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.

Registration is now open for the Registered Skilled Reporter Skills Tests

Registration is open for aspiring court reporters to test in January 2020 for a new NCRA certification, the Registered Skilled Reporter (RSR). This new designation will recognize those stenographic professionals who are looking to validate their beginning level of competency. Previously named the Registered Apprentice Reporter (RAR), the NCRA Board of Directors, after careful review, determined that the term ‘skilled’ better reflects the mission supporting this latest professional certification than the term ‘apprentice.’

“Those new professionals who make the commitment to earn the RSR are also showing their commitment to continuing their skills and proficiency through professional practice while earning an income,” said NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI.

Earning the RSR will demonstrate an ability to hold a verified level of skill to current and potential clients, current and potential employers, and fellow reporters.

Created as a stepping-stone credential to ultimately achieving the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) designation, the RSR certification will offer the prestige of an NCRA certification for those new or returning to the court reporting profession who have yet to be able to get their writing speeds up enough to earn the RPR.

Current or aspiring stenographic reporters are eligible to earn the RSR and do not need to be members of NCRA to take the RSR tests.

Candidates seeking the RSR need to pass three 5-minute Skills Tests:

  • RSR Literary at 160 words per minute
  • RSR Jury Charge at 180 words per minute
  • RSR Testimony/Q&A at 200 words per minute

To pass, an accuracy level of 95 percent is required for each leg. Passed RPR skills tests cannot be used toward earning the RSR.

There is a critical need for qualified, competent stenographers, and the RSR certification will help employers differentiate among candidates applying for these opportunities.

“When you earn the RSR, you have an opportunity to continue learning but begin to enjoy the personal satisfaction of seeing your skills used in professional practice and earn income while you continue your learning,” said NCRA Vice President Debra A. Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC of Woodland, Utah. “It’s a win/win!”

Visit the NCRA website for more information. 

New Professional Profile: Bethany Glover

Bethany Glover

By Mike Hensley

Bethany Glover, RPR, is a new professional residing in Long Beach, Calif.  Not only is she new — within her first year of work as a freelance deposition reporter — she finished school in a blazing 16 months. She is excellently poised to take the world by storm, and she has graciously shared insights with us as a newly licensed court reporter.

JCR | Why did you choose to become a court reporter?

BG | I grew up dancing, moved to New York City to earn my bachelor’s in dance at a prestigious school, traveled the world performing as a professional dancer, and had to cut short my dancing career early due to a back injury. I wanted a career that would still give me the freedom to travel while also earning a good living. I also loved how crucial court reporting is for getting a record of people‘s experiences and for the judicial system as a whole.

JCR | What’s your “can’t live without” item in your steno bag?

BG | Definitely back-up USB flash drives. I always, always back everything up, because you just never know when technology is going to be cranky.

JCR | What is your biggest challenge as a new reporter?

BG | My biggest challenge as a new reporter is learning how to have a good work/life balance. I really love what I do, so I tend to get lost in my work. I’m trying to learn to step back and take time to do things for myself outside of work too. Self-care is crucial!

JCR | What is your next goal? What is a long-term goal?

BG | My next goal is working on realtime. I’m learning that the cleaner that I write while on the job, the less work I have to do editing. I want to be writing realtime as soon as I can.

A long-term goal of mine is to be able to take depositions internationally. I would love to travel for work. That’s the dream.

JCR | What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

BG | When I’m not reporting, I love to take yoga classes and explore new neighborhoods. I really enjoy being outside and walking. I also want to get into doing volunteer work with animals.

JCR | What do you love about your career?

BG | I absolutely love meeting new people and going to new offices every day. It’s always something different, and there are no two days the same.

JCR | How has involvement with state and national associations benefited your career thus far?

BG | Being involved with associations has been so important for me on my journey to becoming a court reporter. I have met wonderful reporters through the associations who have supported me, cheered me on, and have been there for me for every question that I have. The court reporting community is like no other, and the reporters I have met through associations inspire me every day.

JCR | What was the best piece of advice that you received from another court reporter that helped you?

BG | The best piece of advice I ever received from another court reporter is to be confident in my skills and to not be afraid of taking charge. Being a new reporter can be a little intimidating sometimes, but you just need to walk in with a smile on your face and your head held high.

Mike Hensley, RDR, is a freelancer from Dublin, Calif. He can be reached at stenomph@gmail.com.

At a glance: Taking depositions in Europe (UPDATED)

An updated blog posted by JD Supra on Nov. 20, offers tips for taking depositions in Europe, and addresses such issues as managing language gaps, travel access, scheduling ease, and more.

Read more.

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.

300 words a minute: A day in the life of a court reporter

NCRA member Sandra Mierop, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, of Anchorage, Alaska, explained many aspects of the skills of court reporters in an interview published Oct. 16 by webcenter11.com based in Fairbanks.

Read more

Corporate deposition — multiple witnesses at the same time?

A blog posted by JD Supra on Sept. 30 offers tips on taking a corporate deposition that includes multiple witnesses at the same time.

Read more.

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.