Reporting from the courtroom to jury deliberations

Theresa (Tari) Kramer, RMR, CRR, CPE, an official court reporter from Charlotte, N.C., recently provided CART to a juror. She described the experience for the JCR Weekly.

Tari Kramer

JCR | How long have you been a court reporter?

TK |28 years.

JCR | Have you been the reporter for a juror before?

TK | Yes, one other time, but the juror did not make it into the jury box. This was my first time one made it all the way through the trial process.

JCR | How did you get this job? 

TK | I obtained this assignment based on my skills, equipment, and experience and because our courthouse recognizes the benefit and convenience of utilizing a certified realtime reporter. The jury services office advertises CART as an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) option for hearing-challenged prospective jurors. They refer to it as a “note taker.” We have two full-time realtime reporters, and I was assigned to cover the assignment. The juror had requested someone to provide note-taking services during their jury orientation and during all phases of the trial process.

JCR | How would you describe the experience? What were you doing, and how did you do it? 

TK | This was such a rewarding experience. I can confidently say that it was the most rewarding week of my career. It’s one thing to be involved in the trial process on a daily basis, but it’s an entirely different and humbling experience to help one on one with someone who otherwise would not have been able to participate in the jury process.   

Through this experience I have realized that there are some folks who fall within a gray zone of not being deaf and only somewhat hard of hearing, people who don’t need a full-time interpreter and function well on a daily basis without any assistance. My juror was not fully deaf, has not been diagnosed with any hearing deficit, and does not read lips or communicate through sign language. She was fully capable of communicating her thoughts, articulate with her words, and responded appropriately to attorneys during voir dire. 

Her challenge, as relayed by her, came when people speak soft, there are other noises in the background, or when the speaker is not looking in her direction. The sound suddenly cuts in half, and she begins to panic. Knowing this challenge and realizing the importance of her role as a juror, she decided to ask for a note taker to fill in the gaps during these kinds of moments. 

The view from the juror’s seat

I met the juror at 8 a.m. on Monday morning in the jury assembly room. I discussed with her the services I would be providing, a little bit about the technology, and got some background on her hearing challenges. My employer provided me with a rolling cart, and I followed the juror wherever she was directed to go. She received my streaming feed through an iPad. I had two other iPads on a constant charge, ready to change out for the one she was using. I use a wireless router for the room only. While she was able to view the feed on the iPad, I noticed that my router would cut out when I moved the cart to another room. In the future, unless the juror is sitting in the jury box further away from me, I will just have them view the feed on my computer.

Eventually she was called into a courtroom and was put in the box on the first call by the clerk. I sat behind the official court reporter and provided a feed for her during the voir dire process. Shortly thereafter, she was approved and sworn in as a juror. 

When the trial began, I was sworn in as an interpreter. Having this be a new experience for myself and the judge, I took the liberty of printing out some information from NCRA, the state of North Carolina’s policies on ADA requirements for trial participants, and a few other articles. I highlighted and tabbed the areas most pertinent to the situation and handed it to the judge. It was soon determined that I would act as an interpreter of sorts. My sole job during the trial was to meet her needs. When the jury went in and out of the courtroom, I was with her. I purposely did not stay in the courtroom during the parts of the trial when the jury was gone. I wanted to remove myself from any knowledge of the case and/or any impropriety. 

She did express a desire to have me in the deliberation room because, when everyone was talking, she didn’t think she would be able to hear folks on the other side of the room. That moment came, and I got the enviable opportunity to be a fly on the wall during a jury’s deliberation process. I informed the jury of my role and that my iPad feed was just to be viewed by her, not to ask me any questions, and to treat me as if I was invisible in the room. I did, however, request that they “try” to speak one at a time. Any experienced reporter knows that this will not happen when you have 12 impassioned folks discussing an issue, but I felt I had to make the request anyway.

The deliberation takedown was fast and furious. One juror had been dismissed so it was a jury of 11 (civil case).  In my mind, that was one less voice to pick up and write. I sat in the middle of the room. My client was to the left of me. Eventually we got into a rhythm. She heard what the people were saying to her left and next to her. I wrote mostly what I heard on the right side of me. I would not write what she said. 

Logistically, I had literally five minutes to prepare for this, as the judge got the case to the jury rather quickly, so I had no time to prepare speaker IDs. As it turns out, I would not have had time to identify each speaker anyway due to the fast nature of the conversation. So what I ended up doing was adding two to three lines to my paragraphing stroke. When someone new spoke, I paragraphed and the screen went down a couple of lines. This provided space in between speakers. I know this was not the most ideal, but it’s what I had in the moment and it was my first time going through this experience.  

On a side note, I am so very thankful for the NCRA CART group inside of Facebook that I feverishly made requests in that day. Several reporters chimed in on suggestions for deliberation takedown. I have such appreciation for my seasoned colleagues who have journeyed through this before me. 

When the deliberations were finished, I had written 110 pages in one and a half hours. Mind you, this includes extra lines between speakers, but it was still extremely fast. What an exhilarating challenge that was! They threw the kitchen sink in, metaphorically, with the whole conversation. The terminology varied wildly — everything from religion to hematomas to DUI alcohol terms.

It was also interesting to observe the process. Eleven people who remained silent were suddenly full of thoughts and opinions, waiting impatiently to be the next one to voice their ideas. Most folks were boisterous while the minority were a bit reserved. In the end, however, they came to a consensus as a group because members were willing to compromise without relinquishing their principles. There was some heated conversation and one member who seemed to stand out from the rest on his opinions. This all reminded me of my bachelor’s classes in behavioral science. We studied things like this — what causes a group of people to respond and make a collective decision the way they do; how do outside influences, life experiences, and core beliefs affect a group decision? I was fascinated, like reading a book, to see this process unfold. 

JCR | Did the juror say anything to you about her experience?

TK | Yes. At the end, I was in the jury room with the jurors and the judge. Everyone was speaking frankly and openly about the case and the experience. My client made it a point to thank me and the judge for allowing her to be an involved participant in the process. She said she had been very nervous about the experience (as are most prospective jurors) but especially because she had serious doubts about her ability to serve successfully. She said that my services made that possible for her. The judge also said he had never seen this technology being utilized before. He was familiar with realtime technology but not how it was used for a juror. 

JCR | How long was the case? 

TK | The juror entered the courtroom on a Monday afternoon, was sworn in at the end of voir dire, then came back the next two days for the trial. So it lasted about two and a half days.

JCR | Would you be interested in doing this again? 

TK | I would definitely like to do this again. However, next time I would tweak my dictionary a bit to have more room sound definitions than I currently have; i.e., laughter, loud noise, private conversation held. I would also only bring my laptop into the jury room (thank you, NCRA Facebook group member suggestion). When someone recommended that, I metaphorically slapped my forehead like “oh, yes!” It would have made things go a lot faster had I just provided the juror with a view of my laptop instead of everyone waiting for my technology to reboot in a different room. But I don’t fault myself for any of this because it was all new terrain for me, professionally speaking, so I chalked it up to a wonderful learning experience.

While this appeared to have been a positive experience for the juror, it was eye-opening for me how beneficial court reporters are to the hearing-impaired community. There are folks like this juror who have no idea that this opportunity exists — people who do not fit the black-and-white description of a hearing-impaired client. I wish that CART was more readily known because so many people would find a genuine benefit from this technology. I would love to be involved in creating a CART-in-the-courtroom training program for our officials in North Carolina because, when preparing for and going through the juror’s time in our courthouse, I did not find much information on how to perform my role. It would have been nice to have a crash course of sorts or a cheat sheet to take with me throughout the assignment. We also need to update the verbiage in the interpreter oath, as it did not reflect my role during deliberations. All in all, though, I would definitely do this again because the experience far outweighed the challenges.

Share these videos to promote the profession

“I can go to any city I want,” Isaiah Roberts

Just in time for 2019 Court Reporting & Captioning week, NCRA has  released a series of shareable videos that promote the profession from the perspectives of a variety of stenographers with different stories about how they got started, why they love what they do, and how the profession has enhanced their lives.

Share these videos on social media and email them to your friends to spread the word about the opportunities in this field. It’s a great thing to do this week or anytime you want to promote the profession.

Just in time for 2019 Court Reporting & Captioning week, we have new videos ready to share. You might have seen them on the NCRA Facebook page this week. The videos show NCRA members saying why they love what they do. They highlight the different reasons being a court reporter or captioner is a great career choice.

We urge you to share these videos on social media to spread the word about all the opportunity in our field. It’s a great thing to do this week or anytime you want to promote the profession.

The videos are:

Nothing can compare to this job with Pam and Danielle Griffin

I was so lucky to stumble upon this job with Nancy Hopp

It’s a career that I absolutely love with Charrise Kitt

Seated close to former President Obama with Steve Clark

You can grow this career to anything you need it to be with Merilee Johnson

I can go to any city I want with Isaiah Roberts

If you know people interested in taking the first steps to a career in court reporting or captioning, send them to ncra.org/discoversteno.

I love my job (my love affair could be yours, too)

By Brenda D. Blackburn, RPR

Brenda Blackburn

I have proven myself to be resilient, determined, and steadfast in my profession, and I have embraced many technological advances throughout the 35 years I have reported.  In 1979 I was majoring in English when I agreed to go with a friend to the business school at Ole Miss to check out something. I was killing time and without direction. When we entered the room in the business school, it was filled with these strange little machines. That was the first time I had seen a shorthand machine, although my dad had made me aware of the profession a few years before.  He had known a man that was a stenographer. When I saw that machine, the next thing out of my mouth was, “I want to do that.”  I guess it was love at first sight, and it has lasted.

Working as a waitress in college, I struggled financially to say the least. When it came time to buy a $500 manual shorthand machine, I was also short. I borrowed most of it from my roommate. I am certain she never expected to see the balance. I know I felt I would never make it. By the grace of God I made it beyond that to complete my shorthand requirement, 225 words a minute, and began freelancing in Memphis, Tenn. About six months later, I was appointed as an official in Chancery Court; and later Circuit Court in Mississippi. Sometime in the ’90s, Mississippi created a CSR board and required its reporters be certified. I was grandfathered at that time, based on my years, but took and passed the Registered Professional Reporter exam in 2004.  Around that time, I also qualified in the Magnolia Cup Speed Competition held in Tunica, Miss.: 96.5 percent accuracy, 200 wpm Legal Opinion; 95.7 percent on 200 wpm Literary; 96.2 percent on 250 wpm Jury Charge. After all these years, I keep striving to improve.  As I always say, “I’m not dead yet.”  I practice every day.

I have heard matters of child support, divorce, murder, city annexations, patent cases, and, most famous, the estate of Robert L. Johnson, the blues singer. I have taken the testimony of the medical examiner who determined that, yes, Elvis is dead. Most importantly, I know that each time I have reported the ordinary everyday type of case, I have remembered to put myself in that person’s place, whether defendant or victim, or parties in a civil matter. I always remained impartial regarding the record, and stood up against small-town public opinion at times to maintain the integrity of the record with regard to defendants’ rights.

Brenda Blackburn in 1979

The years I have had in this career have been a great gift. They have taught me a lot about others and myself, and they definitely remind me each day how blessed I have been through the good times and bad. I retired in 2015, after 32 years as an official. I felt a little lost at first because this work has been so much a part of my life.  I began freelancing again, and I am learning something new every day, regardless of my experience.

I volunteer for an NCRA program called the
A to Z™ Intro to Machine Shorthand program , and I have begun to try to encourage some young people into this profession that I hope will develop the same love I have for that little machine and fill some of those vacant positions we have in Mississippi.  What an awesome profession when you can work 35 years and not want to stop.

I don’t know why I had not done this before, but I recently attended my first national convention in New Orleans, La. I am glad I checked this off my bucket list. I was definitely inspired.  I also made some very special friends. Our profession is filled with such a unique and creative group of people. I am so proud and thankful to be one of the proud, the few, the brave in the most unique profession in the world.

Interested in joining the ranks of the elite and becoming a court reporter?  E-mail me to find out where A to Z classes might be held in Mississippi:  lakesidereporting@outlook.com.

Brenda D. Blackburn, RPR

Mississippi Delta (Greenville, Mississippi area)

Advanced Depositions Announces New Operations Manager

Advanced Depositions, based in Irvine, Calif., announced in a press release issued Jan. 30 that Stacey Mayer, an experienced operations leader and industry veteran, has joined the firm as operations manager. 

Read more.

Students receive grant for NCRA memberships

Kudos to Mary Beth Johnson, CRI, Court Reporting Program Coordinator at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, Pa., for supporting her students and NCRA at the same time! Last spring, Johnson applied for a grant through the Continuous Quality Improvement fund at CCAC. This fund “exists to provide immediate financial assistance to faculty members striving to improve student learning outcomes, program objectives and/or general education,” per the college’s policies. 

“At the Community College of Allegheny County, we are continuously looking for ways to engage students outside of the classroom,” Johnson told Up-to-Speed. “To that end, I proposed funding NCRA membership. As you know, I have been a lifelong member, serving on the student community of interest for many years. I am a strong believer in the benefits of student membership in professional organizations. All of our students are also members of the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association.”

In her application for the fund, Johnson outlined a learning gap she believes her students are facing. “Students are not acquainted with tools to overcome the challenge of becoming relevant and updated in the court reporting profession. Students do not subscribe to professional journals or attend networking sessions where they can interact with working court reporters.” This gap, she believes, could be closed by offering subsidized NCRA memberships to all her students.

Membership in NCRA is not just a way for students to succeed while they are in school; it is a way for them to lay the foundation of a lifelong career. “Student membership in professional organizations is considered a pathway to success,” Johnson also wrote in her application. “By supporting student membership in professional organizations, we are breaking new ground and encouraging engagement with colleagues in the court reporting profession.”

Johnson was awarded the grant last spring, but the amount fell just short of covering the cost of NCRA student memberships for all 33 of her students at CCAC. Johnson worked with Susan Simmons, Membership & Events Specialist at NCRA, to solicit donations from anonymous members to cover the cost needed for the final two memberships.

“We are proud to be part of such a committed, passionate, and dedicated community of professionals!” said Johnson.

Mary Beth Johnson, CRI, is Court Reporting Program Coordinator at CCAC in Pittsburgh, Pa. She can be reached at mjohnson@ccac.edu.

Sharing her enthusiasm and her realtime

By Jessica Wills

Jessica Wills, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., volunteered to boost her school’s recruiting efforts by putting on a realtime demonstration at a local high school career fair. She was nervous at first, especially when she found out her realtime was being projected on a large screen. But she soon won over her audience with her speed and accuracy.

Jessica Wills

I attended Wheeler High School’s career fair on behalf of my school, College of Court Reporting (CCR) in Valparaiso, Ind. I wanted to help promote the profession and help students get a better understanding of what court reporters do. Upon agreeing to speak at the career fair, I thought I would set up a booth and provide information to the high schoolers about court reporting and, of course, bring my machine along to show them what it looks like. Little did I know that I would be providing realtime while Nicky Rodriquez, the Director of Admissions for CCR, did all the talking!

As a student, I have never had the need to have my CAT software enlarged on a projector to show my realtime. I don’t think I have ever been so nervous! However, Nicky assured me it would be just fine, and that translation and realtime capability is part of what interests students so much and will hopefully draw them in to wanting to learn more about the profession.

While Nicky explained the role of a court reporter, I wrote every word she said while the realtime came up on the overhead board. I found that although my notes weren’t perfect, the students hardly knew because they were so fascinated by the skill and how steno woks. I explained to them that I can typically read my misstrokes and correct them, or I can define them in my dictionary so that they will come up correct next time. 

With each round of students, I began to feel a little more comfortable. To impress them even more, we had a competition by having them pull out their cell phones and write along with me to a 120 wpm dictation. At the end, I read my notes back, which were clean and exact, while they found they dropped whole sentences! They were amazed by how accurately I recorded each word. I think I did a good job of demonstrating how accurate and efficient court reporters are in capturing verbatim dialogue.

Although I knew that writing realtime would not be easy, I managed to get over my nerves and present a clean realtime feed. I told the students that I take pride in this profession because it’s a unique career and a challenging skill.  I truly love explaining to others how shorthand works and what I will be doing for my career. I am proud to say that I’ve worked hard to be where I am today and will always look to better my writing and improve my skills as a reporter. Through court reporting school, I gained a feeling of self-accomplishment, and I look forward to achieving even more throughout this journey.   

Jessica Wills is a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

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.

Q&A: Checking in with Joe Aurelio

Santo “Joe” Aurelio, FAPR, RDR (Ret.), has always had an attraction to the English language, first as a court reporter and later as a professor of English. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. After he retired from reporting because of a hearing loss, he became a visiting professor at colleges in the Boston area. He teaches a variety of subjects, but mainly English grammar and medicolegal terminology. He will be teaching a live webinar, Homonyms & Pseudohomonyms: The Nemesis of Reporters, Part 3 on Jan. 30, 6-7:30 p.m. ET. The JCR caught up with him to find out a little more about his background and the reason behind his interest in this topic.

Tell us a little about your career.

I started night school at the Boston Stenotype Institute, and on the first night I met a girl, Josephine, who later became my wife.

I ranged all over Massachusetts during my career. During my 39 years, I had a wealth of experiences. I took some important cases (my first murder case was my first case in Korea!) I met some dynamic attorneys while working at the state labor department. My job at the federal agency was to travel around New England taking the testimony from disabled applicants for Social Security aid (some of that was sad). My first case in Superior Court was a criminal case (I was to take many of those). Other than some horrendous murder cases, possibly the two most important cases that I took in Superior Court: one involved the New England Patriots football team and the other, of course, was the Boston Strangler. In a sentence, I’ve had an interesting reporting career with fine memories and opportunities to meet and/or report important persons.

When did you become an NCRA member?

I became an NCRA member, I believe, in 1957. I did so because I believe in unity. When reporters gather together and unite, they have strength and can chart their future course or at least help to chart that course. When reporters join, their dues help to pay for professional advice and lobbying efforts. It’s patently unfair for unregistered reporters to have the benefit of all of the strides that their fellow registered reporters have worked hard for. I am solidly aligned with local, regional, and national unions!

What started your interest in learning more about language than just what you needed for court reporting?

Even as a little kid of 10 or so, I would fool around with language (I’ll be back in a flash with some cash in my sash). Later I remember saying such things as “She would feint a faint.” I was always very interested in homonyms (such as made/maid) and what I would call pseudohomonyms (accede/exceed). In short, I was interested in language many years before I started stenotype reporting. I remember when I was about 14, there was a manual typewriter at the train station where I used to sell newspapers, and I used to put in a quarter to unlock it so that I could type on it for 30 minutes.

If you remember your days from your master’s and doctorate, what did you find was the difference you brought to your studies as a court reporter?

I went back to school late. I was almost 50 when I started my serious studying. My bachelor’s was 1983, the master’s was 1985, and the doctorate was 1989. What I think I brought to my studies was a deep focus that I had to use as a reporter: listening very carefully to every word spoken. In other words, because I was so serious about listening to and capturing every single word in court, I think that that held me in great stead in listening to my professors.

Frankly, it was very difficult to earn three degrees at night while working full-time in a busy court. How’d I do it? By being very motivated because I saw the handwriting on the wall: my hearing loss was making my daily job hard to do. I only succeeded in performing a creditable job in court by having a lot of speed (I passed a 280) and knowing and liking a great deal of English. And that’s how I lasted until 1990. (I wanted to teach in college, and to do that, one needs a lot of degrees.)

You’ve given one seminar for NCRA members recently, and you’re planning another one. What do you hope court reporters and captioners learn from your sessions?

I’ve done one webinar, and soon I’ll do another. I know that a lot of people, including reporters, have great difficulty with English, especially homonyms and pseudohomonyms. Mistakes are being made daily, and the reporters who commit them are not even aware that they’re using the wrong word or spelling a word incorrectly or malpunctuating a sentence. Well, even though I haven’t touched a stenotype since 1990, I still consider myself a reporter, and I feel that it’s my duty to correct or to help correct those who make those types of errors — and I want to do that until I hang up my skates. What I hope reporters will learn from these webinars is that I’d like all of them to learn and use the correct word or punctuation always.

Is there some advice that you would like all reporters and captioners to take to heart?

My advice to all reporters and captioners is to have the highest respect and fealty to the art and profession of reporting. It is an honorable profession. Think of it: Reporters are responsible for taking and transcribing all of the words of everybody. What could be more important than that? I rest my case.

Spotlight on a new professional: Melissa Case

Melissa Case

Melissa Case worked hard to get through school.  She has gone on to work in freelance and court.  In this interview, she imparts wisdom about the schooling process and what to expect when you start a professional career.

JCR Weekly |Tell me about your career path and what drew you into court reporting.

MC |I had a friend who was in court reporting already. She took me around her courthouse for a day, and I fell in love with the profession.  I was in freelance for three years and then obtained my RPR and became an official.  I’ve been there for just over two years.

JCR Weekly |What school did you attend, and how long did it take you to graduate?

MC | I went to Stark State in Canton, Ohio.  It took me just under four years to graduate.

JCR Weekly |What are some things that you like and dislike about professional court reporting so far?

MC |I love my career.  I work in a great courthouse with awesome coworkers. My dislike would be how sore my wrists, forearms, and shoulders can get during a trial.

JCR Weekly |You have done freelance as well as court work.  Can you describe some of the pros and cons to freelance versus official work?

MC |The pro of being in freelance is the flexibility in your schedule.  If you don’t want to work that day, you don’t have to.  The pros of working as an official are the benefits, vacation time, and more steady work.

JCR Weekly |What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?

MC |My coolest experience has been a trial about gambling.  I learned all about different table games.

JCR Weekly |What advice can you give to court reporting students?

MC |Work hard, but enjoy the journey.  You’ll fail tests.  It happens.  But celebrate every little win you can. Look back and remember when you wished you were where you are now.

JCR Weekly |What did you do to remain positive and motivated in school?

MC |I celebrated the wins!  I also would reach out to talk to as many experienced reporters in my area as I could.

JCR Weekly |How difficult was it to obtain your first job after graduating?

MC |Not difficult at all.  I had a job before I graduated.

JCR Weekly |What are some goals down the road for your career?

MC |Future goals are the RMR and CRR.

15 minutes a day for Michelle

By Rich Germosen

A few weeks after the NCRA Convention & Expo in San Francisco, in September 2014, I started a practice page on Facebook. My goal was to get more consistent with my steno practice. I would always practice, but then life would get in the way and I might not practice for a week or so. I wanted consistency and accountability. So I started the 100-day-challenge practice page on Facebook where you would report your practice once per day in a post. Members would encourage each other to keep their streaks going.

When I first started, I posted both my exercise and my steno to the 100-day exercise page I was already part of. Anne Vosburgh, a reporter friend who was in the practice group, suggested I make a 100-day page for just steno. She told me: Make the page and they will come. After a year or so, I made the group secret and put in the rules that you will be removed if you’re not participating. We’re now a relatively small group of anywhere between 130 to 140 members.

I felt if I had a page to post my practice to, that it would keep me going so that I would not skip any days of practice. It is so easy to not practice. But, today, it feels strange not practicing. If I have a job at 9 a.m. in New York City, I set my alarm for 3:59 to get my 15 minutes in before catching the train. The rules for the group are simple, or I think they are at least: Practice 15 minutes per day for 100 straight days without missing a day and post your practice once per day; for instance, “Day 1/100: 15 minutes of Q&A at 250,” or whatever it was. If you stop practicing, you are gently removed from the page.

I keep track of everyone’s milestones, and everyone encourages everyone else. We have a handful of students on there, but the majority of the people in the group are working reporters who want to improve. Personally, I feel I’ve improved a lot. Since starting the page, I’ve received three medals total, my first at the Deposition Reporters Association’s contest in 2017, third place in the 190 wpm Q&A; second place in the Q&A Realtime Contest in Las Vegas at NCRA’s 2017 Convention & Expo; and third place in the Q&A Speed Contest at NCRA’s 2018 Convention & Expo in New Orleans. Likewise, just about everyone who is on the page has mentioned that they see the improvement when they practice, as well as a decline if they take time out from practice.

Michelle Grimes and the 100-day-challenge group

In 2016, one of the members of the group, Michelle Grimes from Chicago, shared with us that she had cancer. Michelle felt safe in sharing with us that she was going through treatments. Through all of this, Michelle somehow kept practicing. It was very inspiring. She completed three 100-day challenges in total. While Michelle was going through treatments, another one of the group’s members, Allison “Allie” Hall, RMR, CRR, started something new by posting an extra 15 minutes for Michelle. It inspired several other people to post “15 minutes for Michelle” in addition to their regular 15 minutes. This means people were putting in a total of 30 minutes per day: 15 regular minutes and 15 for Michelle. We had a lot of members doing the extra 15 minutes for Michelle.

On May 11, 2017, Michelle passed away. She practiced right up until a week or so of passing. The thought on the page was if Michelle could practice through all this, we should practice consistently. Going from 15 minutes to 30 minutes was extremely challenging, especially on days where I’ve been on the record for 7 hours. I find I have to get my practice done before leaving for my 6 a.m. train. It doesn’t sound like a lot more, but 30 minutes is a lot more to do for 100 consecutive days.

I started a countdown of 100 days before the NCRA Speed Contest as a Michelle Challenge. We started on April 24, 2018. The 100th day was August 1, 2018, the day of the Speed Contest in New Orleans.

Nine members participated in the Speed Contest Michelle Challenge. She has left quite a legacy: She inspired us all to never stop improving and to keep practicing. I dedicated both of my NCRA medals — one in 2017 and one this past Convention in NOLA — to Michelle Grimes. She inspired me to practice more and always to improve and get better. Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, received a medal in NOLA and also did the Michelle Challenge prior to Convention, as well as Traci Mertens, RDR, CRR, CRC. We had a lot of qualifiers, including Allie Hall and Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC.

I am confident, if it were not for Michelle Grimes and our special challenge to honor her, I would not have gone ahead and done 30 minutes per day for 100 days. I would have had good intentions, but deep down inside, I know it was all Michelle pushing us all to be better writers. I encourage you to start your own practice group and make it a goal to improve a little bit each day.

Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from North Brunswick, N.J. He also holds the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate.