“Are Court Stenographers Necessary?”

That’s the way the New York Times elected to phrase the question in the late night post on Room for Debate.  The Times called and asked me to submit a short piece. My piece and others provide the gristle for “debate.”  If you are interested in such issues, check it out.

As I have said before, court reporters are the third rail of federal judicial politics. This month I am living dangerously. It must be the chemo.


4 responses

  1. One note of concern: “Rose Mary Woods.”

    Orly Taitz (I concur that she is a modern Don Quixote, tilting at windmills) recently had cause to complain that someone tampered with PACER in one of her cases. And no, I don’t think that any computer system is completely secure. Transcripts are often tampered with, but the redundancy provides additional security. When it really does matter–and it does–you need that redundancy, if only for that assurance.

  2. I agree with you. Not because I’ve thought through this. But, frequently, after I tell someone that I work for the court, they automatically assume I’m a stenographer. I’d like to see what the next guess is. Eventually. Yes, this is an important consideration in the broader debate.

  3. Judge:
    As someone who uses a taping system to preside over trials, after having used stenographers until they were stopped due to budgetary reasons, I am of the opinion that the latter is superior to the former. Stenographers, similar to baseball umpires, inject a human element into this process which machines cannot. I am reminded of this every time I read the transcript made from a stenographic recording. The inability of the taping system to remedy repeated problems (such as when speakers overlap or when words need to be spelled out) leads to a transcript that is inferior compared to that which stenographers used to provide.
    Thats just one judge’s opinion.

  4. Dear Judge Robert,

    Thanks for writing. I appreciate knowing of your experience.

    I can say this:

    For 10 years at least, I have exclusively used digital audio captured by a computer over a sophisticated sound system with many channels for jury trials and everything else. (Annually, Nebraska ranks high among federal courts on trials-per-judge.) Since we have a courtroom deputy (CRD) from he Clerk’s office monitoring the recording, making log notes (annotations on the computer interface), and instructing witnesses to speak up, in addition to everything else the CRD does, we have never had a problem with a transcript or the record more generally.

    In Nebraska, if we went entirely to digital audio for all our Article III judges, and we factored in the cost of courtroom deputies being in the courtroom, the capital costs of digital audio,and annual maintenance of the equipment, we would save the taxpayers over $200,000 per year if we dumped court reporters. And this in a court with three active and two senior district judges. Most importantly of all, the record is available to anyone, anywhere daily over our servers and without having to pay the sky high fees charged by court reporters. I would never go back.

    All the best.


%d bloggers like this: