Court reporting in the Army in Vietnam

NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh
NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh

By Mervin Vaughn 

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) presented the 2019 Santo J. Aurelio Award to Mervin E. Vaughn, RPR, from Runnels, Iowa, at this year’s 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo. He recently shared with the JCR Weekly details about his years of service as a reporter in Vietnam.

Having completed my court reporting courses and passed the CSR test, I was ready to begin my career.  Classes were completed in November 1965.  Since the Vietnam War was going full swing, I knew I would be called sometime.  However, my notice didn’t come right away so I freelanced wherever I could pick up work and finally bought a new car to get around the state in.  The car purchase was a Saturday, and my draft notice came the following Monday.  Fortunately, I was able to pick up just enough work before having to report for duty to pay off the car and then store it in a garage for 2 years.

Basic was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  This was a time when the draft decided to call up those getting older before they hit the age to not be called, so I was in with several college grads and older guys.  During basic they tested everyone to see what skills they had.  One of those tests was a typing test on a very old manual typewriter.  While I was going as fast as I could, I noticed a sergeant standing over my shoulder.  When the test was over, he asked what I wanted to be.  I informed him I had been a court reporter prior and would like to do that.  He sent me over to another building to see the staff there.  They wanted to know what I thought I was doing coming over there.  I informed them that the sergeant had sent me over.  They said that, if he had sent me, they had better see why because he never sends anyone over.  Apparently, my typing skills impressed him.  Basic was completed and everyone was being informed where they would next report and what their MOS (military job) would be.  The company clerk informed me I would be a 71E20 and was being assigned to Fort Hood, Texas.  He said he didn’t know what a 71E20 was but he would look it up.  Lo and behold, it was a court reporter.  I was thrilled that the Army was putting me in a position that I was already trained for.

After a short leave home, I enjoyed a long bus ride to Fort Hood.  Fort Hood is an armored divisions fort, so we had tanks, etc., running around.  After getting settled into my new position, everything was going well.  There was one other civilian court reporter already in the office, so we would share the trials as they came along.  As well as being a court reporter, you were required to participate in calisthenics each morning and pull KP duty when assigned.  The barracks were to be maintained in inspection mode at all times also.  This required beds to be made so a half dollar would bounce on them and the floors polished to a high shine.  The floors were concrete, so it took some doing to get a shine on them.  Being an armored division, the floors were dyed red and then wax applied and buffed daily.

One day I was called in and told I was to report to a general at North Fort Hood for a special assignment.  Reporting to a general was out of the ordinary for a lowly private second class.  I was picked up and taken to North Fort Hood.  That is where the National Guard did their summer training.  I reported to the general and was informed that a soldier had been killed and there was going to be a special investigation into his death, and I would be reporting the proceedings.  The general was very nice and appreciative that I was there. 

After reporting the investigation, it was quite late.  The general told his staff to take me to the mess hall and feed me even though it was closed.   When we walked in, the mess sergeant demanded to know what we were doing coming in.  Once he was informed the general had sent me there to be fed, he became very accommodating.  After eating, the staff said they would drive me back to my billets.  I mentioned that the general had said they might fly me in his chopper back, so they did and landed right beside my barracks.  The other guys in the barracks thought someone important was coming in since it was the general’s personal chopper landing.  Were they ever surprised when this lowly court reporter stepped off.  The general later wrote a commendation letter to me in appreciation for my services.

Life then went back to the regular courts-martial cases for a while.  It was just before Christmas in 1965, and I was eating in the mess hall when another soldier stopped at my table and looked at my name tag.  I knew where he worked and asked him what he was doing.  He informed me my name had come down on orders that morning to go to Vietnam.  Needless to say, my lunch never got finished.

I reported back to my office and informed the colonel in charge that I would be leaving apparently.  He became very upset and said he would see about that.  About this time there had been a very young man murdered off base by a soldier.  The other court reporter said she would not report the case because it could carry the death penalty.  The case was referred to the military by the local authorities because Texas at that time did not have the death penalty.  The colonel went to the base commanding general to see if he could get my orders cancelled.  The base commander informed him he could not cancel them, but he could delay them for 90 days and no one could touch me during that time.  This gave enough time for me to report the murder case and get it transcribed.  Once it was completed, I was allowed to take a two-week leave home before shipping out to Vietnam.

After my leave, I reported to San Diego for processing to Nam.  During this time the military was using commercial jets as well as ships to transport guys going to Nam.  After processing, we were loaded onto buses and sent to the airport.  Come to find out, they had no plane scheduled for us when we got there.  The military proceeded to inform the airlines that they would unload the plane currently sitting on the tarmac and load us on instead.  They had some very unhappy customers when they were informed their plane had been taken for us.  We were in no hurry personally.

We landed in Hawaii to refuel but were not allowed to leave the plane.  We also landed in Guam for refueling.  Then we arrived in Nam.  Stepping off the plane, I thought we had landed near the dump because it smelled so bad.  Sure different than the fresh air of Iowa. 

After processing, I was then assigned to a signal outfit.  Once arriving there, they determined that they had no need for a court reporter but needed a legal clerk.  Hence, I took over the duties of a legal clerk, which involved helping soldiers that were encountering legal problems back home with their spouses or financial institutions.  This also involved pulling guard duty at night sometimes.  Since my typing skills were beyond the other clerks, I was given the assignment of typing papers that could not have any mistakes on them.  If you mistyped, you had to start over.  We only had manual typewriters again.  Everything must be in multiple copies also, so there was carbon paper to deal with.  Copy machines did not exist then.

After about six months as legal clerk, the JAG (military legal office) discovered I was a court reporter and had me immediately transferred to them.  Once again, I was reporting general courts-martial.  In the military everything is transcribed and reviewed higher up.  They needed five copies.  The transcripts were on legal-size paper and single spaced.  There was no transcript fee either.  Using a manual typewriter and cutting five copies required real pressure on the key stroking.  As a result, I was a pounder on my steno machine forever. 

Being a court reporter, no one understood how you could capture everything that was being said.  I think it brought some respect as a result.  Other duties were still required outside the JAG office, such as guard duty and latrine duty, until you attained a certain rank.  After attaining that higher rank, your name was removed from those duties. 

Once again, during this time, I was required to report a murder one case.  A soldier had killed another soldier during a fight.  In both of the murder one cases, the defendants were found guilty and given life sentences.  If they had received the death penalty, the transcript would have gone to the president because he has to approve such sentence.

One day in the mess hall, I saw that they had wheat bread for a change.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered the wheat in the bread also had legs.  We were lucky, though, because we at least had a mess hall and a hooch to sleep in.  A hooch was a frame building covered in screen wire with a tin roof and was surrounded by a sandbag wall to protect from incoming fire.  Bathroom facilities consisted of a multi-hole outhouse with half of a 50-gallon barrel beneath each hole.  When you were assigned latrine duty, it was your job to pull the barrels very carefully with their contents and replace with an empty barrel.  You then carried the removed barrel to a location away from the buildings and poured diesel fuel into the barrel and burned the waste.  Luckily, you did not draw that duty too often.  Showers were in rough-framed wooden buildings with an overhead tank.  You tried to take your shower after the sun had warmed the water in the tank.  Each floor of the hooch contained approximately 20 soldiers.  The beds were covered with mosquito netting and you were required to take pills to help prevent malaria.  When the monsoons were going, your clothes would mold even though they were inside.  The poor guys in the field would have their clothes rot while wearing them.  Being a court reporter probably saved my life because at that time they were sending almost everyone to the field, including college grads, etc.

About 30 days before my time was up, I, along with two captain lawyers, were assigned to be flown by chopper into a special forces camp to investigate a possible war crimes situation.   We had to fly in because the roads were controlled by the Vietcong.  We were not overly excited about that assignment, but all went well and we were back to our home base before nightfall.

As the time approached for my departure, I was asked if I would be interested in reenlisting.  After declining, they then asked if I would like to go home and be discharged and then come back as a civilian in the same position.  This I also respectfully declined as I had a job waiting for me back home as well as a fiancée.  In exactly one year, I left Nam for good old Iowa.  The rest is history.

Captioners shared history with NCRA highlights past, present, and future

NCRA members Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, Portland, Ore.; Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, Minden, Nev.; and Kelly Linkowski, RPR, CRR, CRC, CPE, Rittman, Ohio, presented a session at the NCRA Convention & Expo that highlighted the history of captioning and shared a vision of the future. The JCR Weekly asked the trio to share their thoughts.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your background and how you are connected to captioning?

Linkowski | We tell people all the time how diverse a career in court reporting can be. It’s my favorite part of being a realtime stenographic reporter. My career has evolved to fit my family’s lifestyle and mine, unlike many professions where you have to fit your life around your career. I loved freelancing and never knowing what the next day may bring when I was in my 20s; I enjoyed the challenges and opportunity to sub in courtroom settings; but my ultimate favorite has been captioning as an independent contractor. When my kids were young, they would tell people I watched television for a living! Little did they know, working my own hours — as weird as they were — helped our family dynamic work in the way my husband and I had envisioned.

Yates | In the mid-1990s, after 25 years in judicial reporting, I was looking for a change, a new challenge. I attended the NCRA Annual Convention & Expo and heard a keynote speech by Henry Kisor, author of the book What’s That Pig Outdoors? He spoke about his experiences as a man who is deaf and the importance of captioning and CART in his life. He urged our members to retrain to become captioners. I took up that challenge and have never looked back. I haven’t done broadcast captioning, but I have worked providing CART captioning in every possible setting, including onsite for individual students in their classes; for large convention and meeting audiences; in my hometown and in many other states; as well as across the globe in other countries. Now I work almost exclusively from my home office providing remote captioning.

Studenmund | I am one of the owners of LNS Captioning in Portland, Ore. We started LNS Captioning in 1993. I first worked as a captioner in 1992. I have served on NCRA committees involving captioning since 1994 and taught workshops about realtime writing and captioning back in the 1990s, and I am still involved in captioner education to this day. I was one of the instructors for the Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) Workshop held in Denver in August 2019.

JCR | What do you tell captioners who ask you, “What has NCRA done for captioners?”

Studenmund | In 2012, the NCRA Captioning Community of Interest (CoI) took the bull by the horns and developed the Best Practices for Captioning, the effort that led to the Federal Communications Commission establishing – in 2015 – rules for captioning quality. The NCRA Captioning CoI was tired of hearing everyone in the broadcast realm blame any problems with captions on the captioners. We knew our captions went through many hands between our steno machines and computers and the end user’s TV. We started the conversation to identify all of the roles involved in the creation and delivery of live captions.

Linkowski | Certification. Certifications are an immediate letter of reference. They guarantee I have the minimum requirements. You can’t fake it – you are a realtime writer. Sometimes you are writing upwards of 300 wpm, and companies are hiring you to be the accessibility link to their customers. Certifications get you in the door; CEUs and daily developing of your skills and knowledge base will propel you to the top.

Yates | You cannot talk about the history of captioning without acknowledging the central role NCRA has played. As some of our members pioneered the field, NCRA highlighted their outstanding work every step of the way. Through our JCR articles and conference seminars, NCRA educated and trained legions of new captioners. We created certifications that allow our members to demonstrate their mastery of this skill and differentiate themselves from competitors. Our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill put a spotlight on captioning and gained millions of dollars to enable our schools to train captioners. NCRA’s public relations department helped place articles about captioners in local and national media outlets, especially after national disasters. The Association works with other organizations, particularly those representing people with hearing loss, on all captioning issues. NCRA continues to be the leading champion for captioners, both within our own ranks and to all external audiences.

JCR | What do you see as the future of captioners? 

Yates | I see a continuing expansion in the demand for our skill. It won’t be strictly as captioners, but in a more fluid and flexible field of instant, clean, (nearly) verbatim text for every imaginable situation. The word’s out, and the simultaneous display of the written word as the speakers talk is now a service that people just expect to be available. While other technologies might be available at lower cost, a skilled steno captioner will continue to be the standard against which all others measure themselves. 

Linkowski | Opportunities are more abundant than ever before. Captioning is no longer for just the deaf and hard of hearing but is a key communication component to universal design.

Studenmund | In the near future, live stenographic captioners will adjust to new competitors in our marketplace. Over time, we will see automated speech recognition improve. Our consumers will continue to make their voices heard about the level of quality they need in live captions. And live captioners will see the marketplace recognize the need for human captioners who are professionals who are accountable to ethics codes and quality of captions.

Look for an article on the history of captioning coming in the November/December issue of the JCR.

Catching up with Realtime Champion Doug Zweizig

NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig
NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig

Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, of Baltimore, Md., was crowned the 2019 Realtime Contest champion at the NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo. He wrote the two legs of the Realtime Contest, a literary at 200 wpm and testimony at 225 wpm, with an overall 98.4 percent accuracy. The JCR Weekly reached out to Zweizig to learn more about this, his third win in the Realtime Contest.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your career?
DZ | My first job was as a freelancer in Philadelphia. A great place to learn. I had a lot of variety in the types of work I did. Lots of medical. I next worked in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court (the First Judicial District of PA). Talk about a variety of work. Lots of homicide trials, medical malpractice, mass tort. It was a great place to work and a job I truly loved, but I felt I needed a move. In 2014, I accepted a position with the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Md. My coworkers here are great. They’re extremely supportive of me. But at the end of the day, I’m just another one of the reporters, and I’d have it no other way.

JCR | How long have you been working in the profession?
DZ | Since 1989, so 30 years!
 
JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
DZ | I saw an ad in my hometown newspaper for Central Pennsylvania Business School (now Central Penn College). They had many different programs. I had a travel brochure and court reporting brochure in front of me. I thought that court reporting sounded interesting. My grades in high school, however, were not the best. My mom and I ended up having to go for an interview with the dean and the head of the court reporting program. I think I pretty much talked my way in, and they decided to give me a chance, and I’m so glad they did. It was an extremely difficult program, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I definitely need structure.

JCR | This is your third win. Does it feel like it gets easier? 
DZ | I can only speak for myself when I say, no, it does not get any easier. It’s not easy at all, actually. My first win was kind of a huge surprise to me and a lot of others. For years, I thought perhaps it was a fluke. So that was 2006 and I didn’t compete again until 2009, and I did not do well at all. When you’re a past champion, the pressures are high (both self-imposed and from others). But I’m ultimately human, so state of mind and focus at the time I’m competing plays a big role for me.

JCR | You compete in both the Realtime and Speed Contest. As a participant, what are some of the differences between the two?
DZ | Up until 2012, I’d only ever competed in the Realtime Contest. I never thought I could compete in the Speed Contest. I waited to register for it until literally the last minute. The convention in 2012 was in Philadelphia, where I lived, so I was playing host to many people. I wasn’t getting a lot of rest. And, wow, I placed third in my very first speed contest! Now, that was a shock! I also placed third in the Realtime Contest that year. That was fun and very memorable.

JCR | Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win? 
DZ | Well, I’m not complaining about winning the Realtime Contest three times now, but the Speed Contest, yes, I’d love to win it just once. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to give myself a shot at that.

JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
DZ | Sure. Why not? I make myself sick over the contests and overthink constantly. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t do it unless I enjoyed it on some level.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?
DZ | I guess I want to see if I can outdo myself, really. People assume I’ve got all this confidence. I mean, I know that I’m good, but I’ve always been my own worst critic. And I assure you that is not false modesty. It’s the real deal for me.

JCR | What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a contest before? How can they get started?
DZ | Well, I never thought I could compete in national contests. In 2005, I just kind of went and did my thing and got third place. A lot of it is just being in the room and getting a feel for it all. Talking to regular contestants wouldn’t be a bad thing, but until you’ve experienced it yourself, you won’t know for sure. If you’re planning to compete in the Speed Contest, by all means practice speed and not perfection. In my opinion, transcription is a huge part of the Speed Contest; e.g., figuring out misstrokes: “slop,” stacks, split strokes. I have all of the above when I’m writing for pure speed.

If you’re planning to compete in the Realtime Contest, my suggestion is to practice RPR and RMR speeds. Since it’s got to translate correctly, having control of your writing at higher speeds (not as high as for the Speed Contest) is a good thing. The Realtime Contest is rarely ever easy, at least to me. A 225 Q&A is probably nothing for most people with their RMR, but when it has to translate and you won’t be able to edit after, therein lies the pressure! And if you’re planning to compete in both, alternate your practice. I will frequently do a quick switch from a horrendously fast speed take to a realtime take. Being able to switch gears without blinking is a help. That’s something I’ve actually gotten much, much better at, but I’m still a work in progress.

JCR | How far in advance do you begin to practice for the national contests?
DZ | Well, for past contests, maybe a month before, I’d start to do some practice a few times a week. Maybe 10-12 hours total. No, not enough for me now. I have done very well in the past with little to no practice. But practicing every day has been a huge benefit to me. For this year, I actually decided I was going to start to practice in February. I even bought a student writer on eBay to keep at home. Most of the inspiration for beginning my practice regimen on Feb. 25, 2019, was positive; namely, the one and only maestro himself, Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, North Brunswick, N.J. The man lives and breathes steno practice and inspires so many to do just that, including me! He’s just amazing.

Anyway, I decided I was going to practice every single day, and it didn’t matter how busy I was at work. I started off by purchasing a bunch of practice material from the NCRA Store and added it to my library. Keeping a detailed practice log was an absolute necessity for me. This means that I pause between each take so I can note exactly what I’m attempting to write. And I give myself feedback on many of the takes, whether I wrote a perfect paper or a not-so-perfect paper.

I switch from speed to realtime and back again and again and again. They are two very different mind-sets to me. When I’m in “realtime” mode, my focus is usually razor sharp. Sometimes I honestly don’t know how I focus to the degree that I do when writing realtime, but I do (not always successfully).

For speed — and this is where I’m still a work in progress  — I try my best to just get it down because I know I’ll have time to transcribe it. I don’t punctuate as much. Writing for pure speed requires a lot of focus too, but it’s different to me. Sometimes I’ll look down at my hands on purpose just so I can realize how truly fast they are moving. I also started to sometimes listen to high-speed takes in the car. Some of the speed takes are so fast to me that I have trouble processing them in my brain so that I’m hitting the correct keystrokes.

JCR | Has your win affected you in any way? 
DZ | It’s been pretty crazy since it happened. I was going through a lot emotionally immediately before the contests. My cat of 20 years  — yes, 20 years  — Jasper started to go downhill shortly before Denver. I had to make the extremely difficult decision, the day before I left for Denver, to take away his pain, and I did just that. It was the least I could do for him. I was a mess, to say the very least. And it was no one’s fault except my own, of course, but the very first leg of the Speed Contest was about cats. I think that was in the first or second sentence. And that was it for me on the Speed Contest. But, ironically enough, the literary is the leg I qualified on. Go figure.

So I knew I had to pull it together for the Realtime Contest the following day. I’m pretty sure many people were chatting about what I was going through at the time (I know it made the rounds). I mean, we all go through things, but this was particularly difficult for me. I’m still getting e-mails from people asking advice. I only wish I had a “formula,” but it’s a combination of things for me.

JCR | Anything else you would like to share? 
DZ | Don’t underestimate yourself. I never thought I’d ever compete, much less win. I underestimated myself for years, but events were set in motion that caused me to start to compete, and was I ever surprised! I don’t always win and I don’t always do well, but that won’t stop me from trying.

New Professional Profile: Sara Galante

Sara Galante

By Ashley Stahl

Sara Galante attended the Long Island Business Institute.  She reports freelance and per diem court proceedings in New York and has been working for a little under two years.  She talks to us about what life was like in school and her transition to professional reporting.

JCR | Tell me a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the field of court reporting.

SG | I’ve been officially working for a little under two years. I’m a fur-mama to four pups and live in New York, specifically Long Island.  My father is actually a court reporter, and he’s the one I have to thank for introducing me to this wonderful career!  He began school when I was a kid, and I remember playing with his old machine and paper and was always intrigued.  I’ve always liked English, and I’ve always been a fly-on-the-wall kind of girl, so this career is perfect for me. 

JCR | What was your practice routine like as a student?

SG | When I was still working 40-hour weeks, I would practice before work about an hour and then another one to two hours when I got home.  I used my time wisely at work by bringing my notes in and transcribing whenever I had the opportunity.  Lots of long nights and not many social events, but it was all worth it!

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

SG | This is a tough question!  I guess for me the hardest part was making myself seem like a seasoned professional in the very beginning.  I never wanted anyone to think I was new or lacked experience.  I’ve always had a “fake it till you make it” motto, and this was no different.

JCR | How did you feel before and after your first assignment as a court reporter?

SG | Before, I was VERY nervous.  I wrote down the oath and other notes on sticky notes and made sure I had easy access to them throughout the first deposition.  When the attorneys asked me to read back, I thought I was going to be sick.  After I nailed the first three requests for read back, my confidence soared, and I left that job on cloud nine!  It’s been (mostly) smooth sailing since then!

JCR | What do you love about your career?

SG | The flexibility and the opportunity to learn something new every day!  I get bored easily, but there’s no time for that with this line of work. 

JCR | Do you have any advice for students?

SG | Work hard.  Practice!  Don’t hesitate to ask for help.  Know that you can do this, and that it will be 100 percent worth it.  I promise.

JCR | Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

SG | Aside from hanging out with my four pups, I love to travel, hike, read, and watch movies.

New Professional Spotlight: Caitlin Albrecht

Caitlin Albrecht

By Jan Ballman, FAPR, RPR, CMRS

Caitlin Albrecht is a freelancer from Plymouth, Minn., who graduated from Anoka Technical College in Anoka, Minn.

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

CA | For me, it was the realization that my writing was still my writing.  It may sound silly, but whenever I thought about that far-off day when I passed my last test and sailed out of school on cloud nine, I believed that a magic switch would flip, and I would suddenly have stellar writing.  No longer would my hands freeze up and my heart start pounding its way out of my chest.  From now on, writing would be a breeze as I focused on the finer things of life, like what steno machine I would select or what I would do with all the extra cash now that I was working.  I can smile and shake my head now at my naïveté, but at the time, the shock of realizing I had to now take professional jobs and still deal with that paralyzing stress threw me into a tailspin. 

JCR | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?

CA | That it’s OK to not be perfect.  While I still strive for perfection in my writing and transcription, I don’t beat myself up anymore about not achieving the unattainable standard I set for myself when I first began working.  Providing realtime for clients has been a scary step for me, but also one of the biggest helps.  I’m forced to admit that I don’t write everything perfectly, but it also boosts my desire to get every word down accurately the first time around.  Ironically, throwing myself out there and showcasing my imperfection has skyrocketed my confidence and made me a better writer in the long run.

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

CA | My current goal is to obtain my RPR.  I completed the written test and first two legs while in school and have been working at that last Q & A leg ever since.  I really struggle some days when I think about tackling that last leg, but my mentors and fellow reporters have been hugely encouraging and supportive.  I know I belong in this profession; once I get my RPR, everyone else will know it, too.  In the long term, I want to replace those letters with the RMR certification, and eventually become a Registered  Diplomate Reporter.

JCR | Who is your mentor?

CA | I have been blessed with a number of incredible mentors, but the most influential have been Jan Ballman, Mary Mitchell, and Merilee Johnson.  Jan was my mentor in school and really got me thinking about the reporter I wanted to be once I graduated.  Mary walked me through my first years as a brand-new reporter and showed me how a true professional tackled the difficulties of reporting life (while still looking cool as a cucumber … I’m still working on that part).  Finally, Merilee has been the catalyst for my success in providing realtime.  Without her encouragement and selfless investment in my training, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today in the profession.  These women have inspired me with their innovation, excellence, and determination, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them.

JCR | Do you have any advice for reporting students?

CA | Be kind to yourself and keep at it.  I remember sitting in school and taking test after test, hopeful that maybe this time I’d write well enough to move on.  It was the easiest thing to start an internal dialogue in my head about how I should have had a better brief for that four-stroker, or how everyone else in the class seemed to be doing just fine while my shoulders slumped in defeat.  Court reporting school is tough!  In the end, though, it really comes down to staying positive, outwardly and inwardly, and sitting down day after day in front of your steno machine and choosing to fight for every word.  It really is a battle some days, but the outcome is worth it.

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

CA | I have been a student in Kung Fu San Soo, a self-defense martial art, for over a decade, and there’s nothing like getting on the mat to shake (or punch) out the stress of the day.  I also volunteer with my church’s youth group and enjoy doing everything from having honest life discussions with the teens to attending the high school sporting events, concerts, and theater performances they’re involved in.  When I’m not doing either of those things, I enjoy diving into a good Bible study or learning how to play new board games with my boyfriend, Matt.

Convention winner Garcia excited about future

Alexandria Faith Garcia

We recently held a contest to give a free 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo registration to a new member who joined between May 17 and June 30. Alexandria Faith Garcia was the winner. She told the JCR Weekly about her journey to court reporting.

I have an aunt who is an official court reporter in Harris County, Texas, and that is how I found out about the court reporting industry. I chose to do court reporting because I saw how many different paths you could take as a reporter, such as being a freelance reporter, a captioner, or having an official position in court. I liked the idea of having different options so that I could see which one fit me best. When I found out that you could caption at events such as sporting events and concerts, that is what intrigued me. I hope to caption for those kinds of events sometime in the future.

My family is what kept me motivated during school and practice time. Growing up less fortunate than others really pushed me to finish school so that I, along with my mother and sister, could have a better life for not only ourselves but for our future families as well. They were a constant support throughout school. Being able to go through the experience of theory and speedbuilding was tough at times, but it has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done for myself and for them as well. Now it has even inspired my sister to push through court reporting school, and I cannot wait for her to become a fellow reporter.

While in school, I had the opportunity to attend Texas Court Reporters Association and NCRA conventions. Those were a lot of fun. I loved learning more about this profession that I did not know about, such as the different contests that I could participate in once I became qualified. The continuing education in this field is never ending.

My advice for future court reporters is to keep pushing through school no matter how hard it gets. Keep going because there’s a whole world of things to do and places to go. Do the homework even if it’s tiring and boring. Make time to practice outside of school. It will only make you write faster and help you memorize briefs and phrases. Transcribe as many tests as you can because that will only make you better. There were times when I felt I couldn’t put my fingers in a position to press the right keys or when I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach a certain speed, but now I look back and see how silly it was to think I wasn’t able to do those things because I am doing them now. During the moments I didn’t feel motivated, I pushed through and made myself practice, and I must say that the compensation has been rewarding.

I recently started my career in May of 2019, and I can see the change and impact it has made in my life. I’m currently a deputy court reporter in juvenile court. Everything is fresh for me, and I’m learning a lot as I go along, and, luckily, I have amazing people I can turn to when I need help. Overall, this journey from the start of school until now has been such a big blessing for myself and my family. I very much look forward to the future I have in court reporting.

New Professional Spotlight: Amanda Harwell

Amanda Harwell

By Selana Scott and Michael Hensley, RDR

Amanda Harwell is a graduate of MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill.  As a new professional court reporter, she has started her career with gusto.  Providing coverage for the Chicago area, she handles many different types of proceedings.  Ask anyone who has worked with her, and they’ll tell you she is a force to be reckoned with. She recently spoke to the court reporting students at MacCormac College and gave them advice on how to handle the constant questions from families about when they will be finished with school. When her family was asking, she said she corralled them in one room and made them listen to a recording of someone speaking at a rate of 200 WPM, while she transcribed the recording for them all to see. Needless to say, no one questioned her again about when she’d be finished with school.

JCR |How did you become interested in becoming a court reporter?

AH |I became interested in becoming a court reporter for many reasons. I knew coming straight out of high school I wanted to go into the legal field, but I did not want to commit to the years of necessary schooling. After winning multiple typing class competitions, my typing teacher in high school encouraged me to look into court reporting. After some research, school visits, and talking with seasoned reporters, I was aware this was the career for me.

JCR | Where did you first start working once you graduated/certified?

AH | Immediately following certification I started my employment with Planet Depos.

JCR |What do you love most about being a court reporter so far?

AH | My favorite thing about being a court reporter is the versatility. Being a reporter, you really have to be able to adapt to a number of circumstances, personalities, and deadlines. It keeps me on my toes! I never feel bored, unmotivated, or looking for the next best thing being a reporter. I know that each day will bring different opportunities.

JCR | What advice do you have for students who are near the end of their education?

AH | Never stop practicing. The more consistent you are with practicing following graduation will only make the real world that much easier.

JCR | Why do you think it’s important to give back to students now that you are a new professional?

AH | I believe being a young professional reporter is something that not a lot of students get to see. I know when I was going to school it was difficult to feel like I could achieve this goal considering the age gap of the working reporters I had come into contact with. My ability to relate to the students and their personal educational experience provides realistic insight that is valuable.

JCR | What’s your favorite accessory (gadget) that you bring with you to every job?

AH | I do not work a day without my USB microphone extender. I swear by it. After having my audio compromised with the shuffling of exhibits and attorney notes, I realized I needed something to avoid that from consistently happening. I found a USB extender that allows my microphone to be above the table and avoid being knocked out of place. It is beautiful!

JCR | How has your NCRA certification helped you in your career thus far?

AH | My NCRA certification has allowed me the opportunity to work with a wonderful company. Having my RPR has also made it much easier for me to become certified in multiple states and broaden where I can take work.

JCR | Any other thoughts?

AH | Tell your friends! Court reporting is one of the most rewarding careers there is.

My (not-so-secret) life as a weekend rock star

By Patricia Nilsen (with Kiki Kim)

Patricia Nilsen

As a lifelong fan of Mötley Crüe, the glam-metal band that became famous in the 1980s, my dream as a child was to someday meet the band. In the mid-2000s, an inspirational Mötley Crüe reunion show at Madison Square Garden in NYC gave me this wacky idea to start an all-girl Mötley Crüe tribute band. The fact that I played zero instruments seemed just a minor detail at the time. A friend of mine — blonde, like the Crüe’s lead singer — loved the idea and said she could sing. I thought: “Done, here we go!” And Girls Girls Girls was born. I asked my husband for a bass guitar for my 31st birthday, and he obliged with a shiny pink bass and the words he would probably one day come to regret: “You better actually play that thing.”

I was working as a full-time federal official in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan — a pretty busy gig, if you’re not familiar with it. Lacking the time for lessons to start with the fundamentals, I essentially learned online. I also couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a pick — my fingers had always been fast on the machine, so I went with what I knew.

I had been noodling at home for a few months when I saw an ad for a ladies’ rock camp, which seemed like a good place to meet my future bandmates. Most importantly, I needed a guitarist that could really shred. Sadly, the guitarists at camp were more Jewel than Lita Ford. I did, however, meet a wannabe drummer who did finance by day and just came for fun: Kiki Kim. She and her friend invited me to ditch camp at lunch to get a beer – rock ’n’ roll already! Over drinks, I told her my idea, which she probably laughed off as a “Sure, I’ll join your (finger quotes) band.” We exchanged business cards, and that was likely the last she thought she’d ever hear from me.

To find the last piece of the puzzle, my graphic-artist husband photoshopped our faces over an iconic photo of Mötley Crüe with a blank over guitarist Mick Mars’ face and the words “YOUR FACE HERE.” I used the picture in an ad containing the same language Mars used for his own ad in search of the band that would eventually become Mötley Crüe: Seeking “loud, rude, and aggressive [fe-male] guitarist.” Months went by with no reply, and I was ready to hang it up when I finally got the call. Denise “D” Mercedes, who had played in a famous influential punk band called The Stimulators in the 1980s, hadn’t played in 20 years but loved our ad so much that she said: “I just gotta see who these chicks are!”


We were now a full band, and it was time to play. In contrast with my sweet and innocent idea of practicing in my city apartment, D, our lone professional musician, knew how to find rented rehearsal-studio space. And, boy, could she shred. My friend couldn’t sing over the loud guitar and was gone by morning. My finance-professional beginner drummer took one look/listen at D and wanted to follow suit. Fortunately, my powers of persuasion were as strong as my will to start this band, and I convinced her to stay at least temporarily (spoiler alert: she stayed for good). And now we were on the hunt for a new singer. The three of us continued rehearsing for months until we found one.

Our first gig was at a club in Jersey, where we played the owner’s birthday party. We hired a party bus to shuttle our friends from New York City for the show, and it was an incredible time! Little did I know that what seemed like the culmination of a dream was only just the beginning. Over the next two years, we played almost 50 shows. I spent two to three weekends a month in a van, visiting new cities, making new friends, and rocking my heart out.

I was living three distinct lives: Patricia, band manager and court reporter; Patty, wife, New Yorker; and Nikita Seis, Goddess of Bass. My life as a court reporter wasn’t much different except that I took more Fridays off and spent Monday watching the black nail polish slowly chip from my nails, in a daze, with a smile on my face and bags under my eyes. We had enough adventures to fill a book. Our rise was fast, as was our fall. The potent mix of four women with strong and distinct personalities led to a dramatic breakup.

During our time off, one member moved on to form a different band, and I had my first child. During maternity leave, I created a photo book of our time together as a band that made us nostalgic and drew us back together, supposedly with new insight into what went wrong and how to change it. Three years after our breakup, a reunion show was in the works, and I was newly pregnant with baby number two. Four months later, I squeezed into my stage clothes (with much lower heels!), and we packed Brooklyn Bowl with a crowd as eager for our return as we were. Everyone was flying high, so I found a replacement bassist and continued just managing the band from home. Now that I had more time, I was able to take the management role more seriously and brought us to new markets, better money, the cover of The Village Voice, and our first international tour in Mexico.


But two years later, the wheels fell off again, and the band broke up for all the same reasons and more. In total, we played exactly 100 shows in 16 states before I moved to Nashville, when I thought that chapter had finally ended. In December 2018, I was a freelance reporter who hadn’t played in three years. Thanks to maintaining our presence on social media, we had continued to receive inquiries from random clubs and people who wanted us to play their brother’s barbeque for chump change. But then I got the email: Netflix wanted us to play a private party in Hollywood for the premiere of the upcoming biopic about Mötley Crüe, The Dirt. It was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us. Phone calls were made, singers auditioned, and the bass was officially out of the case. We landed the gig with about seven weeks to get our act together!

The film producers chose four songs and would decide if the crowd liked us enough for an encore — no pressure! Before the show, we were thrilled to hear that Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were in the house. We hit the stage in front of a capacity crowd at the world-famous Whisky a Go Go and ripped into our namesake song, “Girls Girls Girls.” The energy was electric; it felt amazing. During our fourth song, “Kickstart My Heart,” Tommy Lee and the actor who played him in the movie came dancing down the stairs and made their way to the stage, leading to the cue to play our encore, “Live Wire.”

Watching the drummer who made this music famous air-drumming to my band was a moment I will never forget. After the show, Tommy told us our set was “dope,” and we all went home smiling from ear to ear. I share this story because it all began as a crazy idea I had. The most I imagined was playing a gig for our friends at a real New York City venue. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would create something bigger than myself, and that 13 years later, it would still be going. As court reporters, we tend to think that our job is our life and that we don’t have time for anything else. But one of the greatest benefits of this career is the flexibility, and we can do what we choose in our off-time. Choose big. Dream big. And don’t be surprised when your dreams come true.

Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter with Alpha Reporting in Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached atpatricianilsen@alphareporting.com. For more on Girls Girls Girls, check out the band at www.girlsgirlsgirlsnyc.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girlsgirlsgirlsnyc. Girls Girls Girls drummer Kiki Kim helped with this story.

New Professional Spotlight: Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough is a CART captioner and freelance reporter in Neptune Beach, Fla.  She serves on several committees and the board of directors of the Florida Court Reporters Association.  In her spare time, she enjoys biking and running on her local beaches.

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

AY | Entering a very competitive job market.  Northeast Florida is full of talented reporters.

JCR | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when first starting out?

AY | Practicing to dictation is not just for students!  Short, clean writing will be a lifelong pursuit and should always be the cornerstone of your focus as you grow professionally.

JCR | What’s the most exciting experience you have had working in the profession?

AY | During the 2016 presidential race, I was asked to provide CART during a campaign rally President Obama was headlining.  The energy in the room was electric.

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

AY | Always be prepared.  Perform regular maintenance of your steno bag to make sure you have plenty of pens, paper clips, and exhibit stickers. And never, ever arrive late!

JCR | How has involvement with state and national reporting associations benefited you so far?

AY | My state association has given me friendships to last a lifetime.  The support and camaraderie of our colleagues is very special and something to be cherished. Having seasoned reporters to lean on for advice and encouragement has inspired me to always do my best, and I believe we bring out the best in one another.

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.