A freelancer’s new perspective of court: Lessons on deposition transcripts

Gavel on a folder filler with papers

Photo by: wp paarz

By Tricia Rosate

In California, freelancers often cover civil trials, and I’ve been reporting more trials lately. I consider myself a pretty good writer, but this pace is phenomenal. No shuffling through exhibits, no 10-minute lulls where the witness is taking their sweet time reading every page of a lengthy email exchange. This is theater.

More specifically, seeing deposition transcripts blown up on the big screen for the entire courtroom to see has really given me a new perspective. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not necessary to capitalize things that don’t need to be (i.e., “I work in the Finance Department” vs. “I work in the finance department”). It’s distracting and looks strange. When in doubt and there’s no rule or reason to cap it, leave it alone.

Secondly, please use a proofreader. There were times in my career that I thought, “Who even reads this?” Well, one day it could be a judge, two counsel tables filled with attorneys, the clerk, bailiff, 14 jurors, the official (pro tem) reporter, and anyone observing.

On the subject of verbatim: When reporting video depositions, there is no need to include every single stutter, i.e., “It’s — it’s — it’s — it’s the third one down.” One set of dashes is just fine. All the dashes look so awful on the big screen and make it almost unreadable. I know we’re verbatim and the parties make their own record, but a little best judgment goes a long way. I guarantee that the jurors are not counting the stutters and thinking the reporter dropped the ball if they’re not all in there.

Then there’s another verbatim thing that I know has been a hot topic: the 2000s. The attorney says, “So it happened in two ten?” The reporter knows the attorney means 2010 but writes “2’10.” I’m not saying this is wrong. However, please picture it blown up on a screen in a courtroom during a trial, with 14 jurors looking at the transcript — and, yes, they do — and the attorney telling the jurors to please disregard the typo.

“But it’s not a typo! He said two ten, not 2010,” you might say. If someone doesn’t say two thousand and ten, it’s the reporter’s call on how to format it. But not one of these jurors understands or cares why the reporter formatted it that way. It looks weird and disjointed.

In somewhat the same vein, I recently Googled myself to see if there were any privacy concerns I should address, and I came across several excerpts of my transcripts posted online, which again goes to my point. People do read your transcripts! Sometimes many more people than you ever imagined!

Tricia Rosate, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer in San Diego, Calif. This article is revised from a post she wrote in the “Guardians of the Record” Facebook discussion group. Tricia Rosate can be reached at rosate.csr@gmail.com.

California Rules of Court discussed

JCR logoJD Supra Business Advisor posted a blog by Kramm Court Reporting on March 27 that discusses some of the provisions contained in the 2017 California Rules of Court regarding court reporters’ transcripts.

Read more.

Top 20 tips from production room managers

books_Horia VarlanOnce a transcript is out of a court reporter’s hands, it’s up to the agency’s production staff to get it to the client. Peggy Nelson of Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn., and Angie Hibbert of First Choice Reporting & Video in Miami, Fla., share the following tips to make the final stages of transcript production as smooth as possible. As with most work relationships, communication is key to making everyone look good, including the clients.

  1. When filling out any paperwork or forms by hand, take the necessary time to ensure your handwriting is legible. Anything questionable requires production to have to stop and reach out to the reporter for clarification.
  2. Always put the job number and date the job was taken on all communication with the agency.
  3. Exhibit stickers need to be filled out completely and correctly.
  4. When shipping exhibits back to the agency, always send the appropriate paperwork along with the exhibits. When exhibits arrive without paperwork, it creates a great deal of extra work for the production team trying to match the exhibits with the job.
  5. If exhibits were retained by counsel and not given to the court reporter, be sure to indicate on your paperwork which attorney took possession of the exhibits.
  6. If your protocol is to ship exhibits using your own FedEx or UPS account, be sure to provide the account information on the paperwork versus making production call you to get it.
  7. When using transcript order forms, if the client simply signs their name and doesn’t fill out the rest of the form, please do so for them so that the form is complete when sent into the agency.
  8. If your job turns into an expedite, communicate this to the agency right away, telling them when the client needs it in their hands and when you anticipate it will be ready to send to the agency for production. Never simply send a rush job into the agency without having forewarned staff. This is a recipe for disaster.
  9. When a client has requested a specific date and time for delivery (or you have promised one to them) be sure to be clear as to whether a Tuesday delivery means they want it in their hands by 8 a.m. on Tuesday or by end of business day on Tuesday … or if they don’t care as long as they get it on Tuesday. One of the most common issues production rooms deal with is lack of communication around delivery expectations. This results in calls to the agency asking, “Where is my transcript? The reporter said I’d have it on Tuesday.”
  10. Agencies vary in terms of protocols around rough drafts. Some allow the reporter to email them directly to the client just as soon as it’s available, and others require you to email the agency to allow the agency to send it directly to the client. Make sure you know the protocol for the agency you’re working for that day.
  11. When attorneys ask that something be marked “confidential” or “Attorneys Eyes Only,” make sure you let the agency know which attorney made this request. Also, find out how they want you to handle this on your end of the transcript creation. Is there a certain protocol already in place on this case or with this client? Do they expect you to do something special with the file? Will the agency be handling everything on their end?
  12. We love it when we get not just the attorney’s directory information but their email address as well as the name and email address of their legal assistant or paralegal. Not only have we found that those are the folks who really know what format the transcript should be delivered in, we’ve discovered that if we copy them in on the electronic invoice, we get paid much quicker than if we just send the invoice to the attorney.
  13. While it could vary from agency to agency (which is why it’s imperative to read the paperwork carefully), most agencies prefer a page-image ASCII file to a PTX file. (Be sure the ASCII includes page breaks.)
  14. Be sure to include a signed certificate page as a pdf when turning in your job.
  15. One of the biggest delays we encounter in production is waiting on the invoice long after the reporter has sent in the file. Please send both the file and invoice simultaneously whenever possible. We cannot process COD orders without your invoice.
  16. Reading & Signing: Tell us every time, for every witness. One of the biggest inefficiencies in our production room is trying to figure this out based on how the paperwork is (or isn’t) filled out.
  17. Take your time when turning in a job to make sure everything is turned in correctly.
  18. If a witness fails to appear or for any reason the job doesn’t go and you decide not to charge the client, be sure to notify the production department of these facts. Otherwise, it looks like they are waiting on late work, or we worry that the file got lost in spam.
  19. Any special instructions need to be communicated to the office.
  20. Please sign your email! We receive tons without signatures, making it hard to know who “stenostar555” is.

Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, owner of Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn., and NCRA Director Rick Levy, RPR, owner of First Choice Reporting & Video in Miami Fla., reached out to their respective production room managers on behalf of the New Professionals Committee.

How to handle digital read-and-signs

TechLinks_logoCourt reporters are often put into a situation where a witness asks to read and sign a transcript without the lawyer ordering a copy. If reporters feel the need to use printed versions of the transcripts, they can make the transcript available for review at their own office or, if the witness lives far away, at the office of another court reporter or notary. In addition, a number of digital solutions can help reporters protect the transcript from being copied.

PDF-it’s read and sign options

By Jim Woitalla

PDF-it allows electronic read and sign. The company offers an online read-only feature that allows the reporter to set an end date, after which the transcript will no longer be available. There’s also an option to offer the reader the opportunity to purchase a certified copy.

While many reporters have gotten used to sending transcripts as pdfs by email, they should keep in mind that anything sent by email can be cracked open. To protect the transcript in an emailed pdf format, reporters can use a watermark or a disclaimer in the footer, which can make it difficult to use for legal purposes. In addition, reporters in this situation can make it harder by sending a code in a separate email.

The PDF-It website is here.

Jim Woitalla, RDR, CRI, is a freelancer in Minnetonka, Minn. He notes that he has not had to use this system often, but he is happy to know it’s available when he needs it.

Thomson Reuters e-Transcript Manager’s read and sign options

By Sunny Hann

RealLegal, by Thomson Reuters, contains security features that allow the user to limit the usage of a transcript. A number of different features can be used to accomplish this. We recommend using feature lockouts along with our built-in errata sheet for read-and-sign. Feature lockouts refer to methods for protecting transcripts against copying, printing, or saving into another format by clients or others. If all lockouts are employed, a person can only view the transcript unless they are given the unlock code stored in the reporter’s software.

Within E-Transcript Manager, the following features can be locked or unlocked when creating an e-transcript:

  • Print full size: Select this option to prevent unauthorized printing of full-sized copies of the transcript.
  • Print condensed: Select this option to prevent unauthorized printing of a condensed version of the transcript.
  • Print word index: Select this option to prevent unauthorized use of the Word Index.
  • Save as: Select this option to prevent unauthorized saving of the transcript to another format. For example, you can prevent the saving of the transcript as an ASCII file (a text file).
  • Clipboard copy: Select this option to prevent unauthorized copying and pasting of text from the transcript to another application or document — for example, an email or a word processing document.
  • Draft copy and show DRAFT COPY watermark: Within the security features, it is possible to select this option to display the words DRAFT COPY on the background of each page as a watermark.

Beyond limiting the use of a completed e-transcript to view-only abilities, you are also able to send an errata sheet that is part of the file but can still be printed, signed, notarized, and returned to you. The errata sheet is incorporated in the themes area of your E-Transcript Manager and is applied to the file when you select your theme. If included, an errata sheet can be printed from under the File/Print/Transcript area of the e-transcript file.

Here are instructions and ideas of how to handle the situation in another way:

  1. Click the “Transcript theme” drop-down list, and then click the theme you want to apply to the transcript. Themes refer to how you set up a document for printing, the company information you place on a transcript, and the appearance of a transcript: headers, footers, the cover page, and so forth.
  2. Click the “Edit” button to edit a theme.
  3. Click the “Security” button.
  4. Complete the fields as follows:
    1. Version: final version, draft only, or sealed
    2. Draft Watermark
      1. Show DRAFT ONLY watermark when printing: This option works with the draft only option. To print the DRAFT ONLY watermark on the page, click “Draft only” under “Version,” and then select “Show DRAFT ONLY watermark when printing.”
    3. Feature lockouts
    4. Encryption
      1. Password protected: If you want to protect the transcript with a password that people must enter before viewing the transcript, type the password here. You will need to send clients the password.
    5. Signature
      1. If you have signed the transcript electronically, click the “View” button to view the electronic signature.
    6. Click the “Apply” button.

The RealLegal website is here.

Sunny Hann is a customer relationship manager at RealLegal. He can be reached at sunny.hann@thomsonreuters.com.

YesLaw’s read and sign options

By Brian Clune

YesLaw has a read-only function that delivers a file online to the witness that can be read but not printed, saved, or downloaded. The witness can read the transcript from any computer screen. Because the file is online, the security can be controlled much more than sending a file. YesLaw also has a watermark functionality that will mark each page as “Read only.” Because the YesLaw PDF production software comes with an online delivery account in the cloud, it is an easy process to send a read-only transcript.

  1. You will need the email of the deponent or their attorney.
  2. Prepare the transcript as usual in the YesLaw Transcript software.
  3. On the third wizard page, select “full,” “condensed,” or “both” for upload.
  4. Select the “Publish to” button and enter the email with first and last names.
  5. Select the view-only check box. Leave the “Publish to” email pull-down box empty to use the generic email.
  6. Click “+Add” to list the intended recipients and then click “Done.”
  7. Click “Produce files.”
  8. You will need to email a separate errata sheet so the errata is not “View only,” and the witness can note the changes then send back the errata.

By using an online view of the transcript, the reporter grants remote access without requiring the witness to come into an office. The online view does not provide the ability to use a third-party software to break the view-only attributes since the file is on YesLaw’s secure server and not accessible to the public. YesLaw’s server, when given the “View only” command, will not allow someone to, download, or print the transcript. Permissions to access the transcript can be granted at any time by the reporter by simply issuing an upgraded profile.

With files that are sent out as attachments, or in a Dropbox-type download, the user has the file locally and can apply any of a various hacking tools to alter the access to the file. The delivery of a transcript online does not allow the recipient to have the file locally if it has been designated a “View only,” and therefore, there is no opportunity to simply hack the file.

The YesLaw website is here.

Brian Clune, CLVS, is vice president of YesLaw. He can be reached at bclune@yesvideo.com.

California judge rules against imposing rates on freelance reporters

The California Deposition Reporters Association (DRA) reported on Jan. 8 that a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles has ruled not to impose statutory rates for court transcript onto freelance reporters working in courts. The DRA’s attorney said the decision was one of the most scholarly and thorough trial court opinions he has read in a while.

Read the judge’s ruling.

Read the DRA’s amicus brief.

Court transcripts in high-profile case released after more than four decades

The New Haven Independent, New Haven, Conn., posted an article on May 12 about the recent release of the court transcripts from the murder trial of Black Panther Party leaders Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, which took place in 1971 and ended in a mistrial. Until now the public had access to only archived newspaper accounts of that trial. A reporter  researching a book about the case tracked down one of the court reporters from the trial who had kept a copy of the transcript in his basement.

Read more.

Lawyer loses bid for free transcript copy, promises appeal

Jackie Patterson, a criminal defense lawyer in Georgia, lost his motion for a free copy of a digital transcript when Clayton County State Court Judge Morris Braswell denied his request. Braswell also denied Patterson’s request to use his own court reporter during the proceedings.

The debate centers on how new rules for the Judicial Council of Georgia will be interpreted and whether “a digital copy of the transcript at no charge” is issued before or after legal fees are paid, as well as who is responsible for those fees.

Patterson plans to file an emergency appeal without a transcript of the hearing.

Read more.

Lawyer says court reporter must give free e-transcript

Jackie Patterson, a defense attorney in Georgia, has made a motion to require the court reporter to provide a free digital copy of a criminal trial transcript. Patterson cited new rules of the Judicial Council of Georgia that affect transcripts ordered after Jan. 1, 2015. Patterson claims that the cost of transcripts “can effectively deny defendants the right to appeal.” Clayton County State Court Judge Morris Braswell will rule on the motion on April 22.

Read more.

Blog gives tips on helping reporters get clean depo transcripts

Showing up early to organize documents for easy reference, providing a written glossary of unusual terms that might be used in a deposition, and making available a copy of the case caption are key to ensuring a clean deposition transcript to use at trail, according to a blog posted Dec. 16 by the JD Supra Business Advisor.

Read more.

Transcript doesn’t exist for Hardy’s first trial, yet

ProFootballTalk.nbcsports.com reported on Sept. 15 that defense attorneys for Greg Hardy, NFL defensive end for the North Carolina Panthers, hired a court reporter to ensure his initial trial was recorded and transcripts provided. Under North Carolina procedures, initial trials are held before a judge before going before a jury and are not required to generate a transcript of the proceedings. Harding is being tried on domestic assault charges.

Read more.