A Helter Skelter Trial Memoir

By Early Langley

Nov. 19, 2017, marked the death of one of the most vile cult leaders and murderers in California history: Charles Manson. Much has been written about him, his loyal worshippers, the murders, and the trial. One of those books was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, the chief prosecutor, and writer Curt Gentry.

By the time I became a court reporting student, the evil of Charles Manson had become legend. Chapter after chapter of Helter Skelter flew by, dictated at high speeds. My teacher was right: Better to hear the worst of the worst now. Any reaction to testimony that inflames the mind might influence a jury.

Perhaps that is why, again as a student, I was able to sit quietly and listen, without emotion, to the gut-wrenching and brutal testimony of the four defendant “Zebra murders” that terrorized San Francisco in the 1970s. Police named the case “Zebra” after the special police radio band they assigned for the investigation. Years later, I met the dispatcher who sent out that radio call and named it “Zebra.” She is now a San Francisco Superior Court Clerk. She described how terrifying it was to walk to work. She once alarmed fellow coworkers by thumbing a ride at night. The car was filled with plainclothes officers in an unmarked car. She knew that, but her coworkers didn’t. In total, 16 people had been murdered, although some authorities thought the defendants might have killed as many as 73 people or more.

The trial started on March 3, 1975, and lasted close to a year-and-a-half, the longest criminal trial in California history at that time. I was only there towards the end. One juror conceived and delivered during the trial. After 18 hours of jury deliberation, based on testimony filling 8,000 pages of transcripts and of 108 witnesses, all four defendants were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. They were sentenced to life imprisonment, and all convictions were affirmed on appeal. Judge Joseph Karesh, who presided over the trial, was an exceedingly patient jurist. In spite of the heinous crimes and the helter-skelter nature of the trial, not one defendant was placed in shackles. There were no glass bulletproof barriers and no metal detectors. Clinton W. White, the defense attorney who led the team, was elevated to the California Court of Appeal.

Robert L. Dondero, then deputy district attorney, was also elevated to the California Court of Appeal. Tensions mounted during that trial, as they do in all trials. One defense attorney got palsy from the stress. Joe Ament was both my teacher and the official court reporter for the entire trial. His relief court reporter came close to a nervous breakdown at the end. Both retired soon afterwards.

I guess it wasn’t enough of a deterrent to keep me away from reporting trials, though I haven’t done a criminal trial since I was an official many years ago. My trials are civil now. I hear stories of great love and great despair, deep pain and deep gratitude.

I have a front row seat to courtroom drama. Good trial lawyers have a sixth sense of anticipating the next move. Their eyes circulate the landscape: the judge, the jury, the witness, the audience, and the staff — including you!

The tension for me is just as nerve-racking. Everyone’s looking at my iPads. Everyone’s getting the rough pretty close to immediately after the day ends, the final in the evening, and sometimes late into the evening. Here’s my list of to-do items: indexes, exhibits, witnesses’ testimony, and even sometimes keeping track of time.

Now I have students come in and sit. There’s nothing like the real thing. They marvel at it all. Through my UC Berkeley Alumni Externship Program, I even take college students to court. They go behind the scenes and meet the judge. We discuss the importance of law, public policy, and a court reporter’s record.

I love it when court reporting students can sit in for as long as possible. It teaches them endurance and speed, procedure and decorum, and the anatomy of a trial. If I were to pin down one of the most important assets to have, it’s speed. Trials move fast and furious. Once the judge announces the jury’s deliberation date, it’s a race to the finish line. Rates of speed get high and sustained.

Trials have a helter-skelter nature of their own. And you just gotta love it. Yes, it can be exhausting. Yes, you need to anticipate the unexpected and have backup plans. Yes, you need to do your homework on the technological terms that you’ll hear. Yes, you need to get your realtime and all of your files running. Once that’s set up, you can manage any helter-skelter moment!

Early Langley, RMR, B.A., is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She is a member of the NCRA Education Content Committee. She is past president of the California Court Reporters Association and a senior staff reporter with Aiken Welch Court Reporters.

A court reporter’s work is never done

Photo by the Hon. Melba Marsh

A recent story in TheJCR.com highlighted NCRA member Taleesa Smith, RPR, an official court reporter from Hamilton County, Ohio. She found herself reporting a sentencing proceeding from outside of an ambulance.

That led us to ask through NCRA’s social media accounts for other stories about unusual places court reporters and captioners have worked. Here are some of the answers:

Michael Anthony Scire, RPR, CMRS, Sarasota, Fla.

Parking garage. The jury had to see the car where the crime took place, so the parking garage was turned into a makeshift courtroom. My twin brother was the official that day in the courtroom. In order to not disrupt his realtime, we dressed alike that day and I pretended to be Richard S. Scire in the garage while he stayed in the courtroom.

Amanda Daniel, Tampa, Fla.

In a shed in the backyard of the witness’s house. The backyard shed was home to her billing service business. I knocked on her front door, her husband answered the door in nothing but his boxer shorts and pointed me to the backyard, and, oh, by the way, watch out for the dog. I sat on a filing cabinet in a corner of a shed with my machine on my lap. And it was a rush order. Because of course it was.

Lora Barnett, RMR, Overland Park, Kan.

Lora Barnett

On the side of a ski slope in Keystone, Colo., during ski season. It was on a “black” run, a ski run for more experienced skiers. It was a lawsuit about a skiing accident that happened on that run. The biggest problem was trying to keep the ink in my machine, and my fingers, from freezing.

Frances Ray, RPR, Florence, S.C.

We had a defendant who was very obese. Because of his size it was decided it would be too risky for him to use the elevator in the courthouse, so the judge agreed to take his guilty plea in the parking lot. The defendant sat in his truck and I was sitting in a chair in the parking lot with my writer, taking down the proceedings.

Paul G. Brandell, RPR, Lansing, Mich.

On a bus traveling across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Canada and then standing up in a duty- free warehouse.

Julie Patti-Andolpho, Boynton Beach, Fla.

On a very high floor in a building that was being constructed in Miami. I had to wear a hard hat and boots. Very scary.

Shannon Roberts, RPR, Canton, Ohio

On a dirt road next to a pig farm, talking about property lines, sitting on bumpers of cars. I finally asked for a better seat and got an old feed bucket.

Tiffany Treffeisen, RPR, Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.

I’ve had a few, but the top two are on a man-made berm that the entire court staff had to ride airboats to get to and; second, a jury view with multiple stops outside in the middle of a road being constructed through a family’s farm.

Sherree DeAnda, Sacramento, Calif.

It was in Jalisco, Mexico, and involved a two-hour drive on a dirt road to a hut-like structure.

Susan Gee, RMR, CRR, Cincinnati, Ohio

The old Reds stadium where somebody was injured in the field. It was tough keeping my paper in the tray because it was windy. Also at a table at Perkins where every five minutes the waitress asked if we were ready to order. Sheesh.

Maryl Jonas, RMR, Canton, Ohio

Sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen of a guy who did fabricating out of his barn. I had to balance my machine on my lap, and his elderly Doberman slobbered down my leg. The guy had no kitchen table and a framed picture of the Dobie on the wall.

Rhonda Hall-Breuwet, RDR, CRR

On the Ringling Brothers train.

Get the edge by attending NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp

Professionals considering taking the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) test have the opportunity to gain an advantage by attending the CRR Boot Camp being offered at the 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo., being held Aug. 15-18.

NCRA’s CRR certification represents realtime pro­ficiency for those who earn it as it is recognized in the industry as the national certification of real­time competency. Holding the CRR also can lead to an increase in salary, as noted by a number of recent NCRA surveys.

“As the CRR Chief Examiner in Massachu­setts, I saw so many candidates come back time and time again to take the certification test. It was bittersweet. They couldn’t pass, but they kept trying,” said Kathryn Sweeney, FAPR, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter and agency owner from Acton, Mass., who helped develop the boot camp pro­gram and who will be teaching it at the NCRA Convention & Expo.

“The idea of the boot camp came about when the Board of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association (MCRA) approached me with ques­tions as to why there were not more people pass­ing the CRR exam and what I could do to maybe help those candidates,” said Sweeney, who also served as a beta tester for NCRA’s online testing system and as CRR Chief Examiner on behalf of the Association for 17 years.

“They gave me two hours and a place to give a seminar back in October of 2009. It was originally named ‘Ready? Begin.’ Those are the two most dreaded words for even the most skilled court reporter,” Sweeney said.

Because it was felt that the original name of the program might actually scare people away, it was renamed the CRR Dress Rehearsal. Over the years, however, said Sweeney, the presentation turned into a three-hour session and was appro­priately renamed again to the CRR Boot Camp.

Word about the program has been spreading across states, according to Sweeney, who has been presenting the session all across the country, with more state associations contacting her about presenting it at their meetings.

Unlike NCRA’s newest certification, the Certi­fied Realtime Captioner (CRC), which requires participation in a 10-hour workshop before being able to take the test, the CRR Boot Camp is not a prerequisite for taking the CRR test. However, said Sweeney, it can certainly help with increasing the chances of passing on the first take.

In the course, she explains to attendees the testing requirements, covers NCRA’s What is an Error?, discusses what is not an error, and talks about the online testing process. She also offers tips on working on self-preparation, includ­ing what to have on test day, what to do and not do on test day, and how and why candidates fail. Participants in the session are also asked to bring their equipment with them because Sweeney said she also lets them take a couple of practice tests, as well as manipulate the system settings and dictionary entries.

“There is so much material. Even if just one thing I teach resonates with an attendee, one thing that they can go back and fix or change, it may just be the one thing that pushes them over the hump and gets them that CRR desig­nation,” said Sweeney.

One reason she attributes the program’s success in helping CRR candidates be suc­cessful in passing the test is because much of the material she covers about being prepared includes information often missed, such has having flash drives or SD cards properly for­matted, which is included in the recommended reading on the testing website and contained in the pre-test emails they receive.

“The most frustrating part of being the proc­tor at brick-and-mortar testing sites was that I could not help the candidates. It was simply not allowed. They were supposed to just know all this stuff. Heck, candidates showed up without their driver’s license because they didn’t know they needed to show it to me,” she said.

“I strongly believe taking the CRR Boot Camp will increase the chance of passing this test. When I finished my presentation in Geor­gia, a woman who already had her CRR came up to me and said that she wished this seminar was around when she was preparing for the test; that it had all of the information and steps that she muddled through on her own. She said it took years of figuring out what was being asked of her and then changing her writing and learning her equipment and software in order to pass,” Sweeney said. “With this boot camp, I can help you in three hours.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of taking the CRR Boot Camp is that attendees will know if they’re ready to take the test or not, while those who have taken the test before will realize why they didn’t pass, she noted.

“I am a huge proponent of not throwing money away. If you’re not quite ‘there’ yet, then don’t spend (the money) on this test. You will learn what you need to work on before you take the plunge and sign up for the test. You will know when you’re ready, instead of just winging it and hoping for the best,” Sweeney added. “The CRR really is the easiest test you’ll ever fail. But why fail at all? Learn what you need to do in order to pass. Come to my boot camp!”

Sweeney, who has been a court reporter for 28 years, served eight years on her state association’s Board of Directors, two years as president, and recently joined as a director again in April.

To earn the CRR certification, professionals are required to hold the Registered Profes­sional Reporter (RPR) certification, be a current member of NCRA, and pass a realtime testi­mony skills test at 200 words per minute with 96 percent accuracy.

For more information about or to register for NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp and the 2019 Convention & Expo, visit NCRA.org/events.

Help wanted: Court reporters needed nationwide

The Kearny Hub, Grand Island, Neb., posted an article on May 20 about the nationwide shortage of court reporters.

Read more.

Serving as the honorary bailiff for the Kansas Supreme Court

By Mary Kay Howe

Mary Kay Howe

It was a great honor to be chosen to be the honorary bailiff for the Kansas Supreme Court for a special session it was having in Lawrence, Kan. 

Since 2011, the Kansas Supreme Court has conducted 16 special sessions throughout the state where court representatives have traveled to all areas of the state to argue some Supreme Court cases, which allowed members of that community to come see them in action. Since 2015, those have been evening events, which brought a bigger attendance. Prior to our event in Lawrence, the largest crowd was 700 people. The attendance in Lawrence was more than 800 community members.

Whenever the Supreme Court has one of these special sessions, they reach out to the chief judge in that city and ask that the chief judge pick a person who would be a great example of the judicial system, someone who has long-standing employment with the state and would be willing and able to take on the role of “honorary bailiff.” Consequently, having worked for the Kansas judicial system as a court reporter for over 43 years and my love of the court system and all it stands for, I was asked by the chief judge if I would be willing to do the job.  Well, I am always about promoting court reporting, and I thought this would be another great opportunity for just that. Our Office of Judicial Administration contacted me and asked if they could do an interview of me that they would then do a media blast on. I, of course, obliged, once again to get the career of court reporting promoted. 

Following the interview and my approval of the same, the published article went on the state judicial website, and it also was sent to our local newspaper that was published online and in print. It was then put on my own Facebook page, as well as our KCRA Facebook page and the NCRA Facebook page. So based on all of that, hopefully, a few or a lot more people saw “court reporting” in a positive light.

As far as the event itself, my job was to pronounce the entry of the Supreme Court justices: “All rise.”  (Then a rapping of the gavel three times.) Then I said: “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas.” There was further text they had me say, but it was in front of me, and I don’t remember it all. At that point, the chief justice took over and then honored me as a loyal Kansas employee and a court reporter for our state since 1975. I’m sure there was some gasping when people heard that, because they probably think I should be dead by now. At the adjournment, they had me further say, “All rise” to the crowd as they exited. 

Following the session, there was a reception for all of the justices to meet and greet the community members. There were many from the legal community especially that came up to me to congratulate me for my service.

This was the first time I’ve ever been invited to do such a thing, and I felt honored to be chosen. Following that, I received a very nice thank-you letter from the Kansas Supreme Court chief justice for being the honorary bailiff and for my state service.

If any opportunity like this ever presents itself to any of you, please take it. There is no better way to present ourselves publicly and what we do. The only regret I have is that they didn’t ask me to bring my machine because we all know how that always intrigues people and they want to know how it works.

I love court reporting!

Mary Kay Howe, RMR, is an official court reporter based in Lawrence, Kan. She can be reached at mhowe@douglas-county.com.

Angel Donor Profile: Marjorie Peters

Marjorie Peters

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) supports the advancement of the court reporting and captioning professions through education, scholarship, recognition, and programs critical to preserving the past, enriching the present, and securing the future of the profession. NCRF is able to do the great work it does with donations from individuals and organizations through various donor programs, including the popular Angels program.

Each month, NCRA will highlight one of the more than 100 Angels who support the National Court Reporters Foundation year after year. This month, the column kicks off with a profile of Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, who also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate.

JCR | Let’s begin with learning where you are based and what you do.

MP | Based in Pittsburgh, Pa., covering Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. I am a freelance reporter and small firm owner covering complex realtime and all types of litigation, large and small.

JCR | How long have you been an Angel?

MP | Since the Angel program started, nearly 15 years ago!

JCR | Clearly being an Angel is important to you. Why?

MP | I did not attend college, but having a skilled trade that has become a career has offered me the opportunity to achieve goals and work in places with people I never would have imagined. It has given me freedom of choice and flexibility in my life. I want everyone to realize their own goals as well, and the Foundation programs offer those opportunities to others as well.  How can I not support that!?

JCR | Are you involved with the Foundation in other ways?

MP | I am on the Angels Gatherers Committee! Ask me about being an Angel! It’s not as hard as you think. After I was an Angel for the first couple of years, I realized it was a commitment that I would always make to myself and others because NCRF’s programs really do help others. Foundation programs empower!

JCR | What is your favorite NCRF program?   

MP | Well, the easy answer is the Oral Histories Project. It is a labor of love and the best day you will ever have. The Foundation programs support education through scholarships, support reporting firms by offering legal education resources, and of course the Corrine Clark Professionalism Institute supports fledgling reporters and firms. The Foundation lifts students, reporters, and firms to success personally and professionally.  

Learn more about the NCRF Angel Donors program, or become an Angel.

Lawmakers agree to boost court reporter pay, in face of ‘crisis’

The Idaho Press reported on Feb. 25 that members of the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee voted unanimously in favor of boosting pay for court reporters in the state after learning that the state is facing an unprecedented — and critical — lack of court reporters.

Read more.

From intern to official

By Callie Sajdera

Callie Sajdera

In theory, I couldn’t wait to get to Realtime VI (200-225 wpm). In Realtime VI, I couldn’t wait to intern. While I interned, I couldn’t wait to work. Here I am, six months later, working my dream job in my dream city. I’m Callie Sajdera, an official reporter for the Second Judicial District of Denver, Colo.  I graduated from Anoka Technical College in Anoka, Minn., in June of 2018. I have been an official reporter since October of 2018, and all I can say is that I truly love my job. 

In March, I did part of my internship in the very courthouse where I am now currently employed. I knew after I finished my internship that Colorado, specifically the Lindsey-Flannigan Courthouse, was where I wanted and needed to be. I was going to get there some way, somehow. Everyone has experienced the transition from a student to a professional, whether it be freelance, official, CART, or captioning, and we all know how terrifying it was at the very beginning. There’s no doubt that you will make a mistake along the way, there will be questions you’ll feel silly for asking, and you will fall into a “newbie  trap.” 

The hardest part about my transition to an official was finding a job. Like I said before, I knew I wanted to be in Denver and I knew I’d get there, but I didn’t expect it to happen right away. A challenge that I came across while job hunting was the intimidating factor of holding the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR).  So many times as I was filling out the application for a job, there would be a box that you check to confirm that you held your RPR. If you didn’t check that box, your application was terminated and you couldn’t move forward. That was discouraging since I was currently working on my RPR and still am, but I was not going to let that stop me.

A month later, I received an email from the Court Reporting Administrator for Denver, who is now my boss, and she informed me of a position that became open and encouraged me to apply. I was open and honest about not holding my RPR certification, and she said: “I want you to apply.” I applied; I got an interview; I got the job. I later learned the impression that I made as an intern here in March helped me land my job. My boss fought for me. She knew hiring a new grad with only internship experience could be a risk, but that was a risk she was willing to take.  

For students who are reading this, being a new professional is hard. The amount of knowledge you learn is astronomical, and at times it can be scary. As a new professional, it has been so important for me to know that it’s OK to make mistakes, just don’t hold onto them for long.  Ask every question that comes to mind, because having the correct answer is always better than trying to guess.  As for the “newbie traps,” they are unavoidable, but I have an amazing work family that picks me up and helps me through them. As I’m sure everyone has been told throughout school: “If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.” If there’s one piece of advice through this article, it would be to push yourself to be uncomfortable, grow in this profession, and always practice to be the best professional you can be.  

Callie Sajdera is an official reporter for the Second Judicial District of Denver, Colo. She can be reached at callie.sajdera@judicial.state.co.us.

NCRA member aids in animal rescues during California wildfires

Sherri Kuebler and her horse Taylor

When the Woolsey fire northwest of Los Angeles, Calif., burned nearly 97,000 acres before it was finally contained, it left in its wake not only a trail of devastation and heartbreaking loss of life but also stories of courageous volunteerism. NCRA member Sherri  L. Kuebler, RPR, a retired freelance court reporter from Chino Hills, Calif., was one such volunteer.

According to Kuebler, the ranch manager where she, her husband, and several of their friends board their horses, was contacted by a rescue group asking for volunteers with horse trailers to pick up various livestock in the Calabasas area where the Woolsey fire was headed.

“We had four horse trailers and approximately 12 volunteers who drove approximately 70 miles to a staging area where we coordinated with the Lost Hills Sheriff Department who escorted us into the danger zone and to one particular address where the owner was not able to get his animals out,” said Kuebler, a court reporter for 19 years who recently retired from her assignment to a felony trial courtroom at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.

“At this particular address, we rescued pigs, horses, peacocks, roosters, hens, guinea pigs and huge 400-pound turtles. We picked up two sheep who were running loose on the streets, and another homeowner just handed her horse to my ranch owner and said: ‘Please take her’,” she added.

Loading the scared animals into their slant-load horse trailers was pretty difficult, said Kuebler. “There were no cages to take from the property and these huge pigs were not cooperating. We finally got them into modified cages and trash cans on wheels and loaded them that way.

Kuebler said the volunteers were only able to make one trip due to the emerging fire and heavy smoke, but all the animals they did save were brought back to the ranch where they keep their horses. There, she said, some of the boarders bought cages and food for the rescues to help make them as comfortable as possible because they were very scared.

“Our ranch owners were kind enough to allow these rescues to stay as long as needed until they were reunited with their owners. Thank goodness all of them survived and have all been delivered back to their owners,” she said.

Kuebler, who can be contacted at sherrikuebler@verizon.net, said that donations to help support rescues such as the Woolsey fire one can be made directly to the El Rodeo Equestrian Center at 4449 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea, CA 92823.








A court reporter shortage: Critical field faces lack of new recruits

NCRA member Melissa Grimes, RPR, an official court reporter from Calhoun City, Miss., is quoted in an article posted by The Dispatch on Dec. 1 about the current shortage of court reporters. The article also mentions NCRA’s A to ZTM program.

Read more.