Court reporter shortage in San Mateo County, Calif.

The Daily Journal, San Mateo County, Calif., reported on July 12 that due to a severe court reporter shortage, the county’s Superior Court will no longer provide official court reporters for certain court proceedings as it actively seeks to expand its court reporter resources.

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Shortfall leaves attorneys, court reporters in a lurch as Florida governor ponders budget

The Orlando Sentinel reported on June 13 that a $17 million shortfall at an agency that pays indigent criminal defendants for legal counsel means state vendors supplying court reporters, private investigators, and expert witnesses are going without pay for at least two months.

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A most unique situation to report

Photo by the Hon. Melba Marsh

Earlier this month, NCRA member Taleesa Smith, RPR, an official court reporter from Hamilton County, Ohio, found herself reporting a sentencing proceeding from outside of an ambulance.

“This was the most unique situation for me as a court reporter,” said Smith, who has been an official court reporter since 1997.

“When I went to court that morning, the bailiff told me we were taking a plea outside in the ambulance because the defendant was not able to come up to the courtroom in the elevator because he was a very large man and very ill with oxygen and had trouble breathing,” she said.

Turns out, Smith was the official court reporter for a case that made national news. The case was that of a 600-pound drug dealer who was being sentenced after pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking and being a felon in possession of a gun. Because of his size and health-related condition, the proceeding took place in an ambulance since he could not be moved into the courthouse.

Because of the defendant’s size, there was no room in the ambulance for Smith to set up her machine, she said.

“It was raining that day. I extended the tripod as far as I could, and I stood at the back of the ambulance. The judge was halfway in and halfway out of the ambulance. The bailiff and EMT personnel held umbrellas over me so my steno machine would not get wet,” Smith explained.

“It was very noisy because of the rain and because the engine was still running on the ambulance. It was just a simple plea and sentencing,” she added.

Smith said she was very pleased at how the presiding judge took his time with the defendant, asking him if there was anything he needed or if he needed water.

“The defendant, when asked if he had anything he wanted to say, just muttered, ‘my throat.’ He was able to answer all the questions with a yes or no, but that was all,” Smith added.  

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.

Legal aid groups dismayed by slow rollout of court reporter mandate

Courthouse News reported on May 17 that legal aid lawyers in California were left frustrated and disappointed by the Judicial Council on Friday, saying an amendment to a rule regarding free court reporters for poor litigants doesn’t go far enough.

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Tennessee law gives criminal court reporters pay increase

Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.
Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.

The Tennessee legislature passed a pay increase for criminal reporters in the state. The bills, SB 667 and HB 729, were passed through both state houses with the support of the Tennessee Court Reporters Association (TCRA) legislative committee, and the bills were fully funded in the state budget. The increase is expected to go into effect July 1.

Getting this bill through the houses and signed into law was quite the coup for Tennessee reporters, according to NCRA President-Elect Max Curry, RPR, CRI, who spearheaded the legislation. “A little more than 10 years ago, Tennessee did away with the employee status of criminal reporters in Tennessee and has moved to a contractual status for the criminal courts around Tennessee. Due to the substantially lower amount in per diem and page rate offered by the criminal courts, more and more stenographic reporters were refusing to cover the work in lieu of more lucrative private sector work. The situation was creating a shortage of coverage by stenographic reporters in the criminal court system, and the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), which administers the criminal reporters in Tennessee, had begun training electronic recording reporters to cover the criminal courts. Of course, as an association we don’t want that, so we got to work on trying to find a solution,” Curry said. 

“The clearest solution was to increase the funds being paid to attract stenographic reporters,” explained Curry. “The AOC expressed a lack of willingness to move the rate up.  We were only asking for them to increase it to the same rate as that offered by other state entities that use stenographic reporters for their hearings, depositions, EUOs, arbitrations, etc., including the Department of Labor, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and so on. All of these organizations offered higher rates. The AOC couldn’t even compete with the other State entities, much less on an open market. The situation was spiraling out of control quickly, with the AOC offering no solutions that kept the stenographic reporters involved.

“Since the new rate is competitive with other state entities, we feel this will effectively correct the issue and get the criminal courts back on an even keel with the other state entities,” Curry continued. “It will simply be up to the AOC to do rate increases to keep up with inflation and what the other State entities are offering.”

The legislation moved through the process quickly. Every other year, Tennessee’s legislature runs on a fast track, and 2019 was a fast-track year.  “Over three months, we managed to maneuver the bill through the committee/subcommittee system of both House and Senate, work with the legislature on balancing out the fiscal impact of the bill as a law, and get it passed,” said Curry. “It was passed on the final evening of the 111th Tennessee Legislature being in session this year. We literally did this just under the wire of one legislative session, which is next to impossible!

“I took the lead on lobbying to work the bills through the process in the Tennessee House and Senate. Various people from our committee would show up for some of the interviews with legislators, and I would be remiss not to mention them. They were: Dana Webb, TCRA president when the process started; Stephanie Falkner, CRI, CPE, TCRA’s state president as we finished up; Sheila Wilson, TCRA past president and legislative committee member; Sheryl Weatherford, RPR, another TCRA past president and legislative committee member; and Peggy Giles, another wonderful reporter who was part of the legislative team. Each of these people took turns to accompany me to meetings with legislators and advocated for and educated the legislators about our bill and about the court systems in Tennessee and how court reporters are used. In addition, criminal court reporters Lisa Moss, Lori Bice, Gloria Dillard, and Kim Davidson, and many others would show up for subcommittee or committee meetings to show their support of this legislation,” Curry said. “Many of TCRA’s members were involved in the grassroots portion, too, and they did a stellar job of emailing and calling legislators’ offices. I would often hear from the state senators and representatives that people were reaching out and how impressed they were with how organized it all was.”

When asked what he credits the success to, Curry said: “First, we had an excellent game plan. Sheila, Stephanie, and I had all been to NCRA’s Boot Camp in the past, so we had the training. Also, Sheila, Peggy, and I had been through the legislative efforts previously in Tennessee, so all three of us knew how the process worked, and we worked very hard to educate and train the others. In addition, our grassroots organization and ability to get info out to the membership via email blast at a moment’s notice was truly impactful as well…. and they then took action as a group!  Engagement meant everything!

“Most importantly, we had Judge Dee Gay, who is a criminal courts judge here in Tennessee, who worked with us closely, advocated for us, and got us in touch with key legislators to help us,” Curry continued. “One of the attorneys who practices in front of Judge Gay regularly is William Lamberth, who happens to be a State of Tennessee Representative, and who more importantly happens to be the Majority Leader in the House and was our House bill sponsor! This was impactful and quickly opened doors and conversations for us. We did the leg work, and he worked the power struggle in the back. He also worked very hard at making sure we found the money in the budget to address the fiscal impact of this bill as a law. Leader Lamberth also recruited as our senate sponsor a very powerful ally: Pro Tem Speaker of the House Sen. Ferrell Haile!

“That’s not to say that the process was free of problems. While the legislative committee was working to get the legislature to pass the bill to increase pay to the criminal court reporters, two competing bills were also working their way through the process. It took additional education and lobbying to make sure that the legislators understood the impact of these other bills,” explained Curry.

“One of the bills we called the ‘Free Copy Bill,’ which basically would allow litigants (or anyone for that matter) to get a free copy of the transcript once the original was purchased and filed with the court. The second bill was to install an audio recording system in every single courtroom in the state of Tennessee. Because of our involvement, the legislators just let these bills die in committee,” said Curry. “This has been an amazing legislative year in Tennessee and one I’m proud to have been a part of!”

Hidalgo County court reporters receive pay bump

Official court reporters working in Hidalgo County, Texas, will see a substantial bump in pay on their next paycheck after the county’s Commissioners Court Tuesday unanimously approved a request to increase their salary, according to an article posted April 25 by The Monitor.

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NCRA member part of effort to exonerate man

NCRA member Lisa Black’s firm, Migliore & Associates, provided pro bono services in a case where a Florida man was exonerated after 14 years behind bars.

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The importance of court reporters

The  Des Moines Community College student newspaper, The Campus Chronicle, posted an opinion piece on April 6 about the importance of using live court reporters in the courtroom to accurately record proceedings instead of using alternative means.

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Serving as the honorary bailiff for the Kansas Supreme Court

By Mary Kay Howe

Mary Kay Howe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love court reporting!

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