Enterprises, LLC, Fla. She can be reached at LindaB@courtreportingathome.com.

 

 

A judge and his court reporter weigh in on realtime in the courtroom

Last August, NCRA member Julie Hohenstein, an official realtime court reporter for the Hon. Stephen A. Wolaver, Greene County, Ohio, added a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) to the Register Professional Reporter (RPR) certification she already held. Hohenstein said her judge was so happy with her earning the certification that he offered to be interviewed, along with her, to share thoughts on why realtime is a benefit to have as a skill and in the courtroom.

Why did you decide to pursue the CRR credential? 

Hohenstein: Ever since the CRR certification became available, I have wanted to achieve it. I think having the CRR says that I am on the cutting edge of my profession both in technology and skill. I think the CRR designation earns me immediate respect among professionals in the court reporting and legal fields.

I had attempted a couple of times when the CRR was first offered, and then I was discouraged because I didn’t pass it.  I always knew I could.  After attending the 2016 NCRA Convention in Chicago and participating in the CRR seminar and learning more about how the online testing worked, I decided to go ahead and try again.

I really liked the convenience of being able to take the CRR in a setting that I was quite comfortable and familiar with and on a date that I chose.  I especially liked the fact that you can take the CRR up to three times in a given quarter.

What do you think are the benefits of realtime?  

Hohenstein: For me as the court reporter, I use realtime to improve my writing skills. I watch my realtime to see areas in which I need to improve on my skills. I think no matter who you are, there is always something that we can do to make our writing better.

For the attorneys, I think the benefits are the ability to see and reread what the witness has just said or had said previously.

We use the iCVNet with iPads in our courtroom, and to have at the attorney’s fingertips the ability to search back through the transcript for certain areas of testimony and mark it and then be able to refer to it is an indispensable tool.  Also the ability to search a word or phrase and see every single time it is used and to be able to go to that spot with just a tap of the finger is invaluable.

Judge Wolaver, when you first saw realtime, what was the most exciting part of it for you?

Wolaver: Having the knowledge that I would not miss anything, that I could see testimony immediately, it would aid me in making rulings and also the ability with the iPads to search back through the day’s transcript for any discrepancies in witnesses’ testimony.  I find that having the iPads with the realtime gives me the flexibility to take the transcript into chambers to review before I make a final ruling, if necessary.

How often do you use realtime, and who in the court uses it? What is your setup like? 

Hohenstein: In our courtroom, I provide realtime to the judge and both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel on a daily basis.  All parties involved use the realtime whenever they feel the need to.  Our courtroom is setup with the judge and both counsel having an iPad to receive the realtime feed via Wi-Fi and ICVnet. There have been many times that I have noticed that the defendants themselves have used my realtime.

Have any attorneys, clerks, or deaf or hard-of-hearing jurors or parties used the realtime feed? 

Hohenstein: Yes. I have watched both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel use the realtime that I provide. Just recently, we had a trial where a potential juror had a severe hearing loss and tinnitus. The juror could let us know that they could not hear any of the Voir Dire examination that was being conducted, and they were able to follow along with the iPad to complete the Voir Dire process.

We also had a 14-day civil trial where both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel wanted realtime and a daily rough copy of the day’s proceedings by the end of the day.

What situations do you think that realtime is especially helpful for? 

Hohenstein: I find that in all situations realtime is helpful. Realtime helps me if I mishear something a witness says. I can immediately look at the screen and read it again to confirm what I thought I heard the witness say.

Why do you think that realtime is so important that you wanted Julie recognized for pursuing being certified in it? 

Wolaver: Julie goes above and beyond and excels in all aspects of her job duties. She has great dedication and respect for her job and wants to always improve her realtime skills for everyone that comes into our courtroom, and the public we serve should know of her dedication to justice.

At a time when many courts are replacing court reporters with ER systems, I find Julie’s realtime skills to be an invaluable asset for what she brings to my courtroom every day.  I can’t imagine not having her here.

What would you say to encourage other court reporters to pursue this certification? 

Hohenstein: Have the confidence to try it and achieve it. I never thought I would, but deep down I had the desire to pursue and achieve it. I think the sky’s the limit.  Just keep working on your writing skills and keep practicing and you too will achieve it. Not everyone can do what we can do, or everyone would do it. Be proud of what you have accomplished.

 

California law lets parties to an arbitration use a court reporter

A blog posted on Oct. 3 by JD Supra Business Advisor provides insight into a new law passed in California that gives a party to arbitration the right to have a certified shorthand reporter transcribe any deposition, proceeding, or hearing as the official record. The blog was written by Kramm Court Reporting.

Read more.

JCR Awards nominations open through Oct. 31

Nominate yourself or a noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager for recognition through the JCR Awards. Conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards is a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. In addition to nominations for several subcategories, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Self-nominations are accepted. Firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs may be nominated as a group as long as they meet the criteria for membership for one of the definitions in the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To nominate yourself or someone else, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies you implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered by the JCR editorial team based on the best fact-based story. Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31. Read more about the JCR Awards.

Court reporters essential to an effective system of justice

An article posted Sept. 2 by the Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif., recognizes the work of court reporters and the important role they play in providing the official record of court proceedings. The article is authored by Jennifer Muir Beuthin, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Read more.

See you in court? Not anytime soon in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, Calif., posted an op-ed piece written by local Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern that addresses the issues backlogs create in civil courtrooms. The article was posted on Sept. 1.

Read more.

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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REPORTING: The D’Arcy McPherson story

By Aimée Suhie

When D’Arcy McPherson stepped out his door in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1990s, he could pluck a mango off a tree before heading to work at court and plan some beach time at the end of his day. But once he moved back to his native Canada, he had to worry about frozen eyeballs on a winter day in Ottawa’s minus 20 degrees.

Contrasts like these are what make a court reporter’s life so fascinating, and, like many of us, McPherson has stories to tell. He covered circuit courts throughout the province of Manitoba in the late 1980s. “That often meant flying into remote communities in the middle of winter and huddling around a wood stove with the judge while reporting testimony,” he remembered. “I also had gloves that I had cut off the fingertips to write in colder rooms – a necessity!”

He reported many of the committee hearings when same-sex marriage was before the Senate of Canada in 2003. “There were certainly times when it was difficult to hear some of the things being said,” McPherson said, who is gay. “Luckily, as reporters we are trained to distance ourselves from testimony that we might find emotionally charged. Overall the discussion on same-sex marriage was very positive and seemed to demystify many of the stigmas. Since becoming the law in Canada, same-sex marriage has become part of daily life, and institutional barriers to equality are less accepted.”

McPherson originally intended to go to law school, “but most of the new lawyers in the 1980s were working in restaurants,” he said. “There was a big demand for court reporters, and I was a pretty good typist, so I thought it might be a possibility.” He graduated in 1986 from Langara College in Vancouver where readers from the drama program at the college read dictations in different accents, which he said “could be pretty amusing.”

He earned his RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, CRI, and CMRS certifications and is now in his 20th year in the Senate of Canada with the title managing editor of debates. Even though he no longer reports, he does broadcast captioning in his spare time.

As managing editor, he is in charge of budget, staffing processes, editorial policy, and ensuring that production deadlines are met. “We must coordinate with partner agencies such as the Translation Bureau — everything said in English must also be produced in French and vice versa,” McPherson explained. “In addition, I edit the final version of the debates in English, as well as some committees. I manage a team of four supervisors, one executive assistant, 18 reporters (nine English, nine French), and five scopists. We also have a system of revision for senators. If they have misspoken or misread something, they are able to request a change to the transcript. The debates are not strictly word for word. We prefer to call them ‘polished verbatim.’ In these instances, I have the final say on what is or is not an acceptable change.”

McPherson called his job at the Senate “a unique opportunity to be not only part of a highly skilled and talented team of reporters and editors, but also to have the best seat in the house to watch the political history of Canada unfold. Even before I became a reporter, I had always wanted to work in Parliament. And when I was offered the job, I accepted it without hesitation.”

Even though his job sounds different from what we’re familiar with in the United States, McPherson said the profession faces the same challenges. “Most court administrators in Canada have succumbed to the economic allure of digital reporting and have downplayed the negatives of not having a qualified professional who can report proceedings as they happen,” he said. “However, this has meant that some reporters have applied their expertise on the transcript production end of the process and continue to make their living that way while ensuring that litigants receive their transcripts. Other reporters focus on freelance, captioning, legislative, arbitration, or international reporting work. Canada offers many options for the qualified and skilled realtime reporter.”

When he isn’t working, McPherson plays piano, cooks and travels. But his current passion is helping to settle refugees from war-torn countries into the Ottawa community. “My church, First United Church, has helped to sponsor several families and individuals from Yemen, Syria, Eritrea, and Sudan,” he said. “I have found it incredibly fulfilling. It is amazing to share stories and to introduce new possibilities to people who have known such unimaginable hardship and violence. To see the joy on a child’s face as they play in the snow for the first time when only a year prior they were begging for food in a refugee camp helps to put everything in perspective. We have made incredible friends, laughed and cried, and have had the rich experience of being able to see Canada through the eyes of others.”

Tips for Students

“Love shorthand. Love the process. Love your fingers when they fly, and forgive them when they don’t. Keep breathing.”

Also: “I have learned a lot from others in the reporting field. Mentors, colleagues, conferences, even going through the library of old JCRs have been and continue to be sources of inspiration and guidance. I have also benefitted greatly through certification and professional development training that is offered by NCRA and our provincial association.”

Aimée Suhie, RPR, is a freelance reporter from New Fairfield, Conn., and a regular contributor to the JCR. She can be reached at suhieaimee@gmail.com.

PERSPECTIVES: The Very Honourable Judge Murchie

By Diana L. Netherton

­I would be remiss in the recollection of my overseas work experience if I failed to mention one extraordinary man, a Crown Court Judge who presided at Reading Crown Court in Reading, U.K., nestled in the County of Berkshire, home of Her Majesty’s Windsor Castle.

It was at this location I met the Honourable Judge John Murchie for the first time. He was, at first glance, absolutely terrifying. Towering more than six feet tall, Judge Murchie ran his courtroom with an iron fist. We started on time. If anyone had the audacity to be late, he would angrily stomp into court from his chambers, stand at the bench, and glare at the offending party or parties until apologies were offered.

The first day I sat with him, he was not pleased. Apparently, a defendant showed up for trial with quite a bit of cannabis strategically located somewhere unmentionable on his person. The trial was for, yes, cannabis charges. Judge Murchie immediately postponed the trial and, despite pleas from the man’s barrister for mercy, immediately made the offender a guest of Her Majesty, to be taken forthwith to Reading Prison while the judge decided what to do with him.

The courtroom quickly cleared out leaving me, the judge, and June, an usher, who was busily removing the water pitchers. She had ignored me all morning. Judge Murchie stood up, leaned over the bench, and peered down at me curiously over his spectacles. I stared back, not sure what to say or if I should even be staring back at him.

“What’s your name, young lady?” he finally asked.

“Diana,” I stammered. “As in Princess.”

He let out a little chuckle. “Oh, one of our American cousins, I see, is what we have here. Come back for some tea, Princess.” He quickly got up and exited the back door.

I looked at June, uncertain of what to do or even where to go. “Well, don’t just sit there,” June snapped at me. “Don’t keep him waiting.” I suspected she didn’t like me at all and wasn’t going to offer me any assistance, so I exited the rear door, which led me into a long, narrow corridor. I started slowly down the corridor, peering into every open door until I found Judge Murchie’s chambers.

“Come in,” he gestured. He was seated behind a massive oak desk. His office was lined with books. There was a picture of Queen Elizabeth proudly displayed on the wall behind him.

A pot of steaming tea, cream, sugar, and biscuits (cookies) was brought in by a scowling June. He gestured me towards the teapot, as if to say, help yourself, so I went to pour my tea.

“I’ll take cream and two sugars,” he said. I managed to pour the tea without spilling any of it, quickly figuring out that my role from now on was to be the tea server. He motioned for me to sit down opposite.

I sat with Judge Murchie for a great deal of my time working in the U.K. We formed a friendship that would seem rather unusual at first glance. We shared the same birthdate; in fact, he was exactly 40 years older than me. We settled into the tea routine, me pouring and serving while engaging in witty banter and anecdotes about America, a country he regarded fondly. I learned that he attended Gordonstoun, a prestigious school in Moray, Scotland, which was, in many ways, the fictional Hogwarts School from the Harry Potter series. He was always proud to announce that he was specially chosen to be a greeter for the queen. He was one of a few judges commissioned to officially greet Her Majesty at formal public appearances. He proudly showed me several photos of him and the queen at various receptions throughout the course of several years.

Judge Murchie was swift and fair. One time a criminal case was brought against a couple who, apparently, held too may car boot sales in a year, in violation of a local ordinance. (Car boots sales are known here as garage sales.) When he heard about the allegations of this particular case, he banged his large fists on the bench, exclaiming, “This is the most absurd case I’ve ever had. Dismissed.”

 

Judge Murchie didn’t talk so much to you, but more at you. This wasn’t meant to be rude or insulting; I came to the conclusion that this is just how he operated. One time I mentioned that I was going to Spain with my husband for a week. He immediately got up and reached for an enormous book on the subject of the Spanish Revolution and General Franco. It was implied, not that I might read it, but that I would read it. Not so keen on the thought at first, and really looking forward to drinking sangria on the beach, I eventually picked the book up and started to read it, and I immediately found it fascinating. In fact, I couldn’t put it down for most of the holiday. When I returned from Spain, he quizzed me meticulously on just about every aspect of that book. I was relieved that I read it but also grateful for the opportunity to learn something new on a topic that I probably never would have imagined discovering on my own.

Judge Murchie also made sure that I was safe on the road. One day, he pulled out a disposable camera. “Put this is your glove box,” he advised me. “If you’re in an accident, you will need it to take pictures for evidence.” This was, of course, before mobile phones. I obliged him, not really thinking I would ever need to use it. However, a few weeks after he gave me the camera, I was rear-ended by an Asian cab driver who claimed he couldn’t speak English when I asked him for his insurance details. I remembered the camera, retrieved it from my glove compartment, and started snapping pictures of the cars and of the driver’s license plate. I turned the photos over to the police, and within a few days, I had the cabbie’s insurance details and the funds to repair the damage to my car.

Judge Murchie was also terribly hard of hearing and stubbornly refused to wear hearing aids. He would cup his hands behind his ears during most proceedings in an attempt to hear what was going on. In almost every trial we had together, he would lean over the bench and whisper, “Diana, can you get me that part where the witness says….?”

We also had a few unprecedented landmark cases together. One case, in particular, was the first prosecution in the U.K. of a driver who was using his mobile phone while driving and caused the death of an oncoming driver. After that trial and the conviction of the motorist, laws were quickly enforced banning the use of handheld devices while operating a vehicle.

The final time I saw Judge Murchie was in the year 2000. I was getting a divorce and had decided to relocate back to America a few months prior and was preparing for the move. He found out about my decision when he had returned from an extended holiday in India. The morning he returned to court, he called me back to his chambers. It was our birthdays, June 1. I had just turned 30, and he had just turned 70.

I was shocked when I first saw him that morning. He appeared very unwell. His skin exhibited a gray pallor, and he had lost a great deal of weight. He said that he would be out for another extended period of time because he had gotten food poisoning in India and needed to recover, but I suspected there was more to this story than what was revealed. It seemed like this once powerful, dynamic man had shrunk, and the vitality and vigor sucked out of him. My eyes started to tear. I knew, I sensed, that this would mostly likely be the last time I would see my dear friend and mentor, and as it turned out, it was.

He wished me well on my new life in America, offered me a hug, and handed me another enormous book, this time on the American Revolution. I thanked him for the kindness he had displayed to me over the years that we had worked together, kindness that was not always extended to a wide-eyed, young female American in an often stuffy, old boys’ environment. I thought that I could almost see tears in his eyes as I exited his chambers.

The Honourable John Murchie passed away only a few months after our final encounter. The food poisoning he alluded to turned out to be bowel cancer that had spread throughout his entire body. The dignity that he displayed so powerfully in life was also present upon his death. I was informed that he went peacefully with his loving wife by his side.

Two days after the news of his passing, I boarded a plane to America, my new book on the American Revolution tucked neatly away in my satchel.

I don’t know if the queen attended his funeral. I would like to think that she perhaps did, to pay homage to such a remarkable, loyal subject.

Diana L. Netherton, RPR, is an official court reporter in Lancaster, Pa. In addition to being an NCRA member, she is also a member of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters. She can be reached at diana_n68@yahoo.com.