Paying it forward

Stack of hands as if doing a team cheerBy Allison Kimmel

Do you remember the day you learned that you passed your RPR certification exam? I distinctly remember when I found out — Christmas Eve. I had taken the test in November of 1989. Every day I would come home from work and ask my husband, Bob, if I had gotten the results. Each time the answer was no. Unbeknownst to me, he had placed the results — unopened — in a wrapped box under the Christmas tree. It could have ended very badly had I not received positive news. He is a very blessed man.

Passing the RPR meant I passed muster and might be able to succeed in court reporting after all. Those credentials represented a lot to me then, and they still do to this day. The other professionals in my national association had given me their imprimatur, and I gleefully joined their ranks as a professional registered member.

Several years have passed since those early days, and I know that I would not be where I am today without the help of mentors and reporters sharing their experiences along the way. Those mentors and reporters began giving advice and encouragement from day one, and it has not stopped. I am lucky to have been surrounded by such a fantastic group of dedicated professionals.

We all have anecdotes of the valuable knowledge that others have passed along to us. To illustrate one such story and the long-term impact of a simple act, when I was a newly graduated reporter in 1987, Jean Long, RPR, graciously shared with me a medical term. She had spent some time looking for the proper spelling at one point in her career; the term was bruit. It is pronounced BREW-EE. She walked me over to the dictionary to point it out. I never forgot her short one-minute lesson.

A couple of years later, at a different court reporting agency, another reporter was struggling to find that exact word. I knew it immediately — not from school days, but from Jean’s lesson. It was time to pay it forward, and I proudly did.

After gaining some real-life experience and much-needed confidence, I came to the realization that it was not enough to be a contented dues-paying member in my professional associations. I wanted to do more. I had observed others volunteering and felt that I could offer perhaps a slightly different approach. It was time — time to repay all those gifts of knowledge and information that were so readily shared with me. I had received so many over the years.

I started out small. Volunteering was out of my comfort zone, and I truly wanted to be brave and emulate some of the best professionals in our business. The first time I volunteered for my state association was in 2002. We had a need to represent the court reporting profession at the All-Ohio High School Counselors Conference in Columbus. With another reporter, Lori Jay, RPR, CMRS, we were responsible for promoting the court reporting and captioning career choices to the school counselors who approached our table of brochures and equipment. Donna Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC, provided a demonstration of realtime to the group by captioning the keynote speaker. We were enthusiastic, and we worked hard that day to advocate for our profession.

After that experience, I began helping my state association with administering the national certification exams, first as someone to assist and then as a chief examiner for the CRR tests. I tried to be the voice of calm for test candidates, and I enjoyed seeing the test candidates succeed. I also began assisting my state association at the Ohio Judicial Conference’s Court Technology Conference. With many vendors present touting their “technology,” it was an eye-opening experience. I now know just how crucial it is for court reporting associations to be represented at such events — and displaying the best we have to offer in court reporting and realtime technology. My state association members attend this event year after year without fail.

Fast forward a few years. Our state association needed members willing to serve on the board. After some persuasive discussion by Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, and a multitude of excuses on my end, I agreed to serve on the Board of Directors of the Ohio Court Reporters Association (OCRA). I came in as vice president and moved my way up the ladder. It was at that point that I began to understand the intricacies of leading, the minefields — some of which cannot be avoided — and the heavy lifting that volunteering involved. My prior volunteer experiences were rewarding but nowhere near as challenging. The successes were amazing; the failures devastating.

I was working as an official court reporter in state court during this time. My court administration seemed enamored with digital recording technology and eagerly proclaimed the cost savings to be realized to any who would listen. It appeared to be an uphill and frustrating battle.

Through the efforts of the late Jerry Kelley and other volunteers across the country, I quietly began to amass a database of current electronic and digital recording failures. It was an informal, unsanctioned effort, but the group saw a need. The database effort seemed a tad futile at times, but I can attest that the information gathered was useful at a key moment during my tenure on the OCRA board, particularly when the Cleveland Plain Dealer came calling for commentary on an article regarding the court reporter versus electronic and digital recording debate. That volunteer effort provided relevant, documented cases to cite, not just hearsay or conjecture. It was a small victory.

Coincidentally, it was around this point that Stephen Zinone, RPR, reached out to me about serving on the NCRA Cost Comparison Task Force. Our task was to do a complete analysis of the cost of digital recording technology versus a court reporter — using best practices for each. To say this was right up my alley is an understatement. Steve was a thoughtful, smart leader who asked for input from all of us. The entire group worked hard to make the Task Force’s white paper bulletproof. We accomplished our goal, though it took many emails, conference calls, an in-person meeting in Nashville, and a couple of years of persistence. To this day, when OCRA members attend the Ohio Judicial Conference’s Court Technology Conference, we have the white paper there to discuss with attendees.

That first experience serving as a task force volunteer at the national level gave me a huge sense of fulfillment. I was proud of our work, and I was hooked. I knew I could make a difference — if not for myself, perhaps for others.

Working with students as an adjunct faculty member for Clark State Community College is something I enjoy immensely, so signing up to work on the Item Writing Committee seemed a natural fit. Brenda Fauber, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CPE, served as the chairperson of the committee. The group met in the Washington, D.C., area. We spent time training with a professional consultant, and we discussed at length what is involved in writing proper written knowledge test questions using approved authoritative sources. (Yes, there is a question involving bruit — in case you were wondering. I’m paying it forward.) I continue to serve on the committee; along the way, I have begun serving on the Skills Test Writing Committee.

What an education I have received! I have gained a deeper appreciation of our national certification tests and the incredible vision of those who saw the necessity of certification. I have learned why, as a professional association, we must continually strive to ensure that the certifications are valid and fair measures of both the entry-level reporter and the seasoned reporter. Those who pass the NCRA certification tests can be confident that they, too, pass muster and have indeed earned a worthwhile achievement.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once stated, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” This applies to each one of us. Let me ask: Who is better than those of us who are in the trenches to represent and understand the issues we, as a profession, face? Who is going to do the heavy lifting and advocating for our profession if we are not willing to step up and do it for ourselves?

Together, we can make a difference. The value of volunteer work benefits your professional associations and you. I could enumerate a variety of reasons to volunteer, but you know many of them already. Think about this: You make time for what matters to you. My profession matters to me. I sincerely hope it matters to you. We need you. We need more than your dues. We need your participation. We need your voice. We need your input and ideas. We need you at all levels, whether it is state or national. I urge you to be brave. Volunteer.

Why do I volunteer?

I volunteer to give back to a profession that I love. I volunteer to pay it forward and to thank those along the way who reached out a helping hand, gave me a word of advice, offered reassurance, and sometimes provided a swift kick in the rear or a shoulder to cry on. Volunteering is my way of saying thanks for making sure I passed muster, to thank those who came before me and those who will continue long after me. Thank you for being there.

 

Allison A. Kimmel, RDR, CRR, CRC, works as a reporter in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, and as an adjunct faculty member for the court reporting and captioning program at Clark State Community College.

Tribal Council argues need for live stenographer for public meetings

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn an editorial published Sept. 25 on Cherokee One Feather, Robert Jumper argues in favor of hiring a live stenographer to write Tribal Council meetings. The editorial explains why the current system of using digital streaming and recording isn’t working. “Too many important actions are taken that impact our community to not have detailed accounts of the process,” Jumper says.

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Court reporters face loss of jobs

jcr-publications_high-resThe Daily News of Newburyport, Mass., posted an article on Feb. 10 that features interviews with court reporters in Massachusetts who are facing the potential of being replaced by digital recording systems in courthouses throughout the state.

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Fla. Supreme Court amends rule, mandates live court reporters in all capital trials

On March 24, the Florida Supreme Court on its own motion issued an amendment to the Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.535 to prohibit the use of digital recording for any and all capital case trials and post-conviction proceedings. The court further mandated the use of a live court reporter. These changes are effective immediately.

Over the last several years the state’s Eleventh Circuit Court had decided to start putting digital recording in the majority of courtrooms but, according to Rosa Naccarato, the president of the Florida Court Reporters Association, “based on this recent action taken by the court, it is clear that the system is failing already.”

“In the past 10 years, our state court administrators have steadily reduced the page rate to the point that competent stenos would no longer do the work. As a result, the administrators thought that going to digital recording would solve all their problems,” explained Naccarato. “I have heard nothing but horror stories about the quality of the transcripts and how long it takes to get something transcribed.”

According to Naccarato, the action by the Florida Supreme Court and the fact that it is effective immediately speaks volumes to the failures of using digital recordings in lieu of live court reporters. She also predicts that it is just a matter of time before the court mandates live court reporters for all felony cases.

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New court recording system debated

The Worcester Telegram posted an article on March 27 that quotes Kathy Silva, RPR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Andover, Mass., and president of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association, about court reporters having the wherewithal to avoid including privileged conversations, let courtroom participants know if they are speaking too softly, and clarify the spelling of names. “We certainly are the gold standard for recording proceedings,” said Silva. The state is currently debating replacing live court reporters with electronic recording of proceedings.

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Debate grows over court recording system

The Cape Cod Times reported on March 25 that the Massachusetts Trial Court’s move to implement a digital recording system has court reporters fearing for their jobs and has angered attorneys across the state who are concerned about the integrity of the record. Jill Kourafas, RPR, a freelance reporter from Quincy, Mass., and a member of the board of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association, said her office employs several Trial Court-approved transcribers who struggle to make out the audio from digitally recorded proceedings. “In every transcript there are inaudibles,” Kourafas said. “For the most part, they are very poor and spotty … it’s very rare that we get a great recording.”

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Hampden County, Mass., Bar Association says elimination of court reporters ‘risks the fair administration of justice’

MassLive.com reported on Feb. 11 that the Hampden County Bar Association is opposing a proposal to replace the state’s 40 court reporters with a new digital recording system, according to a statement issued by the organization. The statement reads in part, “A court reporter’s sole responsibility in the courtroom is to prepare a reliable and accurate record of the proceedings.” The full statement in support of court reporters is available in the article.

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Objections raised as courtrooms go digital

According to an article posted by The Boston Globe on Jan. 2, the installation of a new digital recording system that eliminates the need for a court reporter by Superior Courts across Massachusetts is being met by strong objections from many in the legal arena. The article notes that the change has stirred deep anxiety among some lawyers, judges, and other officers of the courts, who worry that transcripts will be riddled with errors and inaudible passages if they are not taken by an attentive court reporter witnessing the trial.

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McHenry County courts avoiding lack of court reporters with computerized recording system

According to an article posted by the Northwest Herald on Oct. 3, despite a number of Illinois’ downstate judicial circuits having problems filling vacancies because of salary issues and a lack of available licensed court reporters, McHenry County’s 22nd Judicial Circuit has more court reporters to draw from and needs fewer of them because of an early decision to equip courtrooms with computerized recording systems.

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Court reporter in Hailey Owens murder case dies before finishing transcript

KCTV News 5 recently reported that Greene County, Mo., authorities are trying to determine if the death of a court reporter will affect the trial of a man accused of kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old Springfield girl. According to the news outlet, longtime court reporter Jeannette Freeman, who died of natural causes at her home on June 3, had been hired to take notes during the preliminary hearing for Craig Wood, who is accused of the murder, which took place in February. The issue is whether or not Freeman had completed her transcripts of the proceedings and if not, would the audio recording that exists suffice. Quoted in the story is Linda Dattilo, executive director for the Missouri Court Reporters Association, who argues that a tape does not provide the same accuracy as a court reporter. Freeman was also a member of NCRA.

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