Judges are “deaf” to many things. One of those things is modernity in general and computers in particular. In the District of Nebraska, we are fortunate to have a teacher who has a lot experience teaching the “deaf” to learn. Her name is Luta and she is pictured above. Her job is to teach judges, court staff and lawyers how to use the computer systems–from CM/EFC, to digital audio, to word processing programs, to hyperlinks and so forth–with ease and maximum efficiency. Luta is truly a superstar who has been recognized nationally for her unique teaching skills.

Luta has been with our court for 15 years. Prior to that she taught high school mathematics at the Kansas School for the Deaf. (Yes, she is fluent in American Sign Language). She holds a bachelors degrees in Mathematics and Deaf Education from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. In 2008, she returned to school and obtained a Masters in Organizational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary.

Her work responsibilities with the court are twofold; providing technical support, and providing end-user training. The support portion of her job includes providing day-to-day technical support for court users in Probation, Pretrial and the District Court on a variety of software and hardware issues. She researches and tests new programs that the court may be interested in procuring. She is the primary point of contact (aka local expert) for the court’s digital recording system. She is also one of the primary points of contact for the mobile devices, smart phones, and tablets that the court deploys to some users. One of the favorite aspects of her job is finding ways to help court users do their jobs more efficiently. Sometimes this is through training, but it can also involve developing automated forms and macros. Justifiably, she prides herself on not only knowing how to fix the technical problems, but also understanding how the various members of the court staff use the technology to get their jobs done and finding ways to make that easier for them.

Her training duties include, new employee computer orientation, developing annual computer security classes, and developing a variety of other technical training for court staff as needed. To try and keep court staff up-to-date with rapidly changing technology, she develops and delivers a monthly “lunch bytes” training class for court users that is a 30-minute update on new technology developments. Her training duties also reach outside the court to attorneys and their staffs She delivers training on the court’s electronic case filing system (CM/ECF), and on courtroom technology and evidence presentation systems.

In her time with the court, we have transitioned from delivering all face-to-face training to mostly online training. All of the court’s CM/ECF training is now delivered via interactive, on-demand, training videos. In a state as spread out as Nebraska, the online training approach lets us reach many more attorneys without the cost of travel. This past winter she held “hyperlinking” training for attorneys via live online webinar. Not only did the webinar format allow Luta to reach western Nebraska bar members, but out-of-state attorneys as well. Of the more than 200 attorneys attending the live sessions, almost half were participating from outside of Nebraska.

Importantly, she she has also been involved in many projects of national significance. She was front and center in the national pilot program to implement the inclusion of digital audio recordings in the electronic case file. For judges who elect to use digital audio rather than court reporters (like me), this means that everyone of my court proceedings are captured in digital audio and made available that day to anyone in the world at minimal cost. It is the ultimate technology for rendering federal judicial proceedings transparent. I am convinced that without Luta digital audio would never have been implemented nationally. That is an achievement of singular importance.

In 2007, she spearheaded the development of the Automation Trainers Community of Practice. This is an online site that allows court trainers from across the country to share resources and training materials. In 2008, she worked with a Magistrate Judge from Utah (now District Judge David Nuffer) to develop the Chambers Online Automation Training program. The program was developed to provide training to law clerks and chambers staff on the various automation programs used by the court. It now consists of over 80 training modules on topics such as “preparing an order for electronic case filing”, “annotating PDF documents”, and “using two monitors effectively”. With many law clerks serving 2 year terms, this resource helps bring new clerks up to speed quickly, on the technology specific to the court, without requiring a lot of court resources and duplication of efforts across the country.

More recently, Luta co-facilitated a 12-hour online training course for court technology staff across the country. The class focused on using Visual Basic programming to create automated forms in Microsoft Word. The class was taught live and hands-on to more than 80 participants without anyone setting foot out of their office or spending a dime on travel! Even her co-facilitators were in Arizona and Minnesota.

I hope you get the picture. Behind the scenes, Luta is responsible for teaching us how to maximize our resources in this age of digits and automation. Without her, we would have remained “deaf” to the technology that is revolutionizing how the federal courts do their business.

Let me say it again, Luta is a superstar!



Lighting the fuse: It is time to get rid of court reporters in the federal courts

For a long time now, I have used digital audio recording, rather than a court reporter.   Digital audio recording is the marriage of a computer and a sophisticated sound system with multiple channels.  It is monitored by the courtroom deputy in real-time thus eliminating entirely the necessity of a court reporter.

Here are the reasons:

  • By uploading the digital audio recording of a trial or hearing every day to CM/ECF, the federal courts become more transparent to the public by an order of magnitude.  The whole world can listen to a trial I conduct in Nebraska for a very small cost–if I screw up, then the whole world can know it.  And, that is a VERY good thing.
  • While you will hear contrary arguments from court reporters, there is no independent, scientifically based, study that suggests that digital audio recording is less accurate than stenographic recording. In fact, the believable studies that have been conducted suggest that there is no difference or audio recording is slightly more accurate.
  • The reliability of digital audio is as good as or better than a court reporter. In fact, I had far more problems with court reporters getting sick or getting tired or their steno machines failing than I have had problems with digital audio.
  • Digital audio recording can do “play backs” and judges can annotate and make notes on their computer screen as the digital recording is made.
  • Digital audio recording saves the federal courts money.   For example, an internal study I conducted of our court three years ago indicated that the public would be saved about $110,000 per year if 3 reporters were replaced with digital audio recording.  My study was very conservative.  The Clerk’s office senior management was consulted about it and found no basis to dispute the conclusion.
  • Lawyers experienced with digital audio recording love it because they can log into CM/ECF anytime, night or day, and review the record when writing a brief or for any other reason.  A lawyer can do so without having to  pay a reporter for a transcript. Citations to digital audio are easy.  One simply refers to the time-counter used to play the audio.
  • A large federal trial court, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, implemented digital audio recording successfully as a part of pilot project.  The District of Nebraska was also a participant in that pilot project, and our experience was uniformly positive as well.

I want to be clear. I don’t want any more court reporters hired, but I don’t want court reporters fired.  I do want court reporters replaced with digital audio as they retire or resign. Given the sequester, now is the time to begin this process. To put the matter in stark relief, for every court reporter we replace, we can devote the savings to retaining essential personnel such as federal public defenders.


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