Thanks & Resolution

Jim CudahyNovember, of course, is when we in the United States offer thanks for that which takes place in our lives. This being the November/December JCR, I likewise will offer some New Year’s 2013 resolutions for NCRA and perhaps for myself. In no logical order, I offer the following.

I am thankful for our cadre of member volunteers who tirelessly invest the time and energy to serve NCRA and our state associations. Most certainly there is professional benefit to getting involved as a volunteer — it’s no coincidence that some of the most successful reporters in the world appear among the ranks of NCRA and state association volunteers. Is it a chicken-or-egg situation? Is there a disproportionate amount of professional success among volunteers because that group has chosen to get involved, or are those who have achieved high levels of success more inclined to volunteer? It hardly matters, I suppose, but for 2013, I resolve for NCRA to do more to recognize the collective and individual contributions of volunteers.

I am thankful for the NCRA professional staff. During my first several months as executive director and CEO, I called upon staff to accept the challenge of doing what they can to take our enterprise to a higher level. I have asked them to match the dedication of our membership with an operational culture that allows us to move mountains. I appreciate that staff has accepted the challenge and not dismissed my notions as the overzealous rants of Barney Fife. My corresponding resolution is to stop drawing analogies from 1960s-era television programs.

I am thankful for the open minds and passion that emerged from all corners of our profession when we began talking about the idea of placing a major focus on education over the next few years, for the incredibly accepting attitude from members, schools, vendors, and for others who showed only enthusiasm as we began discussions for the future that may include substantial changes in our education system. My resolution is to stay on task in this coming year on this vital issue and to engage the school community in a sustained discussion of what we need to do over the next generation to attract far more students into court reporting programs and to get more out as professional court reporters.

I’m thankful for two Labrador retrievers, Lucy and Lily, as well as the new addition to my canine family, Ubu, the stoic Search Dog. I resolve to not mention my dogs in any 2013 columns.

I’m thankful for my family and the fact that the Major League Baseball season is over. I resolve next year not to relegate my thanks for my wife and three sons to the same sentence as regret over a baseball season gone awry.

Lastly, I’m thankful for my government. While I can’t say that I always liked the tenor of the election cycle we just experienced, I do find myself heartened by the fact that, more than I thought, some of the realities within our nation were raised for legitimate discussion and dialogue, even if little was solved. It remains amazing that we can make significant changes within our elected leadership without a shot ever being fired.

As for a parallel resolution? I resolve to find a photo of myself for this column where I’m smiling. And I resolve to do everything within my power to ensure that this profession has a lot to smile about in 2013 and beyond.

Making an invaluable difference

Tami SmithWatch just one news report and see how many stats and figures you hear on a variety of topics, i.e., percent- ages of overweight children, economic issues, and how many celebrities are getting divorced. Here’s a real statistic that should touch all of us: Violent incidents in court- houses happen at the rate of one per month.

When you stop and think about it, it’s staggering and quite alarming that our colleagues and John Q. Public are at a risk for harm on a daily basis. NCRA has put a lot of effort into seeing the Local Courthouse Safety Act move closer to becoming a law.

SAFETY MATTERS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act proposes that we allocate already-existing grants from the Department of Justice to train security officers and other courthouse personnel to deter and react to potentially dangerous attacks. It would also allow local courthouses across the country to request from the Department of Justice some of the millions of dollars’ worth of unused security equipment it has — metal detectors, baggage screeners, and handheld wands — and the DOJ has grant money set aside to train security personnel how to use it.

For many reasons, this legislation is a no brainer. The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that this proposal is “budget neutral,” meaning that there’s no hefty price tag that accompanies the plan. With NCRA’s active involvement in the Local Courthouse Safety Act, we’re simply proposing that some of these resources be dedicated to the safety of courthouse employees and citizens who gather in these public institutions.

Luckily, safety, for the most part, is a nonpartisan issue. Though a few elected officials are not in favor of these types of proposals for purely philosophical reasons (mainly to tamp down “big government” proposals and leave decisions such as these in the hands of state officials), we are fortunate that with some significant co-sponsors and the active involvement of NCRA, we have seen the Local Courthouse Safety Act gain some traction.

THE PROCESS

The Local Courthouse Safety Act (S. 2076) was introduced by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota with Senator John Boozman of Arkansas signing on as the lead cosponsor. NCRA has been vocal in thanking these senators for their role in kicking off the proposal. In May, the Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. This means that it is now headed to the floor of the Senate, once the group reconvenes after its fall recess.

On the House side, NCRA’s Government Relations team lobbied hard to promote the introduction of a companion bill. NCRA brought the legislation to the attention of Lamar Smith of Texas who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. With Rep. Smith’s support, legislators from both sides of the aisle signed on as cosponsors, including Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida, who introduced the bill to the House in July. The bill passed out of the House of Representatives in September without opposition.

The Local Courthouse Safety Act remains in the hands of the Senate, and our Government Relations team is working hard on our behalf to do whatever we can to get the proposal passed out of the Senate. Once that happens, the Act would then, of course, be presented to the president to be signed into law. Stay tuned to NCRA’s website and publications to track the Local Courthouse Safety Act as it progresses.

THE VOICE OF NCRA

The Local Courthouse Safety Act is just one of many examples of how the collective voice of NCRA can make a difference in each of our individual lives. When we pay our membership dues each year, unlike a cell phone bill or a grocery receipt, we don’t receive a statement that lists “Your income increased X percent because of your new certification” or “the value of the education you received at Annual Convention was worth $X,XXX” or even a little note that points out that, thanks in part to the efforts of our Government Relations team, stenographic court reporting was not eliminated in a certain jurisdiction or state.

But in the case of the Local Courthouse Safety Act, with all of the hard work we have done as an association to facilitate the passing of this proposal into law (fingers crossed!), I think we can all agree that the eventual result could prove to be invaluable. How many years of membership dues would you pay to save a life or prevent serious injury to just one colleague — or anyone for that matter? Collectively, we may be able to make a significant impact on the stats and figures concerning courthouse safety, and that would be a number worth noting.

So you’ve got your RSA. Now what?

Congratulations! You’ve become credentialed as a Realtime Systems Administrator. That certificate looks great on your wall, and you’ve built up substantial upper body strength carrying around the Realtime Systems Administrator Manual. So now what? Can you leap tall buildings in a single bound? Nope. Can you outrun a speeding a bullet? Nope. Although, come to think of it, you can give that gunsmith a run for his money on the record — both barrels, even — being the topnotch caliber reporter that you are.

Besides being a great credential to have, the RSA credential gives you the confidence and base of knowledge to work from in providing everyday realtime services. Yes, some hookups will still be challenging, but with the quick reference guide and Realtime Systems Administrator Manual to draw on, you should be able to overcome almost all obstacles. There’s still no cure for lack of a serial port, which is an all-too-common problem in this day and age, but carrying a spare USB adapter with you and keeping a list of law firm IT department phone numbers and contacts will let you conquer even that.

With your credentials, you’re now capable of being the go-to person in your firm or courthouse. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to confidently troubleshoot someone else’s computers to get things working, spreading the use of realtime, and securing everyone’s future. Hop on the TRAIN and don’t look back.

The reality is that in lots of courthouses, both state and federal, serial connections are the only permitted method of providing realtime to the judge or counsel. Even steno machines must be connected via serial or USB cable to the reporter’s computer. Things are slowly changing with the popularity of the iPad, but security is the overwhelming theme in those venues, and any wireless signal is a potential liability, and the state and federal courts are sometimes very proprietary about their data, court proceedings included. They will sometimes permit infrared connections, since those only function within the room. It seems like there’s always something.

But the Realtime Systems Administrator program doesn’t stop with just serial connections. You’ve got the base of knowledge and experience for serial connections, and now it’s time to expand your knowledge and experience into the realm of wireless, LAN, and WAN connections. Once you understand the types of things that can inhibit serial connections, you have a better understanding of how to troubleshoot, and that skill transfers into the wireless world.

Everywhere you look, you see wireless, wi-fi, you name it — the world is losing wires and heading into the ether. Is it easier? Maybe. Is it better? Maybe. Is it faster? Probably not, unless you’re in Japan or a country where wireless is king and you have a compatible phone or data device. Wireless connections are usually half the speed of wired. In the interactive realtime and streaming market, wireless can still give you dropped connections and dropped data.   It’s  a  fact of life  until the  technology    and software catches up with the needs of the consumer. If you want stable and reliable connections, you still need wires, whether it’s direct to the client or a direct connection to the Internet. And if a courthouse or law firm has a wireless inhibitor installed, your router and wireless viewers aren’t going to function.

One exception is StenoCast wireless, which you should also make yourself familiar with, since it’s a great option to go wireless and still serve serial connection client software. It also has a “TV” viewer that a witness or interpreter can use for viewing, or that a client can use for CART purposes. If you feel daring and all techie, you can even use Bluetooth from Blue Soleil to create your own Bluetooth serial network.

These are all interesting directions, and they’ll give you options for providing services to your clients that may never have occurred to either you or them.

Internet/intranet streaming is also a newer method of providing realtime services, either locally with an intranet or worldwide using the Internet. They have their own pitfalls and idiosyncrasies, but with the troubleshooting skills you’ve been shown and the voluminous reference material available via the Realtime Systems Administrator Manual, you’ll be well-equipped when you delve into the next new technological challenge. The quick reference guide is a handy on-the-go reference tool with the most likely fixes for all types of connection problems. And the really great thing about both the quick reference guide and the Realtime Systems Administrator Manual is that they’re being updated constantly with new information, and that information is available through the SharePoint site sponsored by NCRA. You can download the information in PDF format for use on your computer or tablet, keeping it with you when you’re in the field making things work.

So, what comes after passing the Realtime Systems Administrator test? Lots and lots of opportunities to help others establish reliable connections, greater confidence in your own abilities to make things work with your clients, and the ability to deal with the inevitable escalation of technology that keeps all of us on the bleeding edge. There’s nothing that gets your heart pumping like having a great client walk in with a new notebook and say, “Here, make this work. I just got it.” And there’s nothing more satisfying than opening up your realtime kit, pulling out the necessary adapters, USB devices, software, etc., and getting him or her up and running in record time. Does it happen overnight? No. But you didn’t learn to write steno or use your CAT system in only 20 minutes or 20 hours. Everything builds on the preceding experiences, and with the workshop, you get the benefit of more than 100 years of realtime experience that the committee members have and are more than willing to share with you.

If you haven’t already taken the RSA course and the practical exam, be sure to register as soon as you get the announcement, especially if you’re planning on coming to NCRA’s TechCon in Arizona this April to take the practical exam. We have limited testing slots, so register early to ensure you can attend the workshop and take the practical test.

Can working reporters impact student retention?

Can working reporters impact student retention?As court reporting schools face leaner budgets and tighter financial aid policies, instructors and administrators are faced with the age-old question: “How can we improve student retention and completion rates in court reporting programs?” Can working reporters have an impact? A recent event in St. Louis would suggest a resounding “Yes, they can!”

The Student Affairs Committee of the Missouri Court Reporters Association is a proactive group of court reporters and four students. Under the leadership of Deborah McLaughlin, RPR, this group meets in January each year to plan the coming year for students at St. Louis Community College. Over the past several years, events have included student seminars at the Missouri state convention; a student essay contest/scholarship award to the state convention; invitations to join MCRA Trivia Nights; and annual field trips to courthouses, freelance firms, and other venues of interest (St. Louis Justice Center, aka prison). In addition, members of the Student Affairs Committee provide a mentoring program to speed students, visit high school career fairs, and meet with students informally for support, often over a cup of coffee.

In 2012, the committee planned a “Meet & Greet” for students. This was a social event geared toward networking and informal discussions. Students were sent an Evite from committee member Karen Russo, RPR, CRR, for the Meet & Greet (which was held at her husband’s restaurant, Spazio’s). Door prizes added to the fun of the evening; they were collected by committee member Robin Cox, RMR. A “Good Reporter/Bad Reporter” skit entertained everyone. Featured actors were Debbie Kriegshauser, RMR, CRR, CLVS; Susan Moran, RMR; Dawn McTeer, RPR, Missouri Court Reporter Association state president; Tanya Stepp, RPR; and Rebecca Brewer, RPR, CRR.

Another highlight of the evening was the opportunity to casually visit with working reporters who represented every career path, as follows: Official reporters: Rhonda Laurentius, RPR, Robin Cox. Federal official reporters: Debbie Kriegshauser, Susan Moran. Workers’ compensation: Peggy Lange. Freelance reporting: Debbie McLaughlin; Rebecca Brewer; Faith Olliges, RDR, CRR; Mary Gaal, CMRS; Kathy Turner; Linda DeBisschop; and Vicky Pohlman, RPR, CMRS. Captioning: Patti White, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP. CART: Elaine Kistner.

More than 60 individuals attended the Meet & Greet. Below is a sampling of student comments:

The highlight of the evening for me was to be able to discuss the profession with a CART provider. Elaine Kistner and I spoke for quite some time about her position as a CART provider for the Special School District. She was very open with me and answered every question I had. She was also full of encouragement. Because of the conversation I had with Elaine, I left the Meet & Greet motivated, enthusiastic, and reminded of why I chose to learn this skill.

Lana

Besides the obvious, but very important, chance to network and investigate the different types of reporting, a more important opportunity for me at this fairly early stage is the knowledge that there is an active group of individuals very committed to my success in this field. The “Meet & Greet” was a wonderful invitation to us students to be part of this group. It stated very strongly, “We’re here for you.” It’s nice to know that there is support and community on the other side of all these speed tests.

Sarah

Thank you for making the time to come to our IRT meeting. Your company is highly regarded … and even though I am only in IR3, I will progress slowly, but surely.

Janet

The event was tremendously beneficial, helpful, and encouraging to meet so many who have succeeded in the business of captioning and judicial reporting. … As our studies intensify, we welcome your support and expertise.

Claire

It was wonderful to speak with working reporters. It seems like such a caring and supportive group of professionals. As a student, that is very comforting and inspirational.

Student

Thank you so much for the experience at Spazio’s. It was wonderfully uplifting.

Michelle

The Missouri Court Reporters hosting this event were simply wonderful. They introduced themselves and shared accomplishments and experiences. They were warm and funny as entertainment included a hilarious skit with a message. The love and respect for their profession and a genuine support of court reporting students were apparent. As we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, the reporters freely shared their knowledge. They talked with students in small groups or one on one and answered an infinite number of questions. Their support and encouragement was very much appreciated and will serve to provide incentive, so that we can look forward and stretch ourselves even further to reach the goal of someday joining their ranks. This was a night not to be missed!

Carole

 The court reporting and captioning program at St. Louis Community College is available at night and online. One online student traveled four hours — one way — to attend the event and connect with reporters and classmates.

Being with fellow students was a lot of fun. It was especially great for me, an online student entering IR3, to meet some of the Meramec instructors and fellow students working at various speed levels who shared their school experience and favorite practices.

Online student

As we all know, learning the skills to become a court reporter can be a long journey, and not everyone makes it. Most students indicate that while family members and friends try to be supportive of their efforts in the program, many of them just don’t “get it.” Students can benefit greatly by interacting with working reporters. Students relish the opportunity to visit with someone who “gets it” — someone who understands how the program works as well as the highs and lows of building speed and passing tests. This connection can motivate students to persevere and to continue on in their studies.

Can working reporters impact student retention? “Yes, you can!”

God bless our happy home Court reporting community comes to the rescue

In memory of one of our own, America’s court reporting community has answered our nation’s call. Started at the grassroots level in Los Angeles, the Julie Brandau Community Service Memorial Project seeks to embrace the passions of our fallen colleague, Julie Brandau, a humanitarian and dog lover.

After Julie was murdered in an Atlanta courtroom in 2005, court reporters across the country joined hands with the Search Dog Foundation, whose noble mission is to rescue high-energy dogs and train them to become rescuers. Some of these dogs had been languishing in cages and were only hours away from being euthanized when the foundation stepped in to rescue them. They just needed a job.

Once the dogs are trained, SDF gives these phenomenal canines to firefighters and other first responders at no cost to their agencies. If the dog does not complete the training program, be it from a lack of focus or drive, the foundation guarantees lifetime care, never to be rescued again. Did you see the valiant efforts of the canine-handler teams when they deployed to the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, and the F-5 tornado in Missouri? Well, the court reporting industry was right there alongside the firefighters, providing them with a canine partner trained to search and alert on the humans buried alive in the aftermath of disaster.

It costs $10,000 to train each dog, and to date, the Brandau Memorial has generated more than $75,000 in donations to SDF, sponsoring the training of seven rescued canines. NCRA and many of its state affiliates have welcomed the canine-handler teams to their conventions where the fundraising continues in an effort to place more teams in service for Julie. This year, two reporters from New Mexico, Deb Williams and Jan Wimberly, sponsored the canine-handler teams’ travel and hotel accommodations to NCRA Philadelphia, which means that all of your donations, past and present, go to the training of the canines!

If you’d like to support SDF, visit www.searchdogfoundation.org, and mention “court reporter” with your tribute. Thanks to your generosity, Julie’s memory lives on.

God bless our happy home

Divorce court — sometimes called domestic court or family court — has probably seen the most changes during the last quarter of the 20th century. In the late 1970s, the idea that there might be some other partner waiting in the wings for the divorce to become final was very hush-hush. In custody matters, it was taboo to co-habitate with someone other than the spouse, and if a father or mother wanted to see their children for visitation, it would be necessary for the third party to be scarce for the visitation period of time.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was acceptable to have a third party around or even co-habitate, as long as the children were not subjected to inappropriate actions.

Domestic court definitely reflected the changing morals of the country by the time the mid- to late-90s rolled around. One of our first cases on our last rotation through this bastion of raw emotions involved temporary orders (those to be in place during the pendency of the action), and whether it was appropriate for a sixyear- old to visit his father who had left his mother to move in with another man and for the boy to stay overnight in a one-bedroom apartment with the two men. The father saw absolutely nothing wrong with the arrangement and wanted to indoctrinate the boy into his new lifestyle.

There are fringe players involved in family court. These include child custody investigators, social workers, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Each time I spent a rotation in domestic, I would marvel at what the psychobabble of the day was. Our last watch involved mostly people who were thought to be bipolar.

•••

One of our early cases in domestic court in Denver involved a couple who had married after their spouses of the first three quarters of their lives had passed on. The wife was 78 and the husband was 79 when the dissolution hearing took place. They had been married about five years earlier. It was important to the husband that he was seen as being cooperative by the court.

Q. Are you married to the petitioner?

A. Yeah, we had a pretty wild life, but she wants to get divorced, so that’s fine with me. Whatever she wants. We had a wild time, though.

Q. Do you understand you have a right to request maintenance in this case?

A. Yeah. I’ll be glad to mow the lawn and take care of the place. Anything you want me to do in the house, I’ll be glad to do it.

Q. And the maintenance I’m referring to is what we used to call alimony?

A. Yeah.

Q. And that’s what I’m asking about is alimony?

A. Yeah. Anything she wants is fine. I’ll mow it every week. Do whatever she needs.

Q. All right, but as far as alimony or maintenance, you understand that you can’t come back at a later date and ask for it?

A. Yeah. We want to be good friends. She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman. We belong to the same church.

MS. WALSH: Great. I have no further questions, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. You may step down.

When the husband stepped down from the witness stand, he walked over to his soon-to-be-ex-wife and shook and kissed her hand. It really was a lovely gesture.

•••

Little problems and their resolution can take on a whole new importance in divorce court. For instance, when we moved to Courtroom 21, the previous staff took their water pitchers for counsel tables and the witness stand. Not thinking much of it, we simply ordered a new set. The water pitchers that were delivered had very strange lids that simply popped open when a certain angle was reached. Gravity, maybe? In any event, we were in a hearing right after the pitchers were delivered. The bailiff filled them with water and promptly put them in their places. None of us had tried the pitchers ourselves, so we had no idea that if anyone tipped the pitcher just a millimeter too far, the entire contents of the vessel would rush out. Of course, it wasn’t something that should be humorous, to see a slick divorce attorney, who was callously cross-examining the other party in the case with no mercy, pick up a cup and the pitcher and start to pour himself some water at a tense moment, only to be totally drenched a moment later. It shouldn’t be humorous, but it was.

We really were mortified and promptly put a note on the top of the lids urging caution.

While this seemed to help some people, others seemed to read the note — which absolutely couldn’t be missed — and promptly did that which was warned against.

Our next step was to take the lids off in the hope that people would be more careful. That solution was quickly nixed when a large fly landed in the pitcher by the witness stand in the middle of testimony.

Finally, the pitchers were emptied and put on the top of a cabinet in the rear of the courtroom. We had ordered a set of a different kind of pitcher, but what had taken only a day or two to receive the week before, now took two weeks. To our horror, we entered the courtroom after taking the docket call to begin the first hearing and the water pitchers has mysteriously reappeared on the counsel tables. We launched right into the case, so nothing was said at that point, but it wasn’t long before water was dripping off petitioner’s counsel table and petitioner’s attorney was running around the table trying to keep the exhibits dry.

Well, at the next recess we moved the pitchers into the conference room and placed them on the top shelf of the coat rack. No one should be able to get them from there.

It was hit-and-miss water-wise for the next days until the new set of pitchers arrived.

These, however, had lids on them that did not flip open, they unscrewed somehow and nobody, but nobody could open them unless that was the only thing they were doing at the time because of the concentration level necessary to open the lid and pour the water. Even at that, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of water soaking our carpet.

Needless to say, the judge was becoming very irritated by something that shouldn’t have been difficult to resolve. As our staff discussed the matter of saving our jobs and a plausible solution to the problem, we set about visiting other courtrooms in the building to see what water pitchers were being used. Glory be, we found a set of the old standbys in our previous quarters in the jury room, obviously neglected and to be relegated to the water pitcher pitch pile. We grabbed them and safely installed them as fixtures of our courtroom. What a relief! Problem solved, even though the outdated water pitchers weren’t quite as pretty. To tell you the truth, we missed the comic diversion the other pitchers had caused, but then again, the judge was much happier.

•••

Paying support in domestic cases, whether it be maintenance or child support, always seems to be a sticking point. In Wichita, we had what we called “Father’s Day” every Friday afternoon. The docket was composed entirely of cases involving de – linquent child support or other contempt matters. The judge always chose a particularly bad case to call up first, one where jail time was a distinct possibility. Once a case of that nature was completed with the respondent on the way to jail, it was amazing how many of the others waiting would approach the district attorney to settle their cases.

One day we had a man in on a contempt for nonpayment of child support who had been eating his Wheaties. He was representing himself and kept telling the judge that he simply couldn’t pay his support obligation because he had all of his other bills and his truck payment to pay. When the judge took no pity upon him and sentenced him to 60 days, he flew into a rage.

Now, all judges have what we call “panic buttons” close to them on the bench where they can call silently for sheriffs and other officers to assist if things get out of hand. As this very large man began to scream and throw things around in the courtroom, the judge hit his panic button. The judge was calmly advising the man that he should take a seat in the jury box and the sheriff would be in shortly to escort him to jail. All the while, the judge was pushing the button over and over again.

I turned to him and asked if I should see what was taking so long. He replied in the affirmative and I got up from my chair to leave the courtroom. As I did, the sleeve of my blouse caught on the sheet metal basket where the court files were kept for the day’s hearings. The sleeve ripped all the way to the wrist!

I ran to our chambers to see what the delay was and couldn’t find anyone anywhere.

When I returned to the courtroom, a lawyer about half the size of the respondent had the large man up against the wall in the courtroom saying, “You’re not helping yourself, son. This isn’t going to help your case. Just calm down and see what happens.” About that time, the sheriffs finally arrived and took the man into custody.

Now, my fiancé was a judicial services officer (deputy sheriff) at that time and the information that reached him was there had been an incident in my courtroom and my blouse had been torn off in the scuffle. Well, you can imagine how that made for an unhappy handling of the respondent when he arrived in the jail. He never did cooperate but, eventually, paid the amount of bond which would catch up his child support and we didn’t see him again <;-> at least on our domestic watch. As for the attorney that saved the day, he was somewhat of a hero for the rest of the afternoon.

•••

Wichita didn’t have the exclusive on problems in domestic courtrooms. In our first tour of duty in family court in Denver, we had a gentleman in for contempt for nonpayment of support. Now, in Denver, many of the courtrooms are equipped with large, heavy wood tables that have glass on top to protect the wood (from spills mostly from water pitchers). In any event, the judge told this respondent that he would have to pay a certain amount of support, regardless of his employment situation as it then existed. A recess was called and the judge left the courtroom with the clerk.

The respondent rose slowly to his feet, made a fist, and slammed it down on the glass table top yelling, “I’m not going to pay it!” He hit the table so hard that the glass shattered. The act itself seemed to calm the respondent. The sheriff was called and the respondent was ticketed for destruction of court property, to add to his other humiliation. Hard to believe he did not break his hand. The table itself was not damaged, but replacing the glass set the respondent back a hundred bucks!

•••

Some domestic cases are just downright uncomfortable for everyone involved. There was a case assigned to us in Denver that involved a couple who were divorcing. The reason for their incompatibility was the wife’s sister, who was planning to marry the husband as soon as the divorce was final. Well, you can imagine the line of witnesses who testified about the terrible wrong this man was doing to the family. Most of the scorn was not heaped upon the sister until later in the hearing. The kicker was that there were three sisters in the family and all of them were models. All of their friends who testified were models, too. Rest assured, we had never seen so much eyeliner and hairspray in our courtroom ever before! You can probably guess that the whole affair dissolved into a cat fight in the hall. We were glad we weren’t joining that family for Thanksgiving dinner.

•••

Another not-so-pretty sight was the case where two attorneys were calling it quits from their ten-year marriage. The husband was completely out of money so decided to represent himself. The wife had parents who were so glad their daughter was getting rid of that good-for-nothing that they paid for her lawyer. Of course, the financial situation of these two was the worst, absolute worst we had ever seen. It wasn’t a matter of who would get the assets; it was a matter of who would get stuck with the most debt.

A lawyer representing himself in a case in which he is so emotionally involved is a big mistake. Even worse, this case had so many documents to establish the couple’s bills that the case went on and on and on. You know, there were times when the aforementioned water pitchers really would have come in handy!

Finally, it was over. The name calling ceased — at least between the husband and his father-in-law. The debt got divided mostly down the middle and the wife got to keep the dog.

Judge thought about removing the dog from both of them, they were such maladjusted people, but acquiesced and let the wife have it. Poor Bowser!

•••

Then there was the case of the surgeon and the homemaker-turned-real-estatemogul and their very contentious divorce. Besides wrangling over the money and the property in Denver and Aspen were the accusations that each was an unfit parent. The tension became almost unbearable and we were more than happy to recess for the day. The wife retired to the fourth floor restroom and promptly went into an epileptic seizure. Is there a doctor in the house? Sure is. The husband ran into the restroom to help his soon-to-be-ex-wife. We were grateful he was there.

•••

The wealthy get down and dirty in their divorce cases like anybody else, but there are some unusual twists. One of the premiere real estate developers in Denver landed in our court back in the early 1990s for a very messy divorce. Many, many years later, an article in the newspaper stated the malpractice case was finally settled that the wife had brought against her attorneys. The result of the matter was almost what had been outlined when the petition was filed, before all the millions of dollars in attorney fees and contempt hearings and related matters.

The wrinkle here was the doll house. Evidently, there was a piece of property involved in the dispute that was a condominium. No one lived in the condo, but the husband was a collector of dolls. The dolls lived in the condo, and their happy home simply could not be disturbed, could it? Strange, but after the husband bought an island off the coast of Ireland to retreat to and began sneaking in and out of the country disguised in women’s clothes, the dolls were all but lost in the shuffle.

•••

The Tissue Case has to be the strangest domestic matter on our last rotation. This was the case of an unwed mother who was sued by her parents for custody of her mixed-race child. The parents were staunch conservatives who disapproved of the relationships their daughter had with “men of color.” Eventually, the daughter became pregnant and had a baby. The daughter was the quintessential spoiled brat. She had been given every luxury and advantage while growing up in her parents’ home. Her parents, on the other hand, had been quite closed-minded when it came to people outside of their own race and circumstances.

The attorney who took on the mother’s case knew that his client had no money to pay him but did see dollar signs for payment of his fee by the grandparents. The case was another one of those that went on and on with much mud slinging and barbs thrown in abundance. It truly was tragic.

Now, the mother cried through most of the hearing. This was not just a cry, but a dramatic cry! She always had to have a tissue at her disposal. It was reminiscent of Red Skelton and his handkerchief incessantly flailing about. You must understand that the staff was responsible to supply tissues if they wanted to have them around in the courtroom. When we began our year in this particular division, we purchased the largest multipack of tissues we could find, expecting it to last the whole year. Well, this mother was going to see to it single-handedly that that never happened!

Every time this case came up for hearing, the mother would promptly swipe the tissue box from the witness stand. The case itself was extremely sad, just from the circumstances, but this mother and her need for tissues to secure dramatic affect was hysterical. We tried everything to save our tissues from this woman. We put the tissues down out of sight on the witness stand so they wouldn’t be spotted the moment she hit the door. We substituted really cheap, rough tissues. She just used more! One day, we even put them on the file cabinet just outside the door into chambers. Well, that went over like a lead balloon and became the subject of a protracted colloquy between Court and Counsel. Soon, we gave up altogether and watched tissue after tissue after tissue after tissue disappear. Where did those water pitchers go?

•••

In Wichita we had default days in domestic court, usually Monday and Friday mornings, where those with uncontested matters were encouraged to come and not have to wait very long to have their cases heard. Usually one party would testify to verify the facts necessary to grant the divorce. The hearing would end when the Court issued its orders. These were short hearings, probably lasting five to seven minutes, and sometimes there would be only a few. There were days, however, when we would have fifteen to twenty. Our all-time record was twenty-three in one day.

I once told Judge Foulston, who was my judge at that time, that there was a part of his standard order where my mind would simply click off and it was a struggle for me to write down on my machine the rest of what he was saying. Of course, he was always saying the same thing at that point, but I would tell him I might write “on and on” and know what it was. Somehow that worked into a race where I would not only try to actually write what he was saying, but I would try to beat him to the end. He would talk as fast as he could and I would write as fast as I could, and we would try to end at the same time. If he really wanted to get my goat, he would alter his standard order by a word or two, which really was irritating because it caused a break in my racing concentration. My Type A reporting mind and personality would not let me write something like that incorrectly. To this day, his words jump into my head out of the blue:

The parties shall be prohibited from remarriage until 30 days from the date of the entry of the decree or 30 days from the receipt of the mandate from the appellate court.

•••

Domestic cases, family court, involve the most raw form of emotion. While it is true that court reporters see people when they are in their most difficult circumstances, cases with children are the hardest. We develop these defense mechanisms to deal with domestic cases not out of a sense of harshness or uncaring, but because, otherwise, we might care too much.

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.

Let’s get personal!

Throughout my 18 years of freelancing, I have often heard freelance reporters express their feelings of loneliness and isolation from other reporters due to the nature of the freelance world. Some of us work 100 percent from our home offices, covering for several different firms and/or agencies. We don’t have an office environment to enable us to interact with other reporters. Others who work with a specific firm do not always have their jobs at the office, and even when they do, many times they still do not have the opportunity to interact with other reporters. Some firms will call the reporters into the office for an occasional group meeting or perhaps plan a social function, but those could be few and far between.

Of course, in this fast-paced electronic world we live in, there are all the social networking outlets to turn to, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. But I’m here to advocate for all of us to make an effort to get out in the real world and let’s get personal! We all have so much to offer one another, and it’s not something that you can get staring at a computer screen.

I believe the need for networking and socializing with peers in person is vital to our own well-being. Science even says there are eight good reasons to be socially engaged: immune system, blood pressure, brain health and memory, physical activity, depression, pain, nutrition, and relationships. We humans are hardwired to crave and rely on human contact. Unlike, for example, a turtle, which hatches from a buried egg and is on its own from that moment on, people depend on other people for survival. Just as humans have a built-in desire for food, water, and sleep, we also have a deep need to connect with other people. Remember the scene in the movie Cast Away where Tom Hanks, marooned on a deserted island, creates a “companion” by drawing a face on a volleyball that has drifted ashore? Yikes!

So close that computer lid, and get out there and look your fellow reporter friends in the eyes! Round up a group and meet for dinner, or plan a study group to meet once a month to swap war stories, briefs, and software issues. I love it when my own groupies will get together at Christmas time, gift exchange and all, and inevitably the talk will turn to “shop talk.” We all crave it and love it! You’ll love what you can learn, all while having a great time.

Don’t let fear rob you

This morning, I was sitting in church waiting for the 8 a.m. service to begin when I noticed two women walk past me down the aisle and sit in front of the LCD monitor. I thought to myself, “I sure hope they don’t expect to see CART because I only provide that for the 9:30 a.m. service. I’m not ready; I’ve only warmed up by wrapping my hands around a hot cup of coffee.”

I practice writing the 8 a.m. sermon, stopping to brief a recurring word or phrase or to jot down an unfamiliar word that I will Google in between services. If there is an emotional testimony, I may just sit back and take it in before I start writing again.

I walked down to the two women, smiled, and introduced myself. I asked if they were expecting to use the text on the screen as an accommodation to hear the service. Terry and Debby, who I found out were mother and daughter, returned my smile and said yes. I found myself apologizing that I didn’t normally provide CART for the 8 a.m. service and explaining that it would be better for them to attend the next. But then I stopped. What on earth was I thinking? What is the purpose of my captioning ministry anyway? It’s to make the word of God accessible. Why would I deny anyone that? I love this ministry. When did fear start robbing me of what I love to do?

I thought back to the spring of 1987. I had recently moved back to Wisconsin after graduating from a court reporting school in California. A job offer was posted for a secretary/stenographer with realtime skills to work for the Honorable Judge Richard S. Brown in the Court of Appeals. I jumped at the opportunity. I had a good feeling I had passed the Wisconsin State CPR (Certified Professional Reporter) exam required to work in state courts and was awaiting results, but I was nervous, maybe even terrified; however, I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from an incredible job opportunity.

I had no previous experience. I had no computer system, no dictionary, as I was still typing from my paper notes using my manual steno machine. What I lacked in experience and skill, I made up for in sheer determination and willingness to learn. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I just needed the opportunity. I don’t remember much about the actual interview, but it must have gone well because later that same day, I received a phone call offering me the position.

I was elated! I wasted no time finding a computer system and spending every spare minute building my dictionary. Although I considered myself a clean writer, I needed to be realtime ready. You see, Judge Brown is deaf. I needed to be able to write realtime for oral arguments in the courtroom and judicial conference calls in chambers utilizing the speaker phone.

So why this morning, after years of experience, did I almost allow fear to hinder the purpose of my captioning ministry? Fear can impede our growth if we are obsessed with what others may think of us. If our focus is on ourselves and our glory, we don’t see the glory of God working through us as His messenger to reach out to others.

Fear can also cause us to refuse to embrace change because we would rather be comfortable. If we become complacent in our work, it will lead to dissatisfaction, feeling unfulfilled, and eventual burnout. Eugene O’Neill said, “A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself . . . so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work, he is fairly safe.”

There are online tools, classes, and webinars that are fantastic resources. In the comfort of my home, away from distractions, I set aside time to take a course and practice. The most difficult part is just making yourself sit down and begin, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly you become engaged and how fun it is, especially when you see the improvement in your skills.

There is also a tremendous benefit in attending onsite workshops and conventions. You will come away with an immense amount of information, education, and training in a short period of time. It is rejuvenating to interact with peers giving and receiving support and sharing what works. Having several vendors at one location is a time saver, assisting you in making informed decisions on your wants and needs.

Contact your church or any local church, and ask if you can set up your equipment to practice for yourself. Search out sermons on TV or on the Web. My church has sermon videos to watch and downloads available in video and audio format on its home page at www.elmbrook. org.

Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” Have you ever watched babies learning to walk? They take a step and down they go. They get up and take another step or two and down they go. Never do they look discouraged. Never do they give up. They just get up and take another step forward, and before you know it, they’re running.

You don’t think there were days in court when I cringed at my untranslates or word boundary issues? Absolutely. But I got up, dusted off my ego, and kept working hard, always moving forward.

Don’t let fear rob you of your aspirations. Don’t let your fear deny others the opportunity to “hear” the word of God. Take that first baby step toward making it happen.

After the sermon this morning, Terry, Debby, and I had a chance to talk. They thanked me and gave me a hug, saying they truly appreciated the CART and would be back next week. I look forward to seeing them; and if they happen to come for the 8 a.m. service, that will be just fine.

Female writer, male writer wanted…

I was gifted with several ‘older’ versions of our JCR. The magazines do not list JCR on the cover, as it is now called. Each cover lists National Shorthand Reporter in all caps.

The year was 1978. Our organization was called the National Shorthand Reporters Association. Richard E. Peppey of Wisconsin was NSRA president. Mary Louise Gilman was editor. One very specific detail stood out within each issue. The “Classifieds” listed both “Reporters Wanted” and “Positions Wanted,” as well as a number of miscellaneous other ads.

Almost all of the “Positions Wanted” ads began: Female Machine Writer, Male Graduate, Male Machine Writer, Young Male Reporter, Young Female Reporter, Female Reporter, and Experienced Female Writer (with detailed descriptions). A handful of listings began their paid classified ad with “Machine Writer” and “Experienced Machine Writer.” Yet even the small percentage of ads seeking work that began with “Machine Writer” and “Experienced Machine Writer” included the word “male” or “female” in their description.

The “Reporters Wanted” ads were listed alphabetically under “officialships” and then “freelance firms,” and, in contrast to the “Positions Wanted” ads, not one of the ads seeking reporters used the word “female” or “male.”

I found the classifieds ads to be a fascinating window into our world from whence we have come.

I remember when I would appear with my steno machine, and individuals “did not want a girl.” It was stated loudly. No one was discreet, if that was an issue then. When pressed for a reason (not by moi), almost all — yes, males — stated they “did not want to say cuss words with a girl.”

Often, I was asked if I had “heard cuss words before, could write them, and would write cussing as it was spoken, quoted, and repeated.” I kid you not.

This happened often enough that when asked, I replied succinctly, “I was raised with three brothers.” Almost everyone would say, “Oh! Okay. Okay.” That seemed to make a difference to almost every individual.

I worked not to roll my eyes or exhale audible sighs. That was then, and that was acceptable then.

Yet reading ads within our national professional magazine was a glance back to what was acceptable. I do not know what year this changed. Perhaps someone who does know might write to our JCR.

Long ago, I remember meeting retired court reporters. Many continued to attend national conventions. I remember watching — almost a private ‘club-sphere’ — where reporters and spouses, our retired leaders, sat together and dined together at large tables. Boisterous laughter was often heard.

I waited for a moment to introduce myself to many as I had read their articles or heard about many of the retired reporters so often. What a thrill it was to me as a reporter. Oh, I enjoyed listening to their stories. Al Weinstein was very special. I dedicated my CSR, RPR, RMR Written Knowledge Test Court Reporter Reference Workbook to Abraham Al Weinstein, RPR, parliamentary verbatim reporter for the United Nations, for his mentoring and advice. Years later, when I stood online to speak to Al at a national convention and reintroduced myself to Al Weinstein, he did not remember me (not at all), and he asked, “Did I help you?”

I gasped, “You changed my life!” Tears in his eyes, Al asked me to write about it “so others would do the same.” He said, “I still don’t remember you. You will write about it, yes? We can be friends now; come sit. Do you need tickets to anything?” Following Al’s request, I wrote an article for this column, which was published just after his death in the July 1999 special collector’s edition of the JCR.

“Then Al Weinstein asked, ‘Did I help you?’ Chief Reporter, United Nations” is listed on www.monettebenoit.com (posted April 16, 2007) and on websites.

Robert Clark, RPR, NCRA librarian historian, was also a mentor and friend. His wife, Coreen, was a ballet dancer during San Francisco’s 1920s flapper and prohibition era. Oh, I loved listening to them as we sipped cocktails, usually Manhattans, during NCRA evening functions. I dedicated my vocabulary workbook to Robert. He had the best stories about the origins of our profession, and he shared many moments as we sat huddled together in crowded banquet rooms.

Mary Knapp, RPR, reported congressional records when females were truly not accepted — with her court reporting husband — as I remember her sharing with me. Mary Knapp was a leader in our field, opening schools, writing books, and assisting several generations to enter our field before she retired from Alvin Community College in Texas.

I first met Mary Knapp at an NCRA convention. Two large banquet rooms were standing room only.

I approached one open double-door area out of sheer curiosity and stood on tip toes, approximately five rows of people back into the hallway. Mary Knapp, a petite woman, had full command of the room. I could hear laughter, applause, oohs, and ahhs. I waited (standing in a very long line) to introduce myself and to ask for a copy of her handouts, which had run out early in her seminar.

When we became friends, I loved listening to her stories, to her adventures “as a woman back then.” I dedicated a book to Mary Knapp, too, and treasure the notes she mailed me with her thoughts, jokes, advice, and private opinions.

I truly feel I have sat at the feet of the masters, listening, learning, and laughing. So many leaders prepared this profession for where we are now. They developed the clarity and vision to encourage us as we enrolled in court reporting school, graduated, and entered this grand profession.

Yet the listing of “female” and “male” only in the “positions wanted” section by court reporters seeking work is truly — my private term — “a head-scratcher” for me in our national magazine.

I remember when individuals did not want “women” on the road. There were no cell phones. “Who knows what could happen? It’s safer to send a male, and that’s what was requested.” Okay. And I was not assigned to jobs if they were going to run into the evening.

Women and men now share talents, gifts, and skills 24/7 with superior state-of-the-art technology.

I had a great aunt who was born during the horse-and-buggy era; she lived to see a man walk on the moon. I often think of her and other individuals, to include retired reporters, who witnessed such adventures.

When we look down the road to our future, to journeys yet to be traveled, perhaps we can all agree that no one will publicly request a job wherein they include “male” or “female” in the description. And yes, we know there are now laws that forbid specific questions during interviews.

As we move forward with clarity — as did our leaders in the past — into new visions and new arenas, and as new trained reporters join our profession, I wonder when JCR issues of our National Court Reporters Association are read 34 years down the road (as I read 1978 in 2012), what will court reporters find to be unique in 2046? In 34 years, what will remain “a standard”?

My opinion is that we will continue to be keepers of the record, preserving truth and history. We will continue to raise standards sharing our disciplined skills. We will continue to have fun, experiencing wonderful adventures, as we best ourselves into the future.

Thank you to the reporters who are now our leaders and to the retired reporters who continue to attend conventions. We have benefited from your seeding, your words, and your wisdom. Truly. I wish each of you — students, instructors, working reporters, CART providers, captioners, and retired and associate members — a special, blessed holiday season.