Depositions in Paris

A blog by Suzanne Quinson from Planet Depos offers tips on taking depositions in Paris. JD Supra Business Advisor posted the blog on May 11.

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How to schedule Chinese depositions

A blog posted May 4 by the JD Supra Business Advisor addresses how to schedule Chinese depositions since they are illegal in mainland China. Author Suzanne Quinson from Planet Depos in Washington, D.C., suggests instead moving deposition locations to Hong Kong where the proceedings are legal.

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Internet Keyboarding Competition sign-ups close April 10

Those interested in participating in Intersteno’s Internet Keyboarding Competition should sign up before April 10.

“You can do the online contest from the comfort of your own home, no passports or international travel required,” says Tori Pittman, RDR, CRI, chair of NCRA’s Intersteno Task Force. “It’s a small and easy step to learning more about your global counterparts.”

Competitors will be using the Taki software, which is downloadable from the Intersteno website, and can participate on a day of their own choosing between April 11 and May 2. Pittman recommends doing some research before competing “Go to the site and do the practice sessions so you understand how the software works,” she suggests.

Court reporting students who are interested in participating should contact their instructor about registering.

Competitors need to provide 1) their full name and address; 2) year of birth; 3) technology to be used (keyboard, stenotype machine); 4) language: mother-tongue or multilingual; and 5) the date they plan to take the test to intersteno@ncra.org. The cost of the contest in U.S. dollars is:

  • $6 for participation only in the mother tongue
  • $8 for competitors writing in two or more languages

Checks must be received by NCRA no later than April 10. Participants will be registered once the check is received. Checks should be made payable to NCRA and mailed to:

NCRA

Attention: Internet Competition

12030 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 400

Reston, VA 20191

More information on the contest is available at intersteno.org/intersteno-internet-contests/.

ON THE SCENE: The Same…but so Different…

By Diana L. Netherton

When I arrived on the judicial scene in London in 1992 as a young rookie court reporter, I had never formally worked as a court reporter. I attended and graduated court reporting school the year before in Florida. During my internship, I met a British sailor sporting a crisp, white uniform, and the rest, as they say, is history. At the time I started reporting in the U.K., I hadn’t a clue how their legal system operated. I just assumed, like most Americans, that dramas such as Rumpole of the Bailey accurately depicted English courts: a bunch of crusty old stiffs in silly wigs. Within a few months, I landed a brief interview with a court reporting firm in London that held the court contracts, proudly showed them my certificate of completion, and the very next day I found myself assigned to a courtroom. I was greeted at the courtroom door by Mavis, an elderly lady in a homemade pink cardigan, who introduced herself as the usher, akin to bailiff here in the States. Ushers are the people who mark the exhibits during trials, not the reporter.

The trend of per diem reporting is growing in the U.S., but the British system has had a per diem arrangement for quite a while. There is a per diem paid for the morning session and a per diem for the afternoon session. If your assigned court finishes early and there is no afternoon session, you can leave. Often I would find myself having court for ten minutes and would be free the rest of the day. Regardless of whether it is ten minutes or three hours, the fee is the same. There is also an additional sum that is paid to public servants who work in London called London weighting. This amount helps to defray living expenses in and around the greater London area, which are among the highest in Europe.

U.S. courts resume their work day far too early in my opinion, sometimes as early as 8:30 a.m. In the U.K. the typical start time is 10:30 a.m. I often grumbled when I had to start at 10 a.m. because I’d have to catch an earlier train. Lunch is from 12 p.m. and recess is around 4:30 p.m.

There are many traditions that have not been retained in the States, and here is where the two systems start diverge. U.S. judges still wear a long black robe, but that is about all the custom that has remained the same. In the U.K. the Crown Court judges, the comparison to county judges, wear purple and red sashes draped across their chests. High Court Justices, comparable to Superior or Supreme court judges, wear scarlet robes trimmed with white ermine fur. They are often referred to as “the red judges.” Tradition requires them to wear black silk stockings, although I am unsure how compliance is enforced or if there is some secret silk stockings enforcement committee. Both levels of judges wear wigs made of horse hair. The Crown Court judges wear short wigs; the Justices wear longer wigs. The Lord Chief Justice of the U.K., in addition to the tradition garb, wears a heavy gold vest that weighs about 40 pounds. No one ever broke tradition, even on the hottest of days.

There are also solicitors, who is a lawyer who acts more like a paralegal, and a barrister. The barrister wears a short wig and a black robe. There are a special class of barristers called QCs — Queen’s Counsel — and they have shiny, fancy cufflinks that distinguish them from the regular barristers. The QCs are the individuals who handle serious, often high-profile cases. The solicitor acts as a go-between, prepping the case, and filling in the barrister upon his or her arrival at court. The barrister sits in the front row, the solicitor is directly behind the barrister, and the defendant is situated behind the solicitor.

The defendant’s location during proceedings is quite different as well. In the U.S., defendants typically sit next to their attorney during the court session. In the U.K., the defendant is in the back, in a large, enclosed plexiglass area known as the dock. They only come out if they’re going to testify. When witnesses take the stand to testify, they typically stand facing the jury. It only dawned on me years later that the standing tactic was indeed a clever one; it was much easier to observe the body language and hand gestures of the witnesses.

Perhaps one of the most time-efficient factors in the British system is the method of jury selection. Here in the U.S., this can be laborious and time intensive. In the U.K., the first 12 names are read off of a list, and that comprises the jury. There are no personal questions asked; no one cares if you’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket, what pets you have, or if your child got a summons for throwing a green Skittle out a moving vehicle (true story here). The jury is selected, and the judge tells them that they have to be fair and impartial and the trial starts.

Another interesting divergence lies with the verdicts. In Pennsylvania civil trials, there is not always an unanimous verdict. It can be ten to two; two-fifths of the jury would have to agree on a verdict. In a criminal case, however, the jury’s verdict has to be unanimous, often resulting in a hung jury and retrial. In the U.K., the judge has the discretion, after an amount of time he or she feels sufficient, to bring the jury back in and give them the majority verdict. Like the civil trials in Pennsylvania, this is ten to two. There were rarely hung juries with this directive. The first time I covered a trial in the U.S., after waiting over six hours for a verdict, I asked the judge when he was going to give the majority directive. He smiled and patiently informed me that was not an option here, but he found that fact interesting.

There is no death penalty in the U.K. That was abolished in the 1960s, but a life sentence usually means life. After sentencing, the judge will write a letter to the home secretary suggesting the length of sentence, and then it’s up to the home secretary to decide if parole is warranted.

During a murder trial in the U.K., the jury visits the murder scene if possible. They are escorted to a bus and are driven to the scene. The reporter and court clerk ride with the judge in a Bentley with a motorcycle police escort. Although the jurors are warned not to talk at the murder scene, they bring the reporter along in case someone gets a case of the chats. Try writing in a muddy field or a pig pen; it is most challenging. The Bentley always had a fully stocked bar, and, yes, we would have a drink; sometimes two or three, depending on the judge. One time a certain judge had so many drinks that another judge had to recess his court when we returned so he could sleep it off in his chambers. His wife came to collect him, and we could hear her shrieking at him from across the hallway. I loved to practice my royal wave while I was riding in the Bentley and chuckled at the pedestrians who often stopped and stared, wondering what royals might be in the car!

I suppose the most amusing British tradition is the way in which someone leaves the court while it’s still in session. You tiptoe out of court backwards, gracefully, being careful not to turn your back to the court. Once you reach the door, you bow if you’re a man and you curtsey if you’re a female.

And this brings me to an amusing event that happened when I first moved back to the U.S. in 2000. I was interviewing at a local county court and observing a hearing. When the chief veteran reporter motioned to me that we should leave, he abruptly headed for the exit and turned his back to the Court! I got up and started to back out amongst curious stares wondering if the judge was going to yell at the chief reporter for impertinence. When I got to the door, I curtsied. The judge stopped, looked at me closely, and let out a huge roar. The chief reporter started snickering as well. I blushed red as everyone starting laughing, and then the judge said, “Young lady, that has to be the best exit I’ve ever seen.” Needless to say, I learned swiftly this wasn’t a tradition retained here either.

These are some of the main varying differences between the two systems of law. My current judge always tells jurors at the end of their service that “although our system might not be perfect but whoever is second, it’s a far second.” Maybe not. The American and English systems each carry the remnants of one another and have the basic foundations and creeds; most importantly, both rely on the concept that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Any society that has that basic fundamental right is far ahead in my opinion.

Along with learning the traditions and cultures of working in another country come the challenges of routine IRA bomb scares shutting down London Underground stations, all sorts of regional accents to decipher, diverse spelling and punctuation, which can only be learned with experience, patience, and a fair sense of humor … or humour.

Diana L. Netherton, RPR, is an official court reporter in Lancaster, Pa. In addition to being an NCRA member, she is also a member of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters. She can be reached at diana_n68@yahoo.com.

 

 

Optima Juris partners exclusively with the only U.S. court reporter in Mexico

Optima Juris, the international deposition agency, issued a press release on Jan. 14 announcing that the company has added Walter Chiriboga, RPR, the only U.S. court reporter based in Mexico, to its team. Chiriboga is a retired U. S. Marine with more than 19 years of court reporting experience.

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For the record: The secret world of the court stenographer

The Irish Times posted an article on Oct. 16 showcasing the important role stenographers play in capturing the record, as well as the skills needed to focus only on hearing what is being said. Gwen Malone, the court reporter in Ireland who is featured in the piece, said, tongue-in-cheek, “a stenographer is meant to be seen and not heard, like a young lady.”

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Deaf foundation in New Zealand calls for TV captions

An article posted on Oct. 11 by Radio New Zealand News reported that the country’s Foundation for the Deaf is calling for more television programs to provide the option of captions. According to the article, just under a quarter of new programs on free-to-air television have captions available as a choice, which includes news broadcasts only between midday and 11 p.m.

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South Africa: Live captioning could transform deaf students’ university experience

An analysis piece posted Oct. 7 on the African edition of The Conversation, authored by Marcia Lyner-Cleophas of Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa, explores how live captioning could aid deaf students’ experiences in the university classroom. The article explains what live captioning is and tracks the experience of one student who used the technology to enhance her classroom experience.

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Court reporters Down Under

By Merilyn Sanchez

In September, 15 reporters and guests traveled to Australia and New Zealand, with many of us crossing the International Date Line for the first time. While in the two countries, we experienced a combination of professional and cultural visits.

Of course both countries speak English, so we communicated easily. It was very interesting to explore the commonalities and differences in the judicial systems of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Jana Moa was our hostess for the visit in Sydney. In the 1980s, she had a “study leave” equaling two mornings a week to train and study. She studied steno theory for one year and then built up her speed. She started off as a court officer (like a judicial advocate-type job). After 12 months of training, she went to court half days and found it “hard to be fast.” Jana passed the government test, which was 180 wpm for Q&A. At that time, the court had pen writers who were employed by the government.

Kaylene Scotson-Tairua, RPR, CRR, CCP, was another reporter we met in Sydney. (Scotson-Tairua also passed the test for Federal Certified Realtime Reporter from the United States Court Reporters Association.) She began her court reporting career in New Zealand on a standard typewriter; she said she had 250 “briefs” and would type as fast as possible. She printed the transcript a page at a time in the courtroom. She would use pen shorthand for sentencing.

After Scotson-Tairua spent two years in the New Zealand system, that country piloted the “American System”, namely, steno machines. Tutors who knew steno taught two to four reporters to switch to the steno system. Prospective court reporters had to take a competency test before being accepted for the program. They spent three months in theory and then trained on manual steno machines. By 18 months, candidates had to pass a test at 180 wpm. Scotson-Tairua, who was one of those initial trainees, then went to do court work.

The new steno system was much quieter. Some litigants wondered if the record was being taken down because they didn’t hear them typing. The courts brought in electronic steno machines. Each reporter had four sessions per day. Two reporters would alternate shifts (i.e., 1 & 3, 2 & 4 p.m.). In New Zealand, scopists would check their work.

In Sydney, the reporter training lately has updated to Windows 7 and Word 2010. They use CaseviewNet wirelessly with the attorneys providing their own iPads. The reporters use audio sync plugged into their laptop.

Scotson-Tairua moved to the United States where she did closed captioning and worked in court. She moved to Australia in 2012 and has been working in the courts in Sydney since then.

In Australia, they have what they call “runners” in court. These are steno reporters with 30-minute shifts. They have 30 minutes to write and 30 minutes to transcribe. The scopists are also court reporters. Realtime teams work two weeks on and two weeks off. The Australian courts have a lot of daily copy cases, so the reporters merge their files, usually at noon and the end of the day, but also whenever they can. The Australian reporters use Case Catalyst and export it to Word for transmittal to the clients. Audio recording is used as a backup. Court starts at 10 a.m. and adjourns at 4 p.m. Daily production of the transcript must be completed by 6 p.m.

In New Zealand, Sheryl Ham and Paula O’Flynn graciously met with us at the National Transcription Service. The NTS was created in 2007 to increase the Ministry of Justice’s capacity to provide more transcription for more courts across all jurisdictions.  It marked the start of a gradual transition from a local to a national way of delivering transcription services. It took five years to establish the service. The National Transcription Service employs 125 “court reporters” nationally. Although NTS calls them court reporters, they are what most of us would consider transcriptionists. These people are responsible for transcribing many different types of court proceedings. NTS reporters must type in excess of 80 wpm and have a high level of communication skills. There are 56 regional courts in New Zealand.

To be a transcriptionist for NTS, the person must type 70 wpm, have good communication skills, possess great attention to detail, navigate software, remain composed, and demonstrate flexibility under pressure. The typists participate in an intense six-week training program and then obtain a restricted license. NTS gives three categories of licenses: advanced (95-100 percent accuracy), full (90-95 percent), and restricted (below 90 percent). The transcriptionists holding the restricted licenses must have all their work peer-checked before it is considered complete and sent offsite. There is a senior quality advisor and four quality evaluators who assess and mark both contemporaneous and non-contemporaneous work.

For the Record is used for recording the proceedings. A court taker in the courtroom logs notes for the audio recording and is the eyes and ears in the courtroom. The court takers use a transcription service manager to transcribe the audio. Then, two transcribers working as a tag team provide a transcript with a 30-minute delivery. The transcribers are listening to what is happening in the courtroom and typing the transcript.

Contemporaneous transcription is delivery within 30 minutes of the conclusion of court proceedings. Noncontemporaneous delivery can be anywhere from eight hours to five days. The audio files are saved to a main server, and they can be accessed in multiple locations without restricting bandwidth to other users.

In both countries the court reporters are salaried employees. There is no transcript income for the employees.

In Australia, the format is 51 lines per page, single spacing (double spacing between speakers). All text is blocked left. The Australian definition of verbatim allows the court reporters to edit out pleasantries. Parties are listed by their last name only. There are no cover or certificate pages on the transcripts. The judge is designated as His Honor or Her Honor. All participants bow to the judge when entering and exiting the courtroom. Robes and wigs are required for councilors. The defendant rises for jurors.

Jury voir dire is very different in Australia and New Zealand. In both countries, the prospective jurors give their name, address, and occupation only. Each side gets three peremptory strikes. They have 12 jurors for a trial. There must be a minimum of 11 jurors to reach a verdict and all verdicts must be unanimous.

In Australia, steno notes are kept for five years and can be audited. Once a year, the steno notes are compared to the audio. This quality assurance monitors the reliance on audio. The steno notes can be subpoenaed. Reporters do stop proceedings if necessary. The first six months’ work is audited, which provides a good learning opportunity.

The NTS in New Zealand has a 251-page style guide, which includes template examples for formatting. They use the courts, their computer system, exhibits, and Google as research tools to prepare the transcripts. NTS archives the audio files. They only work in drafts. The transcript is not final until the judge signs off on it.

According to our guide, NTS was responsible for transcribing 40,316.5 hours of court proceedings from June 2013 to June 2014. To transcribe 10 minutes of taped proceedings took 23 minutes. A good average is 10 minutes of tape equals 30 minutes of transcription time.

All transcription takes place in the offices of NTS. Security keeps this from being a home-based business. Three to four transcriptionists are needed for contemporaneous transcripts in addition to team leaders, a region manager, and office secretary. Contemporaneous transcripts are verbatim. Noncontemporaneous transcripts are slightly abridged. The salary range for a transcriber is $45,000 to $59,000. They work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and receive vacation and sick leave.

Just as in the United States, the numbers of reporters are dwindling in both countries. In Australia in 1966, there were 75 men and 25 women working in the courts as reporters, and one was a steno reporter. In 1988, reporting services were merging with sound recording. In the early 80s, when CAT was introduced, pen writers were retrained on machines with the last class conducted in 1997. During the transition period, 10 pen writers passed the tests. The training consisted of approximately one year of theory and one year of speedbuilding. Reporters could test out early.

In the New Zealand court system, there are only four steno reporters left.

In 2008, the Australian court system started contracting reporters, and it no longer recruits or provides in-house training of reporters. The Australian School of Court Reporting has now closed, and the only way for someone to learn to be a steno reporter is online training. Today there are 70 court reporters, and only five are men.

Merilyn Sanchez, RMR, CRR, is a reporter in Phoenix, Ariz. She can be reached at merilyn@msanchez.net.