The Court Reporter: The Unsung Hero

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.

You see them in the courtroom; they quietly tap away at their keys.  They do not say much, if anything at all. Who are these people and what are they doing there?  These ladies and gentlemen are court reporters. If you have been accused of a crime, they are your heroes and you did not even realize it.

In many cases, court reporters are fundamental to protecting a defendant’s rights.  At first you may wonder why court reporters are so important.  You, the attorneys, and the judge are all present.  Everyone hears the same thing.   After all, there can only be one truth.  Sadly though, that is not so.  While it is true that all lawyers and judges are charged with abiding by the rules of ethics and the law, we are only human.  More ears present do not always lead to a more accurate story; it may lead to a contentious argument.  That is where the court reporter comes in.  They are in the thick of the proceedings and are stationed as close to the testifying witness and the judge as possible.  This prime position allows court reporters to hear each word and record the proceedings fairly and accurately.  This is part of your record.  This is where you look to appeal a decision or place the case in the right perspective for the judge.  This is a life raft without which many a defendant would be sunk.

Contrary to popular opinion, a court reporter will not always be present.  Depending on the case, your attorney may advise you to hire your own court reporter. Court reporters are generally not present to record the proceedings in misdemeanor criminal cases (crimes with a maximum punishment of less than one year), or in civil cases.  In felony cases where the minimum punishment is one year or more, the State provides a court reporter at no cost to the defendant.

At times, attorneys develop a working relationship with particular court reporters.  They trust each other and work well as a team.

So, what does a court reporter do and how do they do it?  The New York Times attempted to demystify the court reporter with a question and answer session from June 16, 2010 – June 18, 2010.  One of the most obvious questions that one may have is how do they keep up with everyone when they speak so fast?  According to a seasoned federal court reporter, the machine they use is called a stenotype.  Unlike a traditional key board, a stenotype has a limited number of keys; only main consonants and vowels.  In order to type entire words, court reporters must press multiple keys to form certain letters and spell out a word.  Furthermore, they must create their own form of shorthand for long phrases, often used during trial proceedings.  For instance, ladies and gentlemen of the jury is “LAIJS.”

Essentially, court reporters must go to school to learn an entirely different language.  They also have to learn how to operate and care for their machines on top of becoming lightning-fast typers.  All of the costs for the training and the machines come out of their own pocket. So the next time your attorney advises you that you should retain a court reporter, consider the training and hard work of these men and women. They deserve everyone’s respect and appreciation.

For more information on court reporters in Tennessee, click here.  To speak to an attorney regarding any criminal matter, feel free to contact Steven Oberman or Sara Compher-Rice.

  1. #1 by Debbie West - September 9th, 2010 at 19:55

    What an insightful article! Thanks for taking the time to notice what we do 🙂

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