Michigan lawmakers pass bills aimed at protecting court personnel

JCR logoThe Associated Press reported on May 31 that legislation recently passed by the Michigan House of Representatives calls for increased penalties and tougher sentences for anyone who assaults courthouse workers.

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Illustrating the guilty: James Earl Ray, Jean Harris, Charles Manson

JCR logoThe Washington Post posted an article on May 9 about an exhibit at the Library of Congress entitled “Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration,” which showcases an array of hand-drawn courtroom scenes and explores the role of cameras in courtrooms.

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Courthouse in Oklahoma uses therapy dogs to comfort children coming to testify

jcr-publications_high-resKJRH News in Oklahoma County, Okla., aired a story on Nov. 5 about a district court reporter, Mindie Baab, who has drafted her registered therapy dog to sit in the courtroom with children when they testify. The dog offers comfort and support to the children to help make their experience easier.

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Nuremberg trials court reporter honored

The Watertown Daily Times, Watertown, N.Y., reported on May 11 that the courtroom located at Fort Drum was rededicated in honor of Henry V. Cumoletti, a stenographer who helped provide the official record of the Nuremberg trials, which were a series of trials of Nazi war criminals. Cumoletti passed away in Watertown in 1996 at the age of 89.

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Why court reporters need fast passes for obstacle court

In a recent blog on ChicagoNow.com, court reporter Margaret Mary Kruse, RPR, offers a humorous take on  the daily security check court officials need to pass through at county courthouse and calls on the local sheriff’s office to reissue the ID cards or “fast passes” that were rescinded after 9/11. Kruse, pseudonym The Ink Slinger, writes:  “As anyone who finds themselves on the legal playground of Cook County. Ill., knows The Daley Center is a thrill ride like no other … Before entering the courtrooms above the Tower of Terror’s lobby, court reporters are forced to:

  • Play Beat The Clock as they waste precious time in long lines;
  • Engage in hand-to-hand combat with crazy line-jumpers;
  • Fight to maintain their sanity in the Hall Of Insanity, as they watch unprepared folks seemingly learn to negotiate a metal detector for the first time.”

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When I grow up, I want to be a court reporter

Recently, elementary school teacher Karen Taylor took her class of second-graders from a town in rural Iowa on a field trip to watch a jury trial taking place in the small town of Mount Ayr. Presiding over the proceeding was Judge Gary G. Kimes, of the 5th Judicial District Court, and making the record was Lori Hargens, RPR, from Greenville, Iowa.

“Judge Kimes interrupted our trial, with the agreement of each of the attorneys, and visited with the class,” said Hargens. “He explained the role and job of each person in the courtroom and took the time to answer the many questions the class asked.”

Hargens said she was so impressed by how inquisitive the students were at such a young age that as they left the courtroom, she thought to herself that a few of them could very well grow up to become attorneys or court reporters because of their brief introduction to the judicial branch.

Several days after the students’ visit, Judge Kimes received letters from the class thanking him for spending time with them. A number of letters, like the one below, noted his black robe and the court reporter:

 

 “Dear Judge Kimes,

Thank you for letting us come in and talking to us. I liked your black robe. I thought the court reporter was cool. I learned that if people have a problem with something they should come to court.”

 

“I was surprised to see so many letters mention the court reporter, and I never had thought of myself as ‘cool’ before, but now I had a letter to prove it,” Hargen said. “I realized that it is never too early to start opening doors for young people.”

Other letters include those below:

 

 “Dear Judge Kimes,

Thank you for letting us go in the courtroom. You had a nice robe on. Thank you for letting us see your helpers. All of the jury seemed nice. I love the court reporter.”

 

“Dear Judge Kimes,

Thank you for letting us into the courtroom. I learned that judges wear robes. I liked the part when you told us about the court reporter. I like the rest of the courthouse too. P.S. You are nice.”

 

“Dear Judge Kimes,

Thank you Mr. Kimes for you allowing us to go in the courtroom during a real meeting. To my surprise I saw someone I knew in the jury seats. I liked the court reporter. I learned one of the attorneys had six children.”

 

“Judge Kimes believes that second graders are pretty impressionable, and it is very important to introduce as many young people as possible to the judicial system,” Hargen said. “In addition, the class is obviously very fortunate to have such a wonderful teacher as Karen Taylor. She has probably given us a few future court reporters.”

In her own thank-you letter to Judge Kimes, Taylor wrote that the students had been talking nonstop about their courtroom experience and that the mere 15 minutes the judge spent with them made a huge educational impact.

“You have taken their potential career choices to a whole new level,” wrote Taylor. “Many have changed their minds and are going to be court reporters, lawyers, jurors, and judges. Many of these students are not aware there is a life outside of Ringgold County. Thank you again for providing a memorable educational opportunity to a few small town, rural Iowa students. As one student stated, ‘Judge Kimes is the bomb!’”

Law passed in Cayman Islands this year provides for use of video technology

In the Cayman Islands, six men helped make local history when they appeared in court on June 2 without leaving Northward Prison, according to an article in the Cayman Compass. The publication reported that the prisoners appeared via a video link between Courtroom 2 in the Law Courts Building and the prison compound. For the inmates to make their appearances electronically, the Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code on Feb. 1 to provide the legal framework.

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South Carolina hires private court reporters to prevent court cancellations

An article in the Sept. 15 Augusta [S.C.] Tribune reported that the state’s courts have been hiring private court reporters to prevent court cancellations. The need is a result of the addition of nine judges in the family and circuit courts as well as a number of court reporter vacancies across the state that have gone unfilled. According to the article, the private reporters have worked in Aiken, Lexington, Richland, and York counties, and court was canceled in Aiken County for two days when the state did not provide a reporter.

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The challenges of court reporting

What passes itself off as the norm of acceptability in verbatim reporting and transcription from some of today’s court reporters causes shudders among even the most sanguine of seasoned professionals. According to those skilled in the art, the problem is the sheer lack of education and theory exploitation, something neophytes are blithely unaware of. Widely unheard of in today’s group of young reporters is basic English knowledge, alas even the most elementary rules of punctuation.

What is shockingly troubling is that attorneys and judges are now viewing these work products as de facto acceptable. Something that would simply be unheard of as acceptable 10 years ago is today blessed by management as worthy of praise and recognition. Just yesterday a group of attorneys were overheard characterizing a certain reporter’s realtime as if trying to read braille! What is even more alarming is the reporter in question is realtime certified with years and years of so-called experience. What happened here?

Perhaps with the tsunami of instant information, no one is paying attention to detail, something sorely absent in the transcripts of the younger generation. This blasé work ethic and attitude perpetuates itself in courtroom decorum as well where counsel are, in some instances, barely civil even to the court! Nearly gone are the days of respectful politeness and patiently waiting for one’s turn to present an argument coherently to the court. Rather it is more akin to a verbal free-for-all of the strong willed, the record be damned.

How many times has it happened that no one could understand what anyone was saying when someone asks the reporter to read back what the witness was yammering over objections and banter back and forth?

From this delirium of decorum the professional reporter is expected to create a lucid record. It is speciously assumed we possess mythical powers with a wand instead of a modern shorthand machine. We, the silent reporters, are expected to possess an all-seeing, all-knowing fluency of English, Spanish, French, Italian, Creole, German, Russian, and Mandarin, to say nothing of the obtuse technical, scientific, and medical terminology.

Such unrealistic expectations, coupled with a complete lack of understanding of the art of a skilled, top-notch verbatim reporter, is harmful to our profession. Lowering expectations results in a diminishment of our importance in the judicial process, especially in light of the panoply of incompetence being turned out of schools today as “court reporters.”

The real culprit here is education — or the lack thereof — in law schools, colleges, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Somewhere along the line, education of would-be future attorneys regarding the record and the court reporter’s role has been abandoned as unimportant in the process. It is up to us to educate and reemphasize the importance of clarity and accuracy in the preparation of appellate records and attention to detail.

Starting today, strive in a polite way to guide young attorneys by stressing clear speech and proper courtroom decorum, respect, and politeness in the legal drama. Failure to uplift and reform the untrained and unknowing will result in a continued deterioration of the reporting process as we know it today and bring us ever closer to extinction. It is imperative, therefore, that each of us pays attention to detail and demonstrates the highest level of professionalism we are capable of.

It is time to turn the tide and reassert our rightful importance in the judicial process. Please join today your fellow reporters with a renewed effort to improve the record and reporting standards. Do not wait until the eleventh hour.