Court reporting student earns scholarship

The Surprise Independent posted a press release on Sept. 16 issued by NCRA announcing that Lisa Johnson, a court reporting student at Gateway Community College in Phoenix, Ariz., has been awarded a $1,500 scholarship by the Association’s Council on Approved Student Education.

Read more.

The ups and downs of parenting and virtual schooling

Court reporters and captioners with school-age children at home are among the many parents dealing with virtual schooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myra Ponce, RDR, CRR, an official court reporter in Los Angeles, Calif., has two children in eighth and tenth grades who she is supervising with their online schooling.

“I am teleworking and conduct court hearings via video teleconferencing,” Ponce said. “The kids understand when I’m in court, no interruptions whatsoever.”

She said her work has only been affected by occasional slow internet connections. Her children have sometimes experienced technical difficulties with being kicked off Zoom.

“I commend the teachers and staff/administration for their efforts in this new style of teaching,” Ponce said. “They, too, had to adjust a great deal — having to learn the platform Zoom, adjusting their teaching styles to accommodate for the distance learning, and, for some, having to teach from home, where I’m sure there are many distractions and obstacles they need to put aside. I commend our IT/AV staff as well, as they were able to implement the video conferencing expeditiously since the closing of our courts back in March and as they continue to keep us running through this pandemic.”

Amy Patricia Rostad, RPR, is a freelance reporter in Kirkland, Wash., who has a seventh-grade son. She said she and her husband share the supervising as their work schedules allow, but they are “pretty hands-off parents when it comes to remote learning.” 

Rostad said the first couple of weeks of school have gone well.

“He’s developing excellent time management skills,” Rostad said. “He manages his synchronous learning time by using his Outlook calendar and setting alarms for himself to ensure that he is punctual. He manages his asynchronous learning time by planning it out to ensure that he completes and submits his assignments on time.”

While eating lunch as a family and getting hugs during breaks are positive things Rostad has experienced, her family has learned to deal with tighter quarters than usual.

“It hasn’t really affected my job, except the three of us have to work as quietly as possible,” Rostad said. “At the end of June, a city water main broke and flooded our basement, so we’ve been living on the top floor of our home ever since. Thankfully, our lovely neighbors offered us the use of their home until the end of September. When we’ve needed a quiet space to work, it’s been such a blessing to have the use of their home to spread out in. My fingers are crossed that the reconstruction is complete before our neighbors return home.”

Heidi Belton, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter in Walnut Creek, Calif., who has a daughter in ninth grade. She said the only downside right now is her daughter getting headaches from too much computer time.

Workwise for her it has been positive.

“I don’t have to schlep her around,” Belton said. “So, I can actually work more. It makes work easier. We all have more time in our day because we are not commuting and packing lunches.”

Belton added another positive thing about her new schedule. “I love my Zoom depos. My dog is right at my feet!”

Rostad found another upside to virtual learning.

“I have a confession to make,” she said. “Unbeknownst to my son’s teacher, I joined in on part of his gym class last week, which was a fun and much-needed break from proofreading. His teacher was playing music and demonstrating proper stretching techniques for the kiddos to do, so I jumped right in and joined my son.”

Court reporter earns national certification

The San Diego Union-Tribune posted a press release on Sept. 10 issued by NCRA announcing that Erica Varquez of Carlsbad has earned her Registered Professional Reporter certification.

Read more.

Uncertified Zoom court recordings in Illinois

A blog posted Sept. 7 on Legal Video Forum discusses a recent ruling in Illinois about video recording in court.

Read more.

A to Z Scholarship recipient announced

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Sept. 3 that NCRA recently awarded Deneatha McGeachy of Decatur, Ga., a $500 NCRA A to Z® Scholarship.

Read more.

NCRF renews agreement with Library of Congress

NCRF has announced that it has renewed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

“We are proud to announce that NCRF just renewed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project,” said NCRF Chair Cathy Phillips, FAPR, RMR, CMRS, an official court reporter from Collierville, Tenn. “Collecting and preserving the firsthand accounts of our nation’s wartime heroes is an honor and a privilege. Our court reporters can select veterans from the library’s website or interview and transcribe a local veteran’s story,” she added.

Understanding the realities of war based on accounts by our wartime heroes is so appreciated that Congress passed legislation in 2000 creating the VHP. Since then, NCRA members have transcribed more than 4,000 veterans’ histories.

As part of the Veterans History Project, videos, transcriptions, original letters, diaries, photos, memoirs, and historic documents related to a veteran’s wartime service are preserved and catalogued at the Library of Congress. NCRA members who submit the requested documentation, keep backups of submitted work, and email and mail final documents to NCRF can earn 0.25 PDCs credit for each transcription.

To learn more about the VHP effort and how you can participate through NCRF, visit NCRF’s Oral Histories page or contact Jill Parker Landsman, NCRF manager, at jlandsman@ncra.org.

The perfect prescription

By Jennifer Wielage

Jennifer Wielage, RPR, CRR

As a high-achieving, success-driven court reporter, I am certainly no stranger to stress and its effects on one’s mental and physical well-being.  

Many years ago, as a result of my harried lifestyle, I spent much time in the doctor’s office. Panic gripped me often in the middle of the night. My heart raced. I was short of breath. I remember many times being rushed to the ER with a crippling fear I was dying.

When test after test came back negative, my doctor wrote me a prescription. I looked down at the blue paper he pulled from his pad. On it, he wrote: Your Erroneous Zones by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  “You are prescribing a sex book?” I exclaimed.  He laughed and said, “No, ‘erroneous’ means error.” He explained that I had errors in my thinking. He promised that this book would help me look at my life differently, and if I heeded Dr. Dyer’s advice, my health issues would resolve. I left the office, head held low, feeling discouraged. I contemplated changing physicians.

The prescription sat on my desk for over a year; eventually getting buried and forgotten under a pile of papers.  My life had not changed nor gotten better. In fact, now I was suffering with even more health ailments, random body aches, horrible seasonal allergies, ovarian cysts, asthma, and an autoimmune thyroid disease called Grave’s disease.  

Deep down, I knew my workload was intense, my commute was exhausting, and I was flat-out beat from reading transcripts into the night, but I never imagined work could be the cause of my ailments.  

My story is a pretty common one. In America stress is the leading cause of premature deaths. Approximately 120,000 people die annually of work-related stress.  Chronic stress can affect your brain, suppress your thyroid, cause blood sugar imbalances, decrease bone density and muscle tissue, raise blood pressure, reduce your immunity and ability to heal, increase fat deposits around your abdomen that are associated with heart attacks, strokes, and elevated bad cholesterol.  

Thirty-three percent of Americans feel they live in extremely stressful conditions.

At that time, however, I believed that I was a victim of overworking and stress. I did not take any personal responsibility for any of it because I believed that life was happening to me.  Thus I felt powerless. It was as if I was in the third row of a minivan, being driven by fear, doubt, and insecurity; and I had no clue that I could actually decide to climb into the driver’s seat of my life and take the wheel.

There’s an old adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Many years later, I finally read the book.

My mind was blown. I knew immediately it was just what the doctor ordered. It was such an integral part of my healing journey because it taught me that I could choose the life I wanted instead of playing the victim to my circumstances. The book was my first step on my journey toward feeling more empowered in my life, taking charge, and understanding that I did have the ability to feel amazing.

Because of my experience overcoming fear, letting go of my limiting beliefs, and getting out of my own way, I was propelled to become a life-balance coach so that I could help others, particularly my fellow court reporters, who also struggled with stress, overwhelmed with a hefty workload, to find more peace and contentment in their lives. For me, living a life of balance was my key to calm and it became my passion to share my experience.

As we all know, in March of 2020, the world changed drastically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In such a short period of time, work came to a screeching halt and food and supplies were harder to obtain. We were instructed to remain in our homes to prevent the spread. Many experienced the effects of the virus and/or mourned the loss of a loved one.

Many of us have found ourselves in fight-or-flight mode. The term “fight-or-flight” is a term that stems from our ancient ancestors’ choice when faced with danger. They could either fight the tiger or run away from it. In the 1920s American physiologist Walter Cannon was the first to describe this syndrome. He realized that a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body helped to mobilize the body’s resources to deal with threatening circumstances.  

What often happens in today’s fast-paced world is our minds create situations where the fight-or-flight button is triggered from a perceived danger, even if we are not in actual danger, things such as traffic jams, work pressures, or family difficulties. Our bodies go through the same immobilization/fight-or-flight process. Chemicals course through our bodies, wreaking havoc on the state of our health.

This is what I was experiencing in the doctor’s office all those years ago, and this is what many of us are experiencing these days with the global pandemic.

There’s good news. We can learn to manage our minds around anything, even Covid-19.

I am going to offer three erroneous beliefs that are common today in the climate we are facing as court reporters.

Error #1: I have no control.

The truth is you actually do. Even though circumstances arise over which we have no control, we always have control over one very important thing: our thoughts about our circumstances.  

Our circumstances are completely neutral. Circumstances are events that occur in the world or in our life. A circumstance is not opinion. It is a fact that can be proven in a court of law. A circumstance is something that everyone in the world would agree on.

Our thoughts about our circumstance are what make all the difference.  The good news is: We are completely in control of our thoughts.  They’re ours to think and no one can change them without our permission.

Why do our thoughts matter? Because thoughts create our feelings. When we think negative thoughts, we experience negative feelings. When we think uplifting, positive, and empowering thoughts, we feel uplifted, positive and empowered. Our feelings drive our actions and our actions create our results. This is why our thoughts really matter. Our thoughts are the mainframes that keep everything functioning or not functioning. We can shift our thoughts from those that do not serve us to ones that will empower us.  

One thought that has helped me during the pandemic is: Life is happening for me. There are always blessings that come from hard times. Look for them, embrace them, and trust your ability to overcome whatever comes your way. This is empowering.

Error #2: Life is so uncertain now.  

If we are honest, life has always been uncertain. Each day is a gift. We have no idea what circumstances will come our way, nor should we worry about what may potentially happen.  Worry is one of those useless emotions. There is absolutely no upside to worrying.  It keeps us stuck, prevents us living our purpose and steals our present joy.  

Instead of worrying, we need to try to focus on things that will create positive results in our life.  We can use our energy instead to propel us in the direction of wellness, i.e., eating well, exercising, and taking time out to breathe. These actions will put us in the driver’s seat and will make us more resilient against whatever comes our way.

Error #3: I can’t make money because there is a global pandemic.

I lovingly want to assure you that, while there are those who will come up with reasons why they cannot work during the pandemic, many people are busy, making money, not just in spite of the pandemic, in many cases because of the pandemic.  We, as court reporters, have such an amazing skill, one that blows people’s minds. While it’s true we have to learn a new method of reporting for the time being, working from home has many benefits, e.g., the ability to be barefoot, wearing yoga pants to work, having our dog or cat lying next to us while we work, not to mention an extremely stress-free commute!

Just recently, I was lying on the beach, relaxing, when I spotted my doctor playing ball with his son on the sand. I smiled thinking about his prescription for me all those years ago and what a huge impact it had on my life.  In his wisdom, he knew I needed to journey inward in order to be healed and to become who I am today.  I believe it was all part of God’s divine plan for my life.

My friends, let us use our challenges as the fuel that ignites a fire within so that we can, ultimately, evolve and grow, not just as court reporters, but as the people we were created to be!  

Jennifer Wielage, RPR, CRR, is a freelance reporter in Edison, N.J. Her website is Rainbowbalance.org.

Zoom to the future

By Connie Psaros

Alex Loos, RDR

What started out as a simple request for a Zoom public hearing turned out to be a memorable assignment that markedly few reporters around the country would dare take on. Thank goodness Alex Loos, RDR, a freelance reporter in Melrose, Mass., got the call. Not only is he a gifted reporter, he also embraces technology at every turn and does not shy away from a challenge. And he makes it look easy.

Shortly after the hearing was scheduled, a request was made about the possibility of expanding the meeting to include more than the allowed 100 active participants, basically turning the meeting into a webinar platform. Alex did his research and reported back that various options are available, including a license upgrade that would allow 1,000 active participants and 10,000 passive participants. Armed with the information, it was up to the client to make their informed decision on what platform was best for them. Ultimately, it was a no-go; but had that option been chosen, Alex was ready to upgrade his license and make it work.

Multiple issues were ironed out over several days. Due to security issues regarding holding a public hearing, concerns such as hosting duties, granting passive participants the opportunity to speak, muting/unmuting microphones, sharing documents, holding people in virtual waiting rooms, recording options, how to conduct sidebar conversations, etc., needed to be clarified. Once the parties agreed upon the public hearing protocols, everyone was poised to start what could be a contentious hearing.

The three-day hearing went forward. As you can imagine, the logistics of this hearing went well beyond the expected reporting duties of writing and marking the virtual exhibits. Technical assistance by Alex was needed regarding every aspect of the hearing. Meeting management was his responsibility too. They relied on Alex to handle just about everything, and he did not once let them down.

As the hearing progressed, rush delivery was ordered. When the hearing was concluded, a request was made to have access to the video files as soon as possible for review. The files were quite large since they were all-day hearings and could not be securely delivered using conventional software. The files had to be compressed, and a cloud storage solution was found to deliver them to counsel. In the end, the transcripts and video/audio links were all delivered within one week’s time.

Kudos and congratulations to Alex Loos, reporter extraordinaire, who went above, beyond, and then some to get the job done, never faltering, never complaining, never becoming unhinged. Throughout this process he patiently and promptly answered every question no matter the time of day. Everything he did epitomized superior customer service. In the days of COVID-19, it is worth noting that he took on and completed this assignment without ever leaving his home! He received sincere thanks and accolades from all involved. “Thank you for your stellar work in managing the reporting and technology of the proceedings. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we have appreciated your skill, professionalism, and good humor.”

We would like to thank the exceptional court reporters out there who understand the importance of making an impeccable record, using technology to do so, and providing personalized customer service no matter the obstacles. Alex, it is with awe and gratitude that we present you as an example of our profession’s very finest.

Connie Psaros, RPR, CMRS, is a freelance reporter in Boston, Mass. She can be reached at cpsaros@doriswong.com.

Taking exams in lockdown

By Leah Willersdorf

As I write this, here in the United Kingdom I am coming toward the end of week 12 of having had no work due to the pandemic. It is what it is. But what’s a girl to do when she knows no different to travelling the world with her passport in one hand and pulling her steno machine (and numerous iPads) along in the other? Why, sit down at home and  practice every day, of course. Well, almost every day.

I began by taking down our governmental daily briefings on TV and adding plenty of new words to my dictionary. Then, as COVID-19 well and truly took hold of London, I realised that I had to settle in for the long haul and had to find better ways to practice because, to be honest, I didn’t want to hear about COVID day in and day out. And so it was on 28 April I decided to register for the RPR.

I am a Australian reporter who has lived in London for 25 years and have been accredited with the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters for as long as I can remember and have also passed their Qualified Realtime Reporter (QRR) exams at levels 1 and 2, but I have never taken an online exam before in any country and I have to say I was a little worried that the online platforms would be my downfall, not my actual skill. The only exams I have ever taken have been in a room with other stenographers, which isn’t exactly a silent affair, but to be able to do it in the comfort of your own home was a novel experience, that’s for sure, and, boy, did I have a few experiences!

I bought the SmartPrep package for the exams on Realtime Coach. I was unfamiliar with this platform but soon got used to it. I will say that in some of the pieces, the errors it gives are incorrect, but if you see one, please, please take a screenshot of it and the practice session you’re in, and send it to the folks at Realtime Coach so they can correct the text. If they’re not told, they will never know. In total, I think I sent five through.

I practiced for varying times each day, except weekends. One day I sat down to do it for an hour, only to look at the clock and realise that three hours had gone by. It really is quite addictive. And fun! But isn’t steno anyway?!

I did my exams on three consecutive Fridays during May, the Celebrate Certifications month. First up was the jury charge. I had done the proctored practice test, which gives you the exact experience of the examination process. Well, not so exact because I didn’t have all those belly butterflies that we get in exam situations. First off, during this situation we are living in, do expect to wait for a technician. On exam day, I waited for just under an hour, which, yes, is prolonging the exam angst, and then I was transferred from technician to technician to technician, which further added to it, but it can’t be helped; so please do be prepared that that may happen to you and that also taking a proctored practice test is highly recommended.

When I finally was assigned a proctor, he didn’t verbalise his instructions like the one on the proctored practice did; instead, he used the chat box. I guess it was plausible that could happen, but it hadn’t entered my mind because I was expecting the exact process as the proctored practice. Then, at one point, somehow when he was taking control of my computer and doing stuff, my task bar at the bottom of my screen disappeared, as did the chat box. Because I had no task bar, I didn’t know how to minimise the screen to see if the chat box was sitting behind it. I began to panic a little. All of a sudden, the task bar came back, and the chat box was there so I was able to follow his instructions. Talk about a little extra stress when you’ve already been waiting for a while. Still, it was time to do the exam, so all of that went by the by.

Moral of this story: Stay calm. Let the proctor do their thing. Keep an eye on that chat box. Breathe.

Outcome: Jury charge passed 99 percent.

Next up was the testimony portion. Now au fait with both the Realtime Coach and ProctorU platforms, it was just a matter of practicing until the big day and taking each step of the process as it came. One and a half hours before I was due to log in to the ProctorU site, I heard a drilling noise in my surroundings. I live in the middle floor of a three-storey block of six flats. There’s been nobody upstairs during the pandemic as it was being renovated, but exam day, of all days, they decided they needed to pop in and do a few bits and pieces. I went upstairs and politely asked when they would be finished and explained that I was doing an exam. Well, the drilling would be finished but the carpet fitter was due midway through my exam apparently. Thankfully, I didn’t hear a peep.

However, I did have a technical issue when uploading my transcript where it seemed to get stuck in a loop; you know the kind when the wheel just goes round and round and round. And round. After last week’s loss-of-task-bar panic stations and being a little unnerved by the technician, this surely could not be happening! I found myself wondering if it doesn’t correct itself, what’s the worst thing that could happen here. I don’t pass? Well, I can’t pass if I can’t upload a transcript, right? I’d just have to resit the exam, so not the end of the world, just a bit of a hassle. Before admitting technical defeat to what turned out to be an issue on my end, unbeknownst to me, I contacted my proctor via the chat box because my instinct was telling me to refresh the page. The proctor said not to, and I absolutely had to be guided by her. Time was ticking by, but I had 54 minutes to go when I first started in the loop de loop, and 20ish had already passed. She went away, made a few enquiries with her manager, and I was able to email my transcript to the NCRA, along with my steno notes, all under the guidance and view of the proctor. Phewy, I won’t have to sit it again after all! Or so I thought.

Moral of this story: Don’t get flustered if you experience a technical issue. Stop and think. Listen to your proctor’s advice. Breathe.

Outcome: Found out on 8 June that my exam was not able to be graded because, in my haste, I uploaded a practice test.

Moral of the outcome: Don’t get flustered. Don’t kick yourself. Just accept you’ll have to sit it again. You know you can do it!

And, finally, the last Friday of May 2020 saw me take the literary leg. I was due to log into ProctorU at 1:20 p.m., and so I spent my morning practicing, using the Internet Explorer browser, and running equipment tests. All was A-OK. Well, it was from about 8.30 a.m. to 10.29 a.m., but at 10.30 I figured I’d open up RTC in Chrome using my NCRA credentials. I couldn’t navigate in Chrome and so I went back to IE. Nothing. Got out my second laptop and tried the same thing. Nope. The internet at large was playing games with me. I knew something had to happen today because of the last two exams, but I got through those and I would get through this. So I then tried my desktop and it was the same. I couldn’t even get onto the NCRA website nor RTC’s. I messaged a friend and asked her if she could get on because maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t a Leah issue but an issue with their websites. Ha! Of course I didn’t really believe that. I turned the wifi off on my phone and was able to use the 4G, so I then knew it had to be my fibre optic broadband. I turned everything off, put the kettle on to make a cuppa and then set up my mobile router I take to depositions (just in case the law firm’s wifi is miserable). I straightaway tested my equipment on ProctorU. Mifi to the rescue!! I kept the home router off, as well as all but one computer, in order to do the exam. Potential disaster #1 diverted. Breathe.

But then – what, there’s more? – at midday the gardeners turned up with their strimmers to trim the hedges. Okay, fine, I have one hour and 20 minutes until I need to log on. Surely they’ll be done in time. Oh, but then they had to get the blower out to blow the strimmings. And so it was with three minutes 30 seconds to spare, the strimmers stopped, the blowers blew out, and potential disaster #2 was also diverted. I took one last sip of water, put my machine in test mode, and as I watched that counter go down to start my session, I imagined hearing the words “Ready. Begin,” with all my internet/gardening issues now well and truly behind me.

Moral of this story: Take each obstacle which comes your way one at a time. Have a backup for your internet because you may just have to reschedule the exam if you don’t. Thank your gardeners.

Outcome: Literary passed 99 percent.

To anybody taking exams soon or in future, I found Realtime Coach and ProctorU easy-to-use platforms. In the exam process, take your time and don’t rush. Easier said than done, I know. I took big, deep breaths before pressing Play. There’s no time limit before pressing that Play button, not that I could see anyway. Relax, breathe, and focus. Close your eyes if you have to. I did.

I do wish they graded these transcription exams with a decimal point; after all, that’s what we are looking at every day if we have our stats up on our software screen. For example, say you got 94.8 percent, and the pass is 95 percent, a decimal point grading gives you an exact idea of where you are on that spectrum between 94 and 95, i.e., sooo close, and that in itself can be a huge boost to your confidence.

UPDATE 08/24/20: As we enter Week 24 of the pandemic here, I am delighted to say that not only did I pass the testimony leg in mid-July at 98 percentAND it was free of any incidents — but two days after that, I traveled into central London for the first time in months (an eerie feeling) where I sat and passed the WKT. I honestly did not think I was successful.  As I walked toward the man on reception, I was shaking my head and giving a thumbs down, but even behind his mask I could tell he was smiling.

My tips for the WKT:  Get a good night’s sleep. Read the questions and the answers. Sounds obvious, I know.

Before all of this, the only kind of long haul I’d experienced was flights, but in a way I have to thank the London lockdown for getting me well on the way to my RPR. The CRR is already booked for September!

Leah Willersdorf is a freelance court reporter and captioner based in London. She can be reached at courtreporterlondon@gmail.com.

Written Knowledge Tests move online

NCRA is excited to announce candidates will soon be able to take our Written Knowledge Tests from the comfort of the location you choose. Starting with our October 2020 Written Knowledge Tests, all WKTs will be given online through Pearson Vue four times a year (January, April, July, October). That’s right! It’s now possible to take your Written Knowledge Test online through Pearson Vue. Registration is open Sept. 1-30 to sign up to take the online WKT from Oct. 8-22.

Member feedback requesting online options and the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for in-person opportunities for testing solidified NCRA’s Certification and Testing team’s plans to expedite changes to the administration of our Written Knowledge Tests.

Candidates will continue to register with NCRA for their test and receive a con­firmation email within three business days of registering that will include scheduling instructions for the test.

Candidates will schedule their test through www.pearsonvue.com/ncra and log on at their scheduled date and time within our testing window to take their test. Candidates will take their multiple-choice exam online while monitored by Pearson Vue proctors.

“COVID-19 has us expediting several initiatives we had planned for 2021. By switching to online testing, we will be able to offer all WKTs giving candidates more opportunities to test throughout the year,” said Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA Senior Director of Education and Certification. “The online testing instructions are a little different than the Skills Test; therefore, candidates are encouraged to read the instructions thoroughly,” she added.

“I believe NCRA’s decision to move the RDR, RPR, CLVS, and CRC tests fully online will result in more people earning those certifications,” said Brook Nunn, RPR, CRR, CRC, a captioner from Boise, Idaho.

“Simply put, it’s just more convenient. If we can take the Skills Tests online, the Written Tests should be even more straightforward. This is a win for everyone!” she added.

Technology requirements and full directions for the new online testing are available at NCRA.org/wkt. NCRA will continue to send all official results within four weeks of the close of our testing window via the email address on file with NCRA.