I have often said that there really is only one person in the courtroom that must listen to each and every word that is said. No mind-wandering – strict concentration. That person is the court reporter. The court reporter is required to take down, in machine shorthand, practically everything that is said during court proceedings. It often can be a challenging profession.
People in court cannot nod their heads or say “uh-huh” or “uh-uh” – those terms and body language simply cannot be accurately recorded for the record. And the record becomes critical if the case is to be appealed to a higher court.
Other issues are common: Two people talking at the same time – it’s hard enough to do one at a time! Witnesses, attorneys and even judges can talk very fast, challenging even the most talented court reporter to keep up. (I have been justly accused of being a real challenge for court reporters, as I can talk pretty fast!) Expert witnesses may often talk in technical or medical terms that are not familiar and yet the reporter must take the testimony down and may be required to type it up, accurately, at a later time.
A court reporter attends school where he or she learns the machine shorthand and other basics, and then simply works to build up speed to 225 words per minute, the minimum required for graduation. There are 22 keys on the shorthand machine. Reporters must often strike multiple keys at the same time for one letter. For instance, “beyond a reasonable doubt” would look like this on the paper that comes out of the shorthand machine:
K W RA R D
I have been blessed to work with two terrific court reporters during my career: Jerry Goodroad started with me within weeks of my appointment and stayed for 24 years. Paul Lyndgaard is finishing his career with me – we’ll be retiring the same day.
I occasionally will have school children come in to tour the courtroom. They learn about what we do, and I answer questions they may have. I have learned that I should not introduce the court reporter until the very end of the session. The children are fascinated by the machine, and the work the reporter does. Paul has a habit of giving each child some machine paper with their name on it, in shorthand. He, and Jerry before him, truly is the star of the show. I’m just the warm-up act!
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Next Week: Oath of Citizenship