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.

Making the most of realtime transcription

Law Technology Today posted an article on July 22 that was authored by NCRA member Rosalie Kramm, RPR, CRR, San Diego, Calif., who offered attorneys tips for making the most of realtime transcriptions.

Read more.

NCRA member gets investor for online system for court reporters

NCRA member Lauren Lawrence welcomed her first outside investor to her tech startup, Stenovate, according to the July 5 Startland, a news site that reports on Kansas City innovators. Stenovate is billed to be an online platform for court reporters, scopists, and proofreaders that simplifies organization and collaboration.

Read more.

A first for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival: Captioning

Anissa Nierenberger

Katharine and Petruchio’s story was available in a different way for the first time at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival recently. NCRA member Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, Boise, Idaho, provided captions for the first captioned performance in the history of the festival. The June 18 show was Taming of the Shrew. Nierenberger owns a captioning company in Boise called Captionique.  

The audience could access the captions on mobile devices through a captioning streaming program called 1CapApp.

We asked Nierenberger a few questions about the experience.

JCR | Where was the performance?

AN |The Idaho Shakespeare Festival takes place in Boise, Idaho, from Memorial Day weekend in May through the end of September and features five different plays. The festival takes place in a 770-seat, outdoor state-of-the-art facility. It operates under an agreement with the Idaho Foundation for Parks & Lands and the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation. Boise has more than 100 parks.

JCR | How did you get the job?

AN | Idaho is gradually implementing captioning in venues where it’s been commonplace for many years in other parts of the country. I’m happy that I moved here from Michigan two years ago and have been able to introduce captioning to deaf and hard-of-hearing Idahoans who need services.

JCR | What are the challenges in captioning Shakespeare?

 AN |There’s no inside space for me to set up to caption so my captioning nest was outside in the tower on the third floor. It’s an interesting journey up very narrow stairways and a top-opening door.  

 JCR |Would you like to do it again?

AN |Yes, I would caption at ISF again and will! Their patrons loved the first night of captioning. And the view of the foothills is breathtaking.

 JCR | Do you have any advice for other captioners?

AN | Reporters and captioners, the world is your oyster. If you dedicate time to your realtime skills, dictionary building, and passing certification tests, opportunities will present themselves. If you build it, it will come.  This year marks my 27th year as a captioner. I’m thankful for this amazing job that has brought opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed up.  

A most unique situation to report

Photo by the Hon. Melba Marsh

Earlier this month, NCRA member Taleesa Smith, RPR, an official court reporter from Hamilton County, Ohio, found herself reporting a sentencing proceeding from outside of an ambulance.

“This was the most unique situation for me as a court reporter,” said Smith, who has been an official court reporter since 1997.

“When I went to court that morning, the bailiff told me we were taking a plea outside in the ambulance because the defendant was not able to come up to the courtroom in the elevator because he was a very large man and very ill with oxygen and had trouble breathing,” she said.

Turns out, Smith was the official court reporter for a case that made national news. The case was that of a 600-pound drug dealer who was being sentenced after pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking and being a felon in possession of a gun. Because of his size and health-related condition, the proceeding took place in an ambulance since he could not be moved into the courthouse.

Because of the defendant’s size, there was no room in the ambulance for Smith to set up her machine, she said.

“It was raining that day. I extended the tripod as far as I could, and I stood at the back of the ambulance. The judge was halfway in and halfway out of the ambulance. The bailiff and EMT personnel held umbrellas over me so my steno machine would not get wet,” Smith explained.

“It was very noisy because of the rain and because the engine was still running on the ambulance. It was just a simple plea and sentencing,” she added.

Smith said she was very pleased at how the presiding judge took his time with the defendant, asking him if there was anything he needed or if he needed water.

“The defendant, when asked if he had anything he wanted to say, just muttered, ‘my throat.’ He was able to answer all the questions with a yes or no, but that was all,” Smith added.  

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.

The benefits of pro bono work

Lisa Migliore Black

By Lisa Migliore Black

The call from the out-of-state attorney seemed much like any other. “We’ll need a court reporter and videographer to cover a deposition. Are you available?” But this call turned unusual.

After obtaining the scheduling information, the next question was, “Do you do pro bono work?”

Now, I’ve done pro bono work before for select parties who couldn’t afford our services, for the Veterans History Project, even offering our services on immigration cases for which our existing clients were providing their legal services free of charge. My only hesitancy here was the lack of knowledge of this particular firm, the case at hand, or any of their history with pro bono work. This left me wondering if I would be agreeing to help promote a noble cause, aid someone truly indigent in seeking justice, or just stupidly discounting our services. Hesitantly, I said, “Yes.”

I provided the caller with a summary of our state association’s guidelines for pro bono work. In part, the pro bono guidelines state, “A volunteer reporter will provide 50 pages of transcript at no charge. All subsequent pages will be billed at the reporter’s regular page rate unless the reporter waives this fee or negotiates a discounted page rate.” The client happily agreed, and the first deposition date was set.

On the eve of the deposition, the reporter assigned to cover the case did a bit of research to prepare for the following day’s proceedings. The search of the case style, “State of Florida v. Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin,” resulted interesting details about the case. Aguirre was serving a sentence on Florida’s death row for the murder of his neighbors Cheryl Williams and Carole Bareis, and his team of lawyers was seeking to have his conviction overturned.

“On the morning of June 17, 2004, Aguirre found the bodies of Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis, in their trailer home. They had been stabbed dozens of times. Distressed by the violent scene, Aguirre checked the victims to see if they were still breathing, at which point he got the victims’ blood on his clothing. Realizing they were dead, Aguirre picked up a knife that was near Williams’ body, fearful that the perpetrator was still present, but then panicked, throwing the knife into the yard and returning to his neighboring trailer.

“When questioned by the police, Aguirre initially reported that he knew nothing about the murders; at that time, Aguirre was an immigrant from Honduras with no criminal history but feared deportation from the United States. Later that same day, however, he asked to speak to police again and voluntarily disclosed that he’d been in the trailer earlier that morning and discovered the bodies. The officers arrested him that day and charged him with evidence tampering. He remained a person of interest and was held without bond until he was charged 10 days later with the double murders. Aguirre had no previous criminal history.”

Our witness was to be Samantha Williams, the daughter and granddaughter of the victims. Williams did not appear for the first date scheduled, but ultimately the deposition did proceed. The attorney who hired us represented Aguirre through the Innocence Project, a volunteer organization whose mission is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and seek justice reform, a mission near and dear to my heart.

Because I am a videographer, court reporter, and firm owner, I was able to pay the reporter in full, donate my time as the videographer, and heavily discount the remaining charges to about one-fourth of the usual cost. The payoff for me, other than the gratification of doing the right thing? Approximately nine months later, our office learned of Mr. Aguirre’s exoneration.

The pro bono work I’ve done has proven to be some of the most interesting and personally rewarding work of my career. This case was no exception. We applaud the efforts of the Innocence Project and take great pride in the role we were able to play in our justice system.

Lisa Migliore Black is a freelance reporter and owner of Migliore & Associates, based in Louisville, Ky. She can be reached at Lisacr99@hotmail.com.

Mixing business with pleasure: Working in an RV

NCRA member Lisa Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, casts off ties in Melbourne, Fla., every year to travel across the United States with her husband. Rather than forgo her usual work
as a broadcast and CART captioner, she set herself up to caption from wherever she and her husband parked the RV. Mixing business with pleasure was just right for the two of them.

Johnston spoke to JCR Contributing Editor Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, about the journey and all the stops in between.

BAKER | How long was the planning process to make sure you had all the work equipment you needed, as well as possible back-ups?

JOHNSTON | I packed all my equipment as if I were going to an event to work onsite. I have two laptops, two writers, two realtime cables, headphones, etc. Over the years, I have developed a checklist to make sure I have everything before I leave. I also bring the huge notebook of prep I have accumulated over the years. I travel a lot with work, and so, by now, I know what I need.

BAKER | Did you forget anything or wish you had brought something?

JOHNSTON | No, I haven’t forgotten anything yet — hopefully, I won’t ever forget something! I’m not too proud to admit that I now and will always use a checklist to make sure I have everything I need.

BAKER | Was all of your work strictly through the internet, sending data as well as audio?

JOHNSTON | I do remote CART captioning while traveling in our RV using the internet. I have two wireless routers that act as mobile WiFi hotspots, one with Verizon and one with AT&T; and both work really well. In certain parts of the country, one wireless provider may give me a stronger signal than the other, so I use what I feel gives me the most internet strength at that location.

I get my audio by dialing in using my cell phone. I have also used Skype for audio in the past as well. That can be iffy at times, so I always do some testing before an event starts.

BAKER | Any glitches along the way?

JOHNSTON | When I first started this journey of traveling on the road and CART captioning, before there were cell towers everywhere, I had to take my wireless hotspot and check the strength where the RV was “docked,” and if I had bad reception, I would get in my car and drive and see where the strongest service was. Many times, I’ve had to write on my machine, with the laptop on the seat next to me in the back seat of my car (we have a car we bring on our trips, which we tow behind our RV). I’ve been in Nowhere, U.S.A., in some unique locations sitting in my car taking down an assignment! Fun times!

Cell towers are the norm nowadays, so I don’t have to necessarily always be in a “big city” like I used to be to find a strong internet signal strength. I now can get good internet service most anywhere, thank goodness!

BAKER | Are your clients aware of your traveling, or has it been that they haven’t noticed a difference at all?

JOHNSTON | I strive to provide my clients with seamless captioning services and have been able to do so successfully for many years. As long as they are receiving the product they need, they are happy. I provide only CART captioning while on the road; no broadcast captioning which may use a landline and encoders.

I hope my reputation speaks for itself. If I am requested to support someone who needs communication access, I will go out of my way to accommodate. I have been in this profession for 34 years now, I love what I do every single day, and I hope that shows. If I can leave a person or situation and they have a smile on their face, then I’m happy and I’ve done my job successfully!

BAKER | I’m “assuming” your husband was not driving at the time you were working?

JOHNSTON | No way do I work while my husband is driving down the road. First off, it’s not very comfortable doing it that way for me, as not all roads in the U.S. are nice terrain and can get very bouncy and unstable. So, if we’re driving to a destination and I need to stop to take a job, we will pull into a rest area or at a truck stop/gas station and that works well for me. My husband is my fabulous support staff!

BAKER | Was there a particular goal for your travels?

JOHNSTON | We have no goals in our yearly travels. One year we head northeast to Maine, with many stops along the way, and the next year we head somewhere west (last year was Washington state; most years to California) with many stops along the way. We’ve been from one end of Canada to the other. We’ve been to all 50 states, and 49 traveling in our RV. Maine is one of our favorite states, so every other year we enjoy traveling up Maine’s coast and enjoying some lobster!

BAKER | Anything unexpected pop up that you didn’t plan on?

JOHNSTON | Nothing unexpected comes to mind right now. Pre-planning pays off!

BAKER | How many other colleagues were you able to visit on your travels?

JOHNSTON | In our travels across the beautiful United States, I try to reach out to some dear friends and colleagues when I know I will be nearby. In Flagstaff, Ariz., I had dinner with you and Lori Yeager Stavropoulos, RPR, CRR, CRC, and their spouses; in Mobile, Ala., spending time with Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Elliot Carter was such a treat and highlight; in Seattle, I just missed seeing Darlene Pickard, RDR, CRR, CRC, as she was out of state the week I was there. And I keep promising Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CRC, that we will make a trip to the San Diego area soon! Such good friends that I love seeing!

BAKER | Would you recommend this as a way to travel and work at the same time?

JOHNSTON | For me, this is the best of both worlds. I work a lot with clients who have meetings throughout the week. That is all I want to cover while I’m traveling, so while traveling on the road, I choose to work 2-3 days a week, which is perfect, because I can cover their meetings and yet still “play” and explore the areas my husband and I visit.

I choose to keep my workload light and not be constantly working, because I enjoy my time off sightseeing where we are traveling. We usually stay in a location a few days, so in that timeframe, we like to play tourists and see what the area has to show us, so I don’t want to always be inside working. But I love the flexibility to do what I want and work when I want!

BAKER | What have you seen on your travels that really stuck out for you?

JOHNSTON | We’d both always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, and the first time was such a treat. We love going to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Living an hour from Walt Disney World, I’d always wanted to see Disneyland in California, and that was fun to go to. Growing up in Florida with no seasons really, it’s been a treat for us to see the beauty of the United States. Fall is our favorite time to travel; seeing the leaves change their colors is breathtaking!

BAKER | Anything else you’d like to pass along to the readers?

JOHNSTON | My husband and I have been RV travelers for 15 years now and love every single minute of our adventures. Come join me! The United States is a great place to call your office!

Bringing captions to Coachella

Stan Sakai and Isaiah Roberts

By Heidi Renner

When Isaiah Roberts, RPR, Magnolia, Ill., thought he wrote the word lemon while captioning Ariana Grande’s performance at Coachella, he was a little concerned. Did she really say lemon? It turns out he was captioning the moment when someone in the crowd threw a lemon and hit Grande, which became a well-known moment at the music festival.

“I remembered writing lemon during Ariana’s performance and definitely thinking I misheard something,” he posted on Facebook. “Then my cab driver in LA today asked if I saw her get hit by the lemon, and instantly I felt a relief knowing why I did, in fact, write lemon followed by a bunch of expletives.”

Roberts and Stan Sakai, CRC, New York, N.Y., had the unique experience of captioning Coachella, an annual music festival in Indio, Calif. It is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. Then the next weekend they captioned Stagecoach, another music festival held in the same location. Roberts posted a video from Coachella that has been widely shared.

Roberts had looked at the ADA section of Coachella’s website and noticed it told people to reach out if they needed ASL or closed captioning. He sent an email asking if they offered captioning and who provided it? Coachella responded on a Monday saying they wanted to have a meeting to talk about it on Friday. Roberts called his friend Sakai, and they prepared for the meeting. Sakai had already built a website that allowed captioning to be accessed through an app. Sakai worked on making changes to his program to make it work with Coachella. Roberts said the two worked late into the night every night that week. They gave a demonstration Friday to the Coachella representatives over a video call.

“They were blown away,” Roberts said. The representatives recorded what they were seeing on the screen and then showed it to the festival directors. “We were on cloud nine,” Roberts said.

Sakai described it this way on Facebook: “After hundreds of hours of work, the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning systems are online and (nearly) ready to go! A five-server monstrosity spread across New York and California able to serve at peak 29,000 connections per minute, averaging 2,000 connections served per minute at saturation. This will be woven into their existing web and mobile platforms available to their 130,000 attendees, who will all be able to access the live captioning of mainstage performances right from their phones. As a team, Isaiah and I will be tag-teaming, between feeding out pre-scripted lyrics and live stenoing, handing off the baton depending on what’s thrown at us. And when people ask if technology will replace us, my answer to that is: no, we harness technology to keep us going!”

Because the captions were available through the festival app, they were available to everyone. All audience members were required to download the app to activate their wrist bands.

Isaiah Roberts

Roberts saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about court reporting and captioning.

“This is the thing I’m most excited about,” he said. “In trying to grow the profession, I speak to students, but does it really make the profession look appealing? Being at the major music festival really meant something.”

Rachel Meireis from Placentia, Calif., appreciated the captions. She had requested captioning at Stagecoach.

“I am late deafened,” Meireis said. “I lost my hearing in my 20s and wear bilateral cochlear implants to help me hear. But it can be iffy and makes it quite hard to know what’s going on at times. That situation gets complicated because I can sign but I am not fluent in ASL at all. Having access at the concert was amazing. I could keep up with what the performer said between songs and understand lyrics I have been hearing wrong on the radio. Having the captions stream to my phone was great too. It made me able to leave the ADA riser freely and move about the concert but still follow along. Stanley and Isaiah were so helpful and friendly though the whole process. I am very grateful they were able to make this work.”

Roberts said he had wondered who would be benefiting, and he was happy to meet Meireis. During Coachella there were 500 unique visitors viewing the captions. At Stagecoach, there were 400 on the first day. By the end of the weekend they had reached about 1,000 people.

“Hands down the best part was meeting Rachel and getting to meet a consumer of [the captioning],” Roberts said.

For the actual captioning, Roberts and Sakai would usually get a set list so they would look up lyrics ahead of time when possible. They had headphones directly hooked to the singer’s microphone. Sometimes the performer would start talking about other performers or the other people on stage with them, so Roberts and Sakai tried to prepare ahead of time for those things as much as they could. They worked together, captioning on both of their machines at the same time. Sometimes one person would write and the other would look up lyrics.

“It was as cool as I wanted it to be,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what could have gone better.”

Roberts urges other court reporters and captioners to make more of these opportunities happen. Coachella didn’t offer captioning until Roberts reached out to them.

“My takeaway is whatever event you are into, realize that under the ADA they need to offer this service,” Roberts said. “Advocate for yourself.”

Sakai and Roberts are hoping this is a beginning, and there will be more music festival work for them.

Sakai summarized the experience on Facebook: “COACHELLA RECAP: Between shoddy internet connections, knocked-over equipment from dudes getting tackled backstage, my laptop getting nailed by a flying rogue water bottle, or minor software issues, providing live captioning at Coachella was a resounding SUCCESS. Isaiah and I powered through and got the app online on all the monitors at the ADA platforms and on the official Coachella mobile app, captioned Spanish-language performers, and even spared a few moments to visit our friends. I’m still gobsmacked and star-struck by the weekend but can’t help to think that this is the beginning of something huge. We all worked hard but we’re both forever grateful for having had the opportunity to pioneer live-event captioning on this scale. A HUGE thank you to Isaiah for making this all possible, and as I’ve said before, I remain humbled and excited for what’s to come.”