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 ER recorder 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.

Lawmaker calls for increase in court reporter fees

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Vacancies have area court reporters stretched thin

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14 years after Fulton County Courthouse killings, security improvement efforts continue

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Lawmakers agree to boost court reporter pay, in face of ‘crisis’

The Idaho Press reported on Feb. 25 that members of the Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee voted unanimously in favor of boosting pay for court reporters in the state after learning that the state is facing an unprecedented — and critical — lack of court reporters.

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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.