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Inbox: Group advocates for court reporter to be used in pilot project

August 1, 2012
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Letters to the Editor

Dear editor,

The board of the Indiana Shorthand Reporters Association (ISRA) found the July 6, 2012, article, “Pilot project will introduce video transcript in 3 courts” regarding the Supreme Court’s video pilot project very informative, but also potentially troubling. It is our desire to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court and to urge the Supreme Court to take into consideration some important facts when making any potential changes to the method of capturing the official court record in the state of Indiana.

The claim has been made that a video transcript will provide attorneys with the ability to have records of proceedings at the end of each day of trial. A stenographic court reporter who is also a certified realtime reporter can provide this valuable service by providing either a paper or electronic transcript to the court and parties. A CRR can also stream a copy of the testimony, as it is happening, to the computers of the judge and attorneys, as well as any hard-of-hearing participants, giving them instant access to the record of proceedings. This process, called realtime, gives users the ability to highlight sections of the record to be used during cross-examination. A copy of a searchable written transcript is available for use by the parties at the end of any hearing or trial, providing attorneys and the court the ability to have a written transcript immediately, as opposed to being forced to watch and re-watch testimony to find the specific sections of interest. A realtime stream can also serve to ensure ADA compliance to judges, attorneys, jurors and litigants who require that service.

ISRA implores the Indiana Supreme Court to include a certified realtime reporter in this pilot project to truly test and compare the different methods of capturing the record and to conclusively demonstrate the effectiveness of different methods. Understanding that at this late date that may not be possible, in the alternative, ISRA respectfully requests that the utilization of a realtime reporter in the courts be thoughtfully studied and considered before any final decisions are made. Because a staff member would undoubtedly be used to provide a log of the video and the time stamps mentioned in the article, ISRA believes using a stenographic court reporter, particularly a CRR, would be more cost-effective and increase court efficiencies moving forward.

ISRA understands the budgetary difficulties that the state is going through. We see the need for decreased costs and increased efficiencies and believe that a stenographic court reporter will help in both regards. First, we believe there are numerous outright and hidden costs in implementing an audiovisual recording system like this throughout the state. Claiming that utilizing audiovisual recording will save money is, in a word, misleading. In order to specifically cite the audiovisual record, a time reference will need to be determined, tedious work that is done for a cost by either an attorney’s staff or is farmed out to a freelance court reporter. When responding to an appeal, an opposing party, not knowing if a transcript has been produced, will have to go through the same process. It is possible that two separate written transcripts will be produced and still no official written record will be available for citation.

The second goal of the pilot project is to address the inefficiencies of producing a transcript. Under the current rules, an appellate transcript must be filed within 90 days. Unlike most other states and the federal judicial system, Indiana does not have any requirement that an official court reporter be certified or even demonstrate a basic competency in capturing and preserving the record. Many of the records of proceedings are simply recorded by digital recording. To generate a transcript, the recording must then be tediously transcribed with a QWERTY keyboard and word processing program. The best method for creating the official court record is to have the proceedings captured at the outset via machine stenography by a live stenographic reporter. Establishing a certification requirement in Indiana would go far to address this problem. It is well established that transcripts produced by stenographic reporters are done much more efficiently and accurately when compared to a transcriptionist. Meeting a 30-day deadline to file transcripts is not difficult when the method of capturing the record is done by a live certified stenographic court reporter.

As mentioned in the article, significant training would be required by the users of these new systems. The record will only be as good as the participants’ mindfulness of making the record. Often, witnesses, judges and attorneys inadvertently mumble, rush or speak over one another, rendering that testimony inaudible. Non-verbal noises such as rustling papers, coughs and HVAC noises are recorded as well and often drown out the human voices. A live reporter is able to address the issue at the moment it happens and clarify what is said as well as filter out ambient noise. We have grave concerns of whispered sidebars not being recorded as well as the inadvertent recording of privileged communications. No amount of training will combat these potential interferences when parties become engrossed in the subject matter they are arguing. Furthermore, none of these types of errors will be discerned until months or years later when it is far too late to rectify.

Not only has the cost of implementing this program not yet been revealed, but the data of how much it will cost the state when this technology malfunctions has also not been presented. Mr. Maddox of Jefferson Audio Visual Systems (JAVS) stated in the article that concerns about technical problems are overstated. This is blatantly false. While the myriad examples of how these systems have failed and cost the taxpayers in their respective states millions of additional dollars are too numerous to recount here, of note is that in Jefferson County, Ky., months of systematic failures in numerous courtrooms fitted with JAVS audiovisual recording systems went undetected, forcing the county to pay an additional $1.1 million to upgrade the audiovisual system after multiple failures had occurred.

All of us working in the Indiana judicial system value its integrity and accuracy. At the bare minimum, official court reporters, no matter the method of capturing the record – steno, digital recording or voice writer – should be certified, demonstrating the ability to adhere to a standard of excellence in both accuracy and efficiency. When a citizen’s life or livelihood is on the line, as is the case in many criminal and civil proceedings, should we accept an adequate official court record as good enough? Only a live stenographic court reporter provides the best possible accurate record to ensure that justice is served.•

Sincerely,
Victoria S. Dudeck, RPR, CSR
Vice President, Indiana Shorthand Reporters Association

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