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.

Local court reporter lobbies lawmakers for reauthorization of training grants

The Herald-Whig posted an article on May 13 about NCRA’s Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp participant Kim Cottrell, an official court reporter from Quincy, Ill.

Read more.

Cats and Caffeine

NCRA member Angela Sidener, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Henrico, Va., was profiled in an article that appeared in the May issue of Richmond Magazine about Central Purrk, a coffee shop she owns that features adult cats available for adoption.

Read more.

NCRA member interviewed about SPCA benefit

ABC News Channel 13 interviewed NCRA member Penny Wile, RMR, CRR, a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Norfolk, Va., about the third Woofstock event to benefit the local SPCA being held at a local brewery.

Watch the interview.

Court reporting featured at local career fair

NCRA Director Cindy Isaacsen, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Shawnee, Kan., was featured in a photo and quoted in an article posted May 10 by The Miami County Republic,  about her participation in a recent career fair held a local middle school.

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Stenog­rapher finds her focus in pow­er­lifting

Spectrum News, Rochester, N.Y., posted an article about Emily Sallome, a stenographer who will be competing to become the strongest woman in America.

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Retired NCRA member Kenneth Blaine Meyers passes

NCRA lifetime retired member Kenneth Blaine Meyers, a former freelance and official court reporter and past president of the Washington State Court Reporters Association, passed away April 17, according to an obituary posted April 24 by the YakimaHerald.com. In his spare time, Ken loved fishing, hunting, camping, snowmobiling, and traveling.

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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.

Retired Lifetime NCRA member Terry Lynn Jones passes

The Jackson Hole News & Guide reported on April 3 that retired NCRA member Terry Lynn Jones, Jackson Hole, Wyo., an official state court reporter for 38 years, passed away on March 26.  

Read more.

NCRA members find working as extras helps promote the profession

Working as an extra on a TV show or movie is a great way for NCRA members to promote the wonderful work being done by court reporters and captioners every day. It can also be a lot of fun. Two NCRA members recently told the JCR Weekly about their experiences being extras.

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan, RPR, is a freelancer in Woodbury, Conn.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

HL | The Code, premiering April 9 on CBS. It was filmed in November of 2018.

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

HL | The courtroom scene was filmed for 13 hours on one sitting. One of the leading actors (Anna Wood) had to walk past me as she cross-examined a witness in a courtroom scene.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

HL | It was a courtroom scene at Judge Advocate General Headquarters in Quantico. Everyone was in Marine uniforms. A star witness is being examined and cross-examined, and the jury is given closing arguments. I kept writing everything I heard, and new words and names of places would come up that weren’t in my dictionary. Of course, I wasn’t plugged in and by the tenth hour my battery died. But it was the same lines over and over again. It brought me back to my school years practicing the same tapes to get it perfect!

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

HL | Yes, I provided my own equipment. I get a “bump” of extra compensation by bringing my own equipment. After being in holding for quite some time, I was called down and directed to set up behind a huge square desk, far, far away from the witness stand! I already was dismayed at that. The scene director pointed me to my place, the far end of the room near to where the bailiff was stationed. Clearly not a good setup in the real world but this was TV land, and so I began setting up. He asked me to set up the machine on top of the table. This may sound funny, but I told him it’s not done that way. I have a tripod. And so I set up, and the table I was at totally blocked everything from my chest down. If I would’ve set the machine up on the table (without the tripod), it would’ve been at neck height. Set director came back around and said, “Oh, is that how it’s done? It’s on a tripod?” I said yes. So the whole scene was shot and my machine was under and behind a huge desk the whole time!

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went, if you interacted with the actors, would you do it again, and anything else you would like to share?

HL | I would totally do this again. I had to be fitted and wore a Marine uniform complete with medals. I haven’t been able to accept other casting calls, one of them Billions, because of the busy lifestyle I have of owning a business. I’m still freelancing as well as training for marathons. But if another opportunity presents itself, I surely would do it again. Some of the cast members, especially Wayne Duvall, were so intrigued when they realized I was a true court stenographer. Many of the cast members saw me, a new person, on set and went out of their way to introduce themselves and welcome me. They had so many questions and couldn’t believe a real court reporter was on set. What I noticed most was how energetic, gracious, and professional cast members were, filming into the wee hours of the night, and yet they kept a positive attitude, had fun between takes by making each other laugh, and never complained. They had perseverance. I got to see the not-so-glamorous side of filming, and at the same time everyone cooperated and did their jobs. A truly wonderful yet exhausting experience!

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran, RPR, is a freelancer and CART captioner in Decatur, Ga.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

KC | The show is Insatiable, a Netflix series still on today. It was March 22, 2017. A friend and colleague of mine shared on social media that a casting agency was looking for a court reporter. Heck, why not?

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

KC | I was lumped with all the extras. We were there all day. Super early for the hair, wardrobe, and makeup people to assess you. However, you bring your own clothes and makeup for them to decide on. It was at least 12 hours, most of which was waiting in the wings. Similar to how it can happen at work, there was a lot of downtime. I was prepared with transcripts and proofreading that kept me busy the whole day.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

KC | It was a court scene in a rather large courtroom. I was to sit in an old wooden chair in front of the judge, witness stand, etc., which was a real place of prominence over all the other extras, who merely filled a row or two in the room. Ironically, I’ve never worked in court, but this was just pretend, of course.

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

KC | Yes, I brought my own equipment, for which I was compensated a very small amount. I was told they had a writer that was probably older than myself. But, honestly, the whole point of my signing on to do this was to promote an accurate image of our profession and show that we don’t all look like old librarians.

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went?

KC | I was actively on set for about two hours, during which they filmed the same two-minute scene over and over again. In this instance, every time you get a new camera angle in a given scene, it was another shoot with another lens. It makes for a very tedious process. My biggest surprise: The actors’ microphones are so sophisticated that they barely spoke above a whisper. I couldn’t hear half of the lines! My solution was to create my own dialogue in my head and just keep typing away. Again, pretend.

While on set, nearly the whole production team (first director, second director, etc.) came up and said hey to me. They all said, “You really do this for a living? That’s amazing!” Everyone was impressed despite not seeing me actively doing anything but typing on my keys. If only I could have given them a realtime feed! 

We were fed really well on set. Morning meant breakfast and coffee. Lunch and dinner were nice catered events (extras go through last). And midday meant snack time of hot quesadillas. Oh, and there’s a candy stand too!

Spending all day with full-time extras was entertaining. It was a funny collection of 20-somethings and retirees. They loved sharing stories about their experiences, rattling off lists of what shows or movies they’ve participated in. Us newbies were cautioned to not expect to get in the frame. No matter how close you get to the actors, it just never happens. Atlanta has a huge movie/TV industry, so you can really fill your schedule being an extra. The casting company said they’d love for me to register at their office, as there is steady work being a court reporter extra. However, I felt like I paid my dues for now. I really give the production company credit for making the effort of filling the spot with someone authentic.

Did I get on the show? The show didn’t drop on Netflix for at least a year. I haven’t watched it because it looks kind of silly. My husband found my episode and discovered that I did earn a brief shot on screen.