Look it up, lawmakers

September 22, 2008
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From Indiana Lawyer reporter Michael Hoskins:

We look at Indiana’s appellate decisions every day. Frequently, a legal issue is raised about an ambiguous federal or state statute where words aren’t defined and the courts must address what the legislative intent could be for those words and statutes.

The issue came up in a Court of Appeals case, which we wrote a story about today, that examined the undefined meaning of the word “repair” in the state mechanic’s lien statute. Judges didn’t have a definition in the law to work with, so they consulted Webster’s – a common practice that often sees jurists consulting Black’s Law Dictionary and others. It happens often, with cases hinging on definitions of simple words such as “shall.” We’ve seen it in recent years on terms such as “proceeds” in the federal money-laundering statute or “legal incidents of marriage” as lawmakers wrestled over a same-sex marriage ban.

One has to wonder if lawmakers think to look at a dictionary when crafting legislation that might become law. We have lawyers at the Statehouse who, you’d think, would know better and be able to foresee potential legal battles over vague wording. But obviously if there are some who question the language and lack of definition, they aren’t able to convince their colleagues before the final passage. It seems like a dictionary could solve many of the legal battles we see regularly – maybe that would be a handy tool lawmakers could be given when taking their oaths of office.
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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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