Roberts has prize-winning photo for NCRA contest

Maxine Roberts, RDR

Maxine Roberts, RDR, an official in Akron, Ohio, is the winner of the NCRA Marketing Photo Contest. She told the JCR Weekly a little about the photo and how she feels about winning.

JCR | What gave you the idea to have pictures taken with your steno machine? 

MR | I’ve been a court reporter for more than 30 years and have never captured or seen a photo of myself while on the job. Of course, I’ve seen very brief snippets of myself from coverage of different cases on the local news stations, but I wanted to do something fun with it to create a memory for myself as I near retirement.

JCR | Do you have plans on how you want to use the photos?

MR | I will probably print and frame it for myself.

JCR | Why did you decide to enter this profession?

MR | I knew nothing about the court reporting profession when I decided to embark upon it. At the time I was working at a local hospital on a part-time basis while attending the university. Knowing neither was what I wanted to do, I took to the ads in the local paper and ran across an advertisement for the Academy of Court Reporting and decided to try my hand, or hands should I say. I’ve now been at it 35 years, and here I am today.

JCR | What did you think when you heard you won our contest? 

MR | I was completely surprised. Who knew a last-minute decision would produce a winning photo?

JCR | Anything else you would like to add?  

MR | I want to thank NCRA for choosing my photo and thank my photographer, Lonnie Griffin Photography, for taking care of me at the last minute.

NOTE: Roberts will also be featured as the NCRA member profiled in the October JCR.

Members volunteer during quarantine downtime

Stephanie Lachowicz, RPR, fosters kittens for the Jacksonville Humane Society.

A recent JCR Weekly poll asked if NCRA members were spending more time volunteering with their downtime during quarantine. Answers varied from volunteering in the community to donating money and spreading the word about court reporting and captioning. Some members are also transcribing for the National Court Reporters Foundation’s Veterans History Project. Here is a sampling of what some of our members have been doing.

“I constantly try and spread the word about court reporting. I know we need more people to come into our field all around the country, but especially here in Louisiana. So I am constantly talking to people, trying to recruit new people to the field of court reporting, whether it’s parents for their high school or college children or young adults or adults looking to change their careers. I love what I do still, even now in my 30th year of freelance reporting in the New Orleans metropolitan area. I am always learning something new every day, meeting new people every day, in a different place every day. I am my own boss and have a tremendous amount of flexibility, all while earning a fantastic income. And, yes, I will continue my everyday efforts, as I always have, to speak of the glories of reporting. I just can’t say enough good things about it!”

Wilma Geraci, RPR, is a freelancer in Destrehan, La.


“I foster kittens for the Jacksonville Humane Society. I’ve done it for three years, but I’ve had more time to spend with them during quarantine. I love animals, and this gives me an opportunity to help the most vulnerable cats [and] kittens that are too small and young to stay in a shelter before they’re ready to be adopted.”

Stephanie Lachowicz, RPR, is a freelancer in Jacksonville, Fla.


“I am volunteering more with Operation Christmas Child. We’re working toward a goal of 1,000 boxes this year. Because of the virus, I’ve been able to work on different projects to fill these boxes. We’re now making puzzles from old greeting cards and taking old T-shirts to make jump ropes. I work with a group of ladies from my church, but we have been able to devote more time toward accomplishing our goals during this time. I was drawn to this project because it enables me to teach my grandchildren about giving to others with a loving heart. We work toward gathering the contents and packing the boxes that are shipped all over the world in October for Christmas arrival. I’ve cleaned my office, organized all my files, cleared up my accounting records, and played many, many board games with all my grandchildren. Spending more time with them has been a blessing and when I look back in my past, I’ll have great memories. It is relaxing to slow down every once in a while.”  

Betty Minton, RPR, is a freelancer in Lake Charles, La.


“I have been spreading the word about court reporting and what a wonderful occupation it is for many years. I discuss it with anyone who expresses an interest in the occupation, I discuss it with people who are having employment issues, I have discussed it with moms who are looking to get their children employed. I am a member of Toastmasters and have been giving speeches about court reporting. I plan to continue doing what I have been doing for years. I began teaching it to one of my daughters a number of years ago until she decided to go in another employment direction. My wife and I are amazed at the number of people that are having problems paying their bills or finding employment, and that more people are not getting involved with an occupation in which there is a recognized need.” 

John Newton, Jr., RMR, CRR, CRI, is an official in Flemington, N.J.


“I have always been excited about my career. I know how important it is for the justice system to have qualified stenographic reporters. We are responsible for the recordkeeping of very serious matters. That’s why I have always taken the time to recruit/mentor students/reporters. 

“I have been a part of the Homeless Ministry at my church for a year and a half. I have continued to donate care packages and food to the homeless during COVID-19. I take after my father. He opened his home to homeless people. I met the homeless at his home and realized how passive, non-threatening, and human they actually are. I realized it was my turn to give back to society. I have several homeless friends. I have also begun to mentor new court reporters/students online virtually. I have always actively mentored and/or recruited new reporters/students during my 32 years working as a steno reporter.”

Lourdes Rodriguez-Restrepo, RPR, is a freelancer in Miami, Fla.


“I’ve typed six Veterans History Project transcripts so far over the last couple years. At first it was a good way to get my CEUs, but once I did my first one, I loved it. I really enjoy listening to our veterans’ stories. Some are heartbreaking. Some are so inspiring. All of mine have been men, so I’ll say that these men whose stories I’ve typed were so courageous and selfless. One gentleman, at the very end of his story, his voice broke because of all the death he had seen and the friends he had lost. He didn’t cry, but I did. I also look up all of ‘my’ veterans whose stories I type. I’m curious about them. I’ve been able to find some of them and look at their pictures and their funeral notices. It helps with spellings, too. I grew up as a military ‘brat’ for 20 years. My father was in the Air Force for five years, got out, didn’t like it, and went in the Navy for 15 more years, then retired. I lived on many military bases, so, to me, they are family. I love our veterans. Every single one of them are willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom. I’m so blessed to be able to give something back by typing their stories and preserving their history.

“I really enjoy the WWI, WWII, and Korean War stories. I had an uncle who was in WWII and the Korean War. He was never the same when he came back. I was shocked at how bad our men had it in the Korean War. One gentleman told of a time when they were hemmed in by the enemy and were starving and our planes dropped frozen steaks and chocolate bars down to them. I typed one story of a pilot in WWII that was stationed in France. He was so young, but he just went all over the place in Europe. He loved it. Another gentleman was on ships in the Pacific during WWII, and he told of how they eluded the enemy boats, running around the outer islands and the coast of Australia, going to the Philippines. As I listen to their stories, I laugh sometimes and I cry sometimes, but all of them stay with me.

“I love history, have always loved history, and I think it should be told by the people who were there and preserved for future generations. These men and women sacrificed so much, so much. I love hearing their life stories.”

Linda S. Blackburn, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and CART captioner in Lakeland, Fla.

When Hong Kong became part of China again

By Robin Nodland

One of the most unusual jobs that I did was captioning for the International Channel as they live-broadcasted the turnover of Hong Kong back to China from Great Britain.  Because of the time zone difference, this was done in the wee hours of the morning of June 30/July 1, 1997. My friend and business partner, Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and I tag-teamed the broadcast, sleeping in between shifts. We sat in Carol’s living room with an audio feed of a team of interpreters translating from Mandarin to English, watching the live broadcast on the International Channel on cable TV. 

Carol is awesome and has many contacts in the captioning community, which led to her being contacted for this job.  Over the years she has generously shared these unusual jobs with me. Or, another way of putting it, has roped me in.

We knew from the start this would be different due to the historical significance of the event.  There was torrential rain throughout the ceremony, and Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair, playing their key parts, were getting drenched, rivulets running down their faces. The Chinese strategically placed them on the stage without a roof to protect them. 

At one point the team of interpreters must have forgot they were translating for us, the captioners, because they began to talk amongst themselves about the politics of this historic change and their suspicions that the Chinese would not honor the agreements they made with Britain. There was a moment when my hands hovered over my steno keyboard as I asked myself: “Do I actually write that?” Yep, I did. 

Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner based in Portland, Ore. She can be reached at rnodland@lnscourtreporting.com.

The world isn’t all transcripts and captions

By Debbie Dibble

Donny Osmond and Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC

I had a deposition one day of a very distinct indi­vidual, a man named Dan Clark. As he testified, it was obvious he was a remarkable man of intelli­gence and integrity, but then he did the unforgiv­able: He left with my exhibits. When I realized, I was appropriately horrified and ran down the hall to try to intercept him at the elevator. Risking my life running at breakneck speed in a dress and high heels, I made it to the elevator, but I was too late. The foyer was empty. I immediately tapped into the inner detective all court reporters possess, searched online, and found a cell phone for him. It rang through to voicemail. I was sick to my stomach at this point!

A few hours later I received a call from the very repentant exhibit thief, only to hear this doomsday scenario: He had rushed home, grabbed his bags, and left for the airport. He was leaving the country — but luckily not with my exhibits. Then the unthinkable happened. He gave me the address to his house, told me where the hide-a-key was, gave me his security system passcode, mapped directions through his house to his office, and provided the lock code to his desk drawer wherein my precious exhibits were hiding.

A few months later at the NCRA Convention, I sat unsuspecting in the audience when the keynote speaker was announced: Dan Clark. I sat straight up in my seat. I wondered if he would remember me. I had planned to wait until after the presentation to reintroduce myself, but I didn’t have to wait that long because, sure enough, he told the story of “his court reporter.”

From this inauspicious beginning blossomed a new friendship that turned into a remarkable new opportunity … for us both.

Debbie Dibble and David Archuleta

Not long after that reconnection I received a desperate call from Dan. He shared with me that he spends a great deal of his time working with ce­lebrities to develop speaking presentations, write songs, books, even movies. He said he records the interviews and then types them up himself. It was a long and laborious process. And then a brilliant idea popped into his mind: Why am I doing this when I have a great friend, Debbie Dibble, who is a court reporter who can write like the wind? He called and asked me to transcribe his tapes. While I was excited and thrilled to help my friend, we all know how difficult it is to transcribe recordings. I shared with him how much easier it is to take the testimony live. I of­fered to be completely invisible if he would let me attend his brainstorming sessions. He was thrilled with the prospect, and the next opportunity came when he was spending the afternoon with David Archuleta, singer, songwriter, and American Idol!

I arrived and set up in the corner, explaining to them both that I realized they needed to have an emotional connection as they shared intimate de­tails of their lives, and I didn’t want to obstruct their flow. They objected. They wanted me in the middle. Really? Yup. They said they wanted to talk to me. Why? Because I was a fresh canvas. They knew each other’s stories and histories. They wanted to see how I reacted. They wanted my feedback. They wanted me to ask questions, a truly strange circumstance for those of us who are always seen but not heard. What an amazing experience it was to participate in this wonderful sharing of stories and feelings and life events with such a remarka­ble young man. Some months later, David sent me a CD with a thank-you note and indicated which songs came from our brainstorming session.

As I became more experienced with this pro­cess, Dan’s confidence grew in my abilities and my willingness to participate in his pet projects. I got another call. He said Donny Osmond, singer, song­writer, television celebrity, and Las Vegas headliner, needs some help. Here’s his cell number. Call him, find a date you’re both available, go to his house and visit with him, and then send it to me. Really? Now you want me to do all the work? Of course I will!

Scott Mitchell and Debbie Dibble

And then came Scott Mitchell, former quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals. I spent eight hours with him and his publisher, just listen­ing, writing, and enjoying the intimacy of his stories which later became his book Alive Again: The Biggest Loser Contestant and Former NFL Quarterback Shares His Intriguing Journey.

These interviews have absolutely been a highlight of my career. I can’t wait for the next chance to spend person­al time with incredible people, learning from them and about them. This is just one example of the potential experiences that abound in our profession. We go places most people can only dream of, seize upon opportunities most will never be offered, and the rewards are unprecedented. Keep practicing and improv­ing and always keep your eyes peeled for new and inventive ways to use your skills. Adventures abound! Go find them!

Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and captioner based in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as NCRA’s Vice President. In addition to the NCRA certifications listed above, she has earned NCRA’s Realtime System Administrator certification and the state certified shorthand reporter credentials for Utah, California, Nevada, and Texas. She can be reached at ddib06@gmail.com.

Reporting a PGA Golf Tournament

Deborah Kriegshauser with Hale Irwin.

NCRA member Deborah Kriegshauser, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, shares a memory of one of her most unusual jobs.

JCR | When and where was the job?

DK | I was asked to caption media interviews of the Senior PGA Golf Tournament players at the Boone Valley (Members Only) Golf Course in Augusta, Mo., in 2000.

JCR | What made the job unique?

DK | It was literally the middle of nowhere. They couldn’t find any freelancer who would accept the job as they were not wanting to pay in cash but, instead, provide four tournament passes to the four-day event, which included celebrity golf tournaments with the PGA players before the big tournament began. In doing so, I personally got to meet Arnold Palmer, along with Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Chi-Chi Rodríguez, and many big-name players. As they came off the golf course each day, they would be interviewed individually, and I would report the interview and provided instantaneous transcripts to the media folks for their use in their articles and TV programs. 

JCR | Did anything else make the job memorable?

Kriegshauser with golfer Larry Nelson

DK | I would be there until dark, but the family and friends who used my tournament passes ended up winning all these attendance ticket prizes that the sponsors were giving away. They were sometimes the only ones left in the area, waiting on me to get done. They walked away with Adirondack chairs, coolers, you name it. It was a pretty awesome experience.

I have a pole flag that all the PGA players signed. It is very special to me. I’ve been told it’s worth a lot of money, especially with all the players who have passed away, including Arnold Palmer.

Deborah Kriegshauser, FAPR, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, is an official reporter in Dallas, Texas.

Stenographers — we’re everywhere!

By Margary Rogers

The board of the Maryland Court Reporters Association proved that stenographers are everywhere on Feb. 15 during Court Reporting and Captioning Week. 

We promoted court reporting and stenography at the largest mall in the state of Maryland, Arundel Mills (owned by Simon Property Group), where around 5,000 shoppers visit on an average Saturday, and 291,667 shoppers visit each week.

I thought about doing a court reporting pop-up at Arundel Mills back in December 2019, but holidays got in the way.  Meanwhile, the MCRA had a board meeting Feb. 1, and we were brainstorming 2020 events and activities. The board consists of President Valerie Dawson, RMR, an official reporter in Salisbury, Md.; President-elect Ronda Thomas, RPR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Catonsville, Md.; Treasurer David Dawson, RPR (Ret.); Secretary Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, an official court reporter in Washington, D.C.; and Board Member Cindy Davis, RPR, an official court reporter from Annapolis, Md.

We talked about Court Reporting & Captioning Week, Feb. 8-15, and discussed events that could be done quickly and effectively to promote the profession. We knew we only had two weeks to plan, so schools and job fairs were not available within that two-week time frame. 

So how could we make the most impact in a short time frame and in the presence of many people?

I mentioned promoting the profession at Arundel Mills Mall, an outlet mall.  The board agreed and thought it would be a great place to promote the profession where young people love to go and usually parents are in tow.  We, along with other court reporter volunteers, set up tables, handed out flyers, and provided realtime demonstrations to mall shoppers.

Ronda Thomas and I spearheaded the event. Ronda downloaded and printed NCRA career flyers and posters from the NCRA Resources online page, and I contacted the managers at Arundel Mills Mall. The mall managers were briefed on the profession of court reporting and about Court Reporting & Captioning Week. All relevant information, flyers, layout of the steno machine, and demonstration displays were provided to mall management.

The mall managers knew MCRA’s mission, and they were more than accommodating. They said “Yes, you can set up and promote your profession in the mall.” They gave MCRA three location options to host their event, and MCRA strategically decided on the food court, aka the Dining Pavilion, because this would be an area where shoppers would most likely be sitting down or walking slowly, making it easier for the court reporter volunteers to communicate with shoppers. The Dining Pavilion was also one of the entrances to the mall that was less crowded with walking individuals. (MCRA members were very cognizant of expensive steno machines and having enough safety space.)

 On Feb. 5 after the mall management said yes to setting up to promote the profession, they also said, “Just send us over your certificate of insurance, and you will be all set.” I immediately contacted the MCRA president and said, “We need a certificate of insurance to set up in the mall.” MCRA President Valerie Dawson and Treasurer David Dawson came to the rescue. They stepped in and contacted MCRA’s insurance company. After hours and days of being on the telephone with the insurance company and mall management, Valerie and David made sure we had the correct amount of insurance needed to set up in the mall. It was a small yearly amount, and MCRA has the insurance to use for a year in that mall and other malls in the DMV area.

The MCRA president, Valerie Dawson, made sure the event was advertised to all Maryland court reporters that MCRA had emails for and asked for support and volunteers. Ronda and I also were able to secure volunteers.  The court reporting volunteers were Juanita Price; Michelle Houston, RPR, a CART captioner in Brandywine, Md.; Roz DiBartolo; Susan Wootton, RPR, a freelance reporter in Brooklandville, Md.; and Dan Williams, RPR, a freelance reporter in Baltimore, Md.  Steno machine/realtime demonstrations were done by Susan Liebrecht, RPR, a freelance reporter in Eldersburg, Md.; Ronda Thomas; and me. There were also other court reporters that stopped by to lend their support, Marian Calhoun and Mary Ann Payonk.

The event was a success! There were many passersby. Our new court reporting prospects were teenagers and young adults interested in the steno machine, a career-oriented occupation, realtime and coding. Some words that were used to catch the attention of the patrons were “coding, career, flexible working schedules, working from home, income, closed captioning, and the free six- to eight-week NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program.”

The reactions from some reporters were, “Wow, how were you able to pull this off?” or “We should try the same thing in our association.”

The mall patrons were curious, often doing double-takes as they were walking by.  They were turning around to see what that little machine was. Their reactions were, “Wow, we’ve never seen anything like this set up in a mall before. What are you typing? How do I learn more about it for myself or my child?” There was one shopper who was interested in stenography when she retires. She was interested in captioning from home.

MCRA handed out more than 50 NCRA career flyers, connected with about 25 people and directed those interested people to the Discover Steno web page to sign up for an A to Z program.

Now that we have insurance set up, we have more opportunities to promote the profession in many different venues. Other places of interest to promote the profession are museums, MGM National Harbor Food Court, grocery stores, schools, and department stores like Wal-Mart and Target. We are thinking about hosting Promote Our Profession pop-ups at least three more times this year.  

Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, is an official court reporter in Washington, D.C.

Chabad Lubavitch captioning assignment

By Rivka Teich

On Sunday, Nov. 24, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I did my very first closed captioning event.

Let me give you some background. My name is Rivka Teich, and I am an Orthodox Jewish court reporter. As a matter of fact, I am the only Orthodox Federal reporter in the country. I’ve been a court reporter for the last 20+ years, with nearly all of those years in Federal court. I’m currently in Brooklyn, Eastern District of New York. I do realtime every day and hold NCRA’s Registered Merit Reporter and a realtime certificate. I’m comfortable and confident in my work every day.

The event I captioned was the Gala Banquet put on by Chabad Lubavitch headquarters. Chabad Lubavitch is one of the largest global Jewish organizations. They have emissaries (rabbis and their families) who are in all parts of the world, including more than 100 countries and in every state in the United States. These rabbis create a Jewish community and atmosphere, providing Jewish activities and classes, establishing schools, and providing kosher food. The list could go on and on.

And once a year all of these rabbis, more than 5,000, come back to their base (Crown Heights, Brooklyn) for a long weekend of classes, seminars, and encouragement from one another. And at the end of the weekend, on Sunday, they have a beautiful, uplifting Gala Banquet. At this banquet, all the rabbis join, many bringing their friends and people from their community along, raising the attendance to close to 6,000 people, making it the largest rabbinical conference in the world.

Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff with Rivka Teich

One of those 5,000 rabbis is Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff. And he is deaf. Soudakoff is originally from California and currently lives in Israel with his wife, Cheftziba, who is also deaf. Together they run the Chabad for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in Rishon L’tzion. The name of their organization is Chushima, which is a reference to the Biblical figure, Chushim Ben Dan, who was deaf; additionally, the word Chushim in Hebrew means senses.

For Soudakoff to fully participate and enjoy the evening with his fellow rabbis, the CART was displayed on the screens around the exposition hall. The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative funded the closed captioning and helped guide these efforts for the past five years. In addition to the screens in the room for the 6,000 people to watch, it was also being broadcast live on the internet for those watching at home (100,000+ people) with closed captioning.

This was a big deal. And it was not simple to hire just any CART captioner, because about 40 percent of the words were not in English. They were a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish and a slew of phrases and words that are commonly spoken between Orthodox Jews. The reporter had to be someone familiar with that lexicon and ready for it. So that definitely narrows down the pool.

In the past another reporter, Rikki Woonteiler of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is a CART captioner, did the captioning. But she was out of the country, and so the organizers reached out to me.

I strongly believe that you need to keep challenging yourself and improving. Yes, it’s nice to float along and to be comfortable in your work, but not too comfortable. And that was how I was starting to feel day to day at work, too comfortable. Give me a narcotics trial, a securities fraud trial, a terrorist trial — and I got it! But this was a whole new territory for me with words and phrases that I hardly hear or write at work.

So, naturally, I accepted. Now came the hard work.

I was given most of the speeches ahead of time. And so I wrote them, and wrote them, and wrote them again. Over and over and over again. I also went back to previous banquets online and practiced past speeches. I put more than 700 words into my case-specific dictionary. I was definitely doing my homework and being as prepared as can be.

In addition to the physical practicing, I had to figure out my software and work with the IT people at the convention to change over from court reporting software to captioning software. That was a whole new world for me, too. That took time. And there was a lot of trial and error. Of course, I did not wait until game day, and it all went smooth when we hooked up at the event.

Yes, I had the speeches, but – spoiler alert – most people did not stay on script. As a matter of fact, there was an entire Q&A before the evening of an interviewer going around the room and asking participants where they are from and some questions.

There was a lot of quick thinking. Realizing I didn’t have a specific name in my dictionary, I had to finger spell it. And these are not “John Smith” names, but rather “Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Jenkelowitz from Krgyzstan.” That was fun!

Plus if a Hebrew word or phrase was said that I hadn’t prepared for, I would write the English of it instead. So it wasn’t just hearing words and writing them. There was a lot of analyzing going on all at the same time.

Right before we started, Soudakoff came over to me with his ASL interpreter to thank me. That was so special. That was a clear reminder of why the closed captioning was so important. As Soudakoff said on social media: “Accessibility is not just for those who need it. Accessibility brings together an entire community and includes all of its members. That’s why I’m thrilled that the captioning won’t just be in front of me at the Chabad Emissaries Gala Banquet I’m attending tonight. It will be on the screens around the room – sending a message of community-wide inclusion and unity.”

Was I nervous? Yes, yes, yes. It was all so new compared to what I’m used to and confident at. But in the end, that was the biggest accomplishment for me: I put myself out there and I did it. And I did it well. I have been thinking of moving into the closed captioning world but hadn’t done it ever; and now I jumped in with two feet, in the deep end. And I made it!

My take-away is: Go out of your comfort zone. Put yourself out there. Take a leap of faith. It will be uncomfortable, but you’ll gain the confidence that you did it.

Rivka Teich, RMR, is an official court reporter in Brooklyn, N.Y.

New York Times reaches out to stenographers for DealBook Conference

Patricia Bidonde, RPR, far right

By Heidi Renner

The New York Times recently hired two NCRA members for a unique job with their DealBook Conference, where a group of innovative thinkers and business leaders took the stage for a day with Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. As Patricia Bidonde, RPR, from Westbury, N.Y., explains: “The New York Times wanted the task force attendees to speak freely, so they didn’t want cameras and microphones in the room. Yet they wanted a verbatim transcript, so the reporters could write their stories. It was important for the speakers to be identified, and what they said to be accurate. They contacted a transcription company, and the company told them, ‘It sounds like you need a stenographer.’”

The newspaper searched online and found Bidonde. She told them she could do it as long as the moderator made sure everyone spoke one at a time and everyone was seated at the same table so she could hear well. She also told them she would need to get into the room an hour early.

“They were very happy to accommodate us because they were just as interested in having an accurate transcript as I was,” Bidonde said.  

Bidonde was told they would need two stenographers because there would be simultaneous sessions in two different rooms.  

Rich Germosen, far right

“Of course, the first person who came to mind was Rich Germosen,” Bidonde said. “He graciously agreed.” Bidonde covered sessions entitled “How Big Should Big Tech Be?” and “Corporations and the Second Amendment” while Germosen covered “U.S.-China Relations – The Next 20 Years.”  

Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, of North Brunswick, N.J., said this job was unique.

“This assignment was extremely different from the type of litigation I normally report, which is a lot of patent and pharmaceutical litigation. The U.S.-China discussion was interesting to report. One thing that stood out to me was that China is graduating four or five times as many engineers in comparison to the United States.”  

Bidonde said there were very well-known figures in both rooms including Steve Bannon; Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook; and Manuel Oliver, a father of a victim of the Parkland shooting.

“Most of the participants came around and shook hands with everyone, myself included,” Germosen said. “The most notable name was Stephen K. Bannon, former White House chief strategist and senior counsel.”

Bidonde said the experience was pleasant. 

“The final transcripts were delivered the next morning,” she said. “The New York Times expressed they were happy with our professionalism and will keep us in mind if they have need of our services in the future. I would love to do it again.”

Germosen agreed that it was a good experience.

“I was happy that the New York Times reached out to Tricia to cover this assignment,” he said. “Stenographers do not just cover depositions, court hearings, and arbitrations. We are able to capture the spoken word in just about any given situation. The record that we create using our 10 fingers will be around and available long after we are gone. I think that is one of the coolest things about stenography/court reporting.”

Here are the stories that came from those sessions:

New experience for California court reporter

An example of Columbini’s work from the trial.

Joan Columbini, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Walnut Creek, Calif., recently had a first-time reporting experience.

She was working with a trial witness who could only communicate with her eyes. The woman’s aide would hold something showing rows of letters. The aide would say each letter until the woman signaled by looking up that it was the correct letter. In this way, they put words together.

Columbini said some answers took three pages for her to put a sentence together.

No one in the court had experienced this before either, Columbini said. She had to decide the best way to write what was happening.

She asked herself how to proceed since this process was different than the usual way to work with an interpreter. She decided to report everything verbatim.

Columbini said once she figured out how she was going to write, “it was not hard at all to report, I briefed everything.”

“If I was a new reporter, I would have freaked out,” she said. “Having been a reporter for so long, I just handled it.”

Columbini was a freelance reporter for more than 20 years before she became a reporter in Federal Court for 13 years. After retiring from there, she is now freelancing again.

If she was in this situation again, Columbini said she would probably try to sit down with the judge and other parties and explain what it would look like in a transcript. Possibly they could have treated the aide like an interpreter and just put the finished product in the transcript.

Court reporting in the Army in Vietnam

NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh
NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh

By Mervin Vaughn 

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) presented the 2019 Santo J. Aurelio Award to Mervin E. Vaughn, RPR, from Runnels, Iowa, at this year’s 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo. He recently shared with the JCR Weekly details about his years of service as a reporter in Vietnam.

Having completed my court reporting courses and passed the CSR test, I was ready to begin my career.  Classes were completed in November 1965.  Since the Vietnam War was going full swing, I knew I would be called sometime.  However, my notice didn’t come right away so I freelanced wherever I could pick up work and finally bought a new car to get around the state in.  The car purchase was a Saturday, and my draft notice came the following Monday.  Fortunately, I was able to pick up just enough work before having to report for duty to pay off the car and then store it in a garage for 2 years.

Basic was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  This was a time when the draft decided to call up those getting older before they hit the age to not be called, so I was in with several college grads and older guys.  During basic they tested everyone to see what skills they had.  One of those tests was a typing test on a very old manual typewriter.  While I was going as fast as I could, I noticed a sergeant standing over my shoulder.  When the test was over, he asked what I wanted to be.  I informed him I had been a court reporter prior and would like to do that.  He sent me over to another building to see the staff there.  They wanted to know what I thought I was doing coming over there.  I informed them that the sergeant had sent me over.  They said that, if he had sent me, they had better see why because he never sends anyone over.  Apparently, my typing skills impressed him.  Basic was completed and everyone was being informed where they would next report and what their MOS (military job) would be.  The company clerk informed me I would be a 71E20 and was being assigned to Fort Hood, Texas.  He said he didn’t know what a 71E20 was but he would look it up.  Lo and behold, it was a court reporter.  I was thrilled that the Army was putting me in a position that I was already trained for.

After a short leave home, I enjoyed a long bus ride to Fort Hood.  Fort Hood is an armored divisions fort, so we had tanks, etc., running around.  After getting settled into my new position, everything was going well.  There was one other civilian court reporter already in the office, so we would share the trials as they came along.  As well as being a court reporter, you were required to participate in calisthenics each morning and pull KP duty when assigned.  The barracks were to be maintained in inspection mode at all times also.  This required beds to be made so a half dollar would bounce on them and the floors polished to a high shine.  The floors were concrete, so it took some doing to get a shine on them.  Being an armored division, the floors were dyed red and then wax applied and buffed daily.

One day I was called in and told I was to report to a general at North Fort Hood for a special assignment.  Reporting to a general was out of the ordinary for a lowly private second class.  I was picked up and taken to North Fort Hood.  That is where the National Guard did their summer training.  I reported to the general and was informed that a soldier had been killed and there was going to be a special investigation into his death, and I would be reporting the proceedings.  The general was very nice and appreciative that I was there. 

After reporting the investigation, it was quite late.  The general told his staff to take me to the mess hall and feed me even though it was closed.   When we walked in, the mess sergeant demanded to know what we were doing coming in.  Once he was informed the general had sent me there to be fed, he became very accommodating.  After eating, the staff said they would drive me back to my billets.  I mentioned that the general had said they might fly me in his chopper back, so they did and landed right beside my barracks.  The other guys in the barracks thought someone important was coming in since it was the general’s personal chopper landing.  Were they ever surprised when this lowly court reporter stepped off.  The general later wrote a commendation letter to me in appreciation for my services.

Life then went back to the regular courts-martial cases for a while.  It was just before Christmas in 1965, and I was eating in the mess hall when another soldier stopped at my table and looked at my name tag.  I knew where he worked and asked him what he was doing.  He informed me my name had come down on orders that morning to go to Vietnam.  Needless to say, my lunch never got finished.

I reported back to my office and informed the colonel in charge that I would be leaving apparently.  He became very upset and said he would see about that.  About this time there had been a very young man murdered off base by a soldier.  The other court reporter said she would not report the case because it could carry the death penalty.  The case was referred to the military by the local authorities because Texas at that time did not have the death penalty.  The colonel went to the base commanding general to see if he could get my orders cancelled.  The base commander informed him he could not cancel them, but he could delay them for 90 days and no one could touch me during that time.  This gave enough time for me to report the murder case and get it transcribed.  Once it was completed, I was allowed to take a two-week leave home before shipping out to Vietnam.

After my leave, I reported to San Diego for processing to Nam.  During this time the military was using commercial jets as well as ships to transport guys going to Nam.  After processing, we were loaded onto buses and sent to the airport.  Come to find out, they had no plane scheduled for us when we got there.  The military proceeded to inform the airlines that they would unload the plane currently sitting on the tarmac and load us on instead.  They had some very unhappy customers when they were informed their plane had been taken for us.  We were in no hurry personally.

We landed in Hawaii to refuel but were not allowed to leave the plane.  We also landed in Guam for refueling.  Then we arrived in Nam.  Stepping off the plane, I thought we had landed near the dump because it smelled so bad.  Sure different than the fresh air of Iowa. 

After processing, I was then assigned to a signal outfit.  Once arriving there, they determined that they had no need for a court reporter but needed a legal clerk.  Hence, I took over the duties of a legal clerk, which involved helping soldiers that were encountering legal problems back home with their spouses or financial institutions.  This also involved pulling guard duty at night sometimes.  Since my typing skills were beyond the other clerks, I was given the assignment of typing papers that could not have any mistakes on them.  If you mistyped, you had to start over.  We only had manual typewriters again.  Everything must be in multiple copies also, so there was carbon paper to deal with.  Copy machines did not exist then.

After about six months as legal clerk, the JAG (military legal office) discovered I was a court reporter and had me immediately transferred to them.  Once again, I was reporting general courts-martial.  In the military everything is transcribed and reviewed higher up.  They needed five copies.  The transcripts were on legal-size paper and single spaced.  There was no transcript fee either.  Using a manual typewriter and cutting five copies required real pressure on the key stroking.  As a result, I was a pounder on my steno machine forever. 

Being a court reporter, no one understood how you could capture everything that was being said.  I think it brought some respect as a result.  Other duties were still required outside the JAG office, such as guard duty and latrine duty, until you attained a certain rank.  After attaining that higher rank, your name was removed from those duties. 

Once again, during this time, I was required to report a murder one case.  A soldier had killed another soldier during a fight.  In both of the murder one cases, the defendants were found guilty and given life sentences.  If they had received the death penalty, the transcript would have gone to the president because he has to approve such sentence.

One day in the mess hall, I saw that they had wheat bread for a change.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered the wheat in the bread also had legs.  We were lucky, though, because we at least had a mess hall and a hooch to sleep in.  A hooch was a frame building covered in screen wire with a tin roof and was surrounded by a sandbag wall to protect from incoming fire.  Bathroom facilities consisted of a multi-hole outhouse with half of a 50-gallon barrel beneath each hole.  When you were assigned latrine duty, it was your job to pull the barrels very carefully with their contents and replace with an empty barrel.  You then carried the removed barrel to a location away from the buildings and poured diesel fuel into the barrel and burned the waste.  Luckily, you did not draw that duty too often.  Showers were in rough-framed wooden buildings with an overhead tank.  You tried to take your shower after the sun had warmed the water in the tank.  Each floor of the hooch contained approximately 20 soldiers.  The beds were covered with mosquito netting and you were required to take pills to help prevent malaria.  When the monsoons were going, your clothes would mold even though they were inside.  The poor guys in the field would have their clothes rot while wearing them.  Being a court reporter probably saved my life because at that time they were sending almost everyone to the field, including college grads, etc.

About 30 days before my time was up, I, along with two captain lawyers, were assigned to be flown by chopper into a special forces camp to investigate a possible war crimes situation.   We had to fly in because the roads were controlled by the Vietcong.  We were not overly excited about that assignment, but all went well and we were back to our home base before nightfall.

As the time approached for my departure, I was asked if I would be interested in reenlisting.  After declining, they then asked if I would like to go home and be discharged and then come back as a civilian in the same position.  This I also respectfully declined as I had a job waiting for me back home as well as a fiancée.  In exactly one year, I left Nam for good old Iowa.  The rest is history.