Severe staffing shortages grind New York City courts to a halt

The New York Post reported on April 24 that severe staffing shortages have resulted in the state court system in New York City being able to operate at only 70 percent of its capacity. One official estimates that $100 million more is needed to fully staff city courts.

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Chief judge says funding plan still not in place

An article posted on March 2 by the Daily Report Online reports concerns by Chief Judge Gail Tusan of the Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court that a funding agreement is still not in place to support a pretrial services program and still meet mandated expenses, such as paying for court reporters’ transcripts.

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Wisconsin budget represents win for court reporters

The Wisconsin court system’s budget was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor for the 2015-2017 fiscal year. The budget, which originally would have put court reporters’ jobs at risk, kept language to pay for court reporters’ salaries and related expenses as a regular part of the appropriations for the courts.

NCRA urges sponsorship of legislation critical to aiding courts in recovering funding

In a letter sent June 24, NCRA President Sarah E. Nageotte, RDR, CRR, CBC, urged Sen. John Thune to become an original sponsor of the Crime Victim Restitution and Court Fee Intercept Act. The legislation would allow for interception of individuals’ federal income tax returns to pay for existing court fees that the individual may owe.

In the letter, Nageotte notes that the concept already exists in federal law as related to child support, state tax, and other federal debts. She said the legislation would have a tremendous and immediate impact on court budgets nationwide and would help to alleviate many of the stresses that have accumulated within the court systems since the late-2000s.

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Alabama budget crisis could shut down court system

A June 8 story on the Alabamanews.net site noted that the court system could be shut down if lawmakers don’t fix the state budget. The court system is faced with cuts of approximately 15 percent, according to the article.

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Official court reporters in Mississippi could earn pay hike

The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) reported on Feb. 9 that pay raises up to 40 percent are being pushed by the Mississippi Supreme Court and some lawmakers for the state’s roughly 150 official court reporters. If the legislation passes, it would be the first pay raise in 12 years for official court reporters. The article quotes Mississippi Court Reporters Association President Sheila McKenney, an official court reporter from Oxford.

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Case study: The courtroom of the future

By Debbie Dibble

Courtroom of the future_OctWhen NCRA exhibited at the American Bar Association Techshow in March 2013, the Hon. David A. Nuffer, a federal court judge in Salt Lake City, Utah, approached the reporters at the booth to see if what he wanted to accomplish in his courtroom setting could become real. He wanted a realtime solution where a reporter on any CAT system could walk into any courtroom and begin sending realtime over the Internet, a judge could receive it on his personal computer, and an attorney, no matter his software, could also receive the realtime feed.

Judge Nuffer wanted to implement such a new and innovative realtime system for state-of-the-art record delivery in the brand-new, 10-story courthouse being built at the time in Utah. The federal reporters in his court worked on different systems, so Judge Nuffer wanted a solution where the reporters could use their own systems. He wanted attorneys to be able to use whatever software they desired. The system also needed to provide secure access to the realtime stream through two systems: The attorneys would not be allowed onto the courthouse secure server and would need access to the feed through the public Wi-Fi, while the judges would stay on their secure intranet so they could access files and email throughout the day to conduct their other business. Judge Nuffer wanted all of these things to occur simultaneously and seamlessly.

Judge Nuffer was immediately connected with NCRA Director Sue Terry, who enlisted NCRA’s Tech Ed committee and myself, a Utah reporter and NCRA Director. Over the next several months, the assembled group discussed software needs, IT issues, and possible solutions to Judge Nuffer’s request.

Finally, in March 2014, Sue and I personally met with Judge Nuffer and his IT specialist for a hands-on demonstration of possible solutions to making this courtroom of the future a reality. We first met with Ed Young, a long-time federal reporter, and Larry Garland, the courthouse IT specialist. We cleared up a few issues, such as the manufacturers of CAT systems and writing machines. Then the feed was launched and sent to four mini iPads and the judge’s laptop via Internet.

We called several of the manufacturers of streaming products, and they efficiently answered the judge’s questions about their specific products. They also gave some IT remedies for some of the connection issues the courthouse staff had been having.

The judge then invited us to his courtroom upstairs, where we, within moments, were streaming, via the public Internet, to two iPads, the judge’s laptop and phone, and simultaneously, via the court’s restricted intranet, to the judge’s bench computer. The judge was thrilled as all of the obstacles he had encountered were overcome.

The federal reporters then joined us, and they were all taken from boot-up on the sending computer to receiving the live feed on iPads and on their personal phones within moments. These reporters excitedly and energetically took on this  new challenge. They are examples to all of us of how to step up to the plate and continue to grow and improve as we continue to show the world that court reporters are the premier method of keeping the record.

In a video interview I conducted with Judge Nuffer for the conference for the National Association of Court Management, he talked about his first experience with realtime: “I became convinced that this is what I wanted in my hearings and in my trials because I was so much better able to focus my attention, track what had been really been asked and answered, and carefully evaluate objections on evidence as they were made.

“So when you met with us, it was with the idea of helping us understand how we could integrate Wi-Fi into the courthouse, and realtime that Wi-Fi. So we’ve been
very appreciative of your help to make this really a state-of-the-art system,” Judge Nuffer said.
To view the 10-minute interview between Debbie Dibble and Judge Nuffer, visit NCRA’s YouTube page

Debbie A. Dibble, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, is a freelance reporter in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a member of NCRA’s Board of Directors. She can be reached at ddib@allwest.net.

Editorial: Not so sweet

A recent editorial published by Lawrence Journal-World.com criticizes the move by Kansas lawmakers that ties funding for the state’s court system to changes in court administration. The editorial likens the Kansas Legislature’s actions to the philosophy of Mary Poppins that “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

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Budget cuts will create crisis in courts, judges say

A Sept. 4 article posted on the Orlando [Fla.] Sentinel website reported that some U.S. district courts are considering limiting – or even suspending – civil jury trials in preference to criminal cases. The article notes that federal judges believe the limitations brought on by budget cuts will create a crisis in the courts. Similarly, the American Bar Association is planning to pressure Congress to restore funding.

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Similar stories also ran in the Wall Street Journal about the federal courts serving New York City and Long Island and the Pacific News Center about the District Court of Guam

Federal judges call on Congress to restore court funding

In late August, newspapers around the United States featured editorials calling for funds to be restored to the federal courts. As with many federal agencies, the federal courts have seen a significant reduction due to the automatic spending cuts put into effect this year. Judges from 86 of the 94 federal courts called attention to the issue with a letter to members of Congress in mid-August.