Relationship Frameworks for Court Reporters
RELATIONS WITH A COURT REPORTER? DREAM ON
The National Court Reporters Association, an association formed by court reporters to protect the integrity of the court reporting profession, long ago implemented a Code of Professional Ethics to “provide the framework for the practice of reporting.” NCRA Code of Professional Ethics, Preamble. The Code of Professional Ethics articulated common-sense rules to govern behavior of court reporters who create the official record of testimony in American judicial proceedings. The rules have been cited by American courts as authoritative statements of professional duties owed by court reporters to clients, litigants, and our system of justice.
The Code of Professional Ethics
The Code of Professional Ethics’ first aim was establishing court reporters’ independence and fairness. It sought to assure the public that court reporters would record proceedings honestly and independently, free from conflicts of interest that might influence the record. The National Court Reporters Association’s first rule required members to “…be fair and impartial toward each participant (to) reported proceedings….” NCRA Code of Professional Ethics, Rule 1. It’s second rule instructed court reporters to “(b)e alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest,” and to disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest. NCRA Code of Professional Ethics, Rule 2.
These rules are explained further in advisory opinions issued by the National Court Reporters Association. Among its earliest advisory opinions, the NCRA addressed a circumstance in which a court reporter appeared at a proceeding to discover that a relative was counsel of record for a party. NCRA Advisory Opinion 2. The NCRA ruled that Code of Professional Ethics Rules 1 and 2 required the court reporter to disclose its relationship to an attorney of record, an attorney in the proceeding, a party, or a witness, so the parties could knowingly object or waive objection to the court reporter’s services. Id. The NCRA went on to describe types of relationships a court reporter must disclose; persons “related by blood or marriage,” including parents, grandparents, great grandparents, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles, nieces, nephews, or any of their spouses. Id. The opinion was careful to further require disclosure of “any other relationship that may reasonably cause the reporter’s impartiality to be questioned.” Id.
Certainly “other relationships” requiring disclosure include spouses that are counsel of record – at least that was the NCRA’s ruling in Advisory Opinion 3. However, the NCRA would permit the court reporter to report proceedings for other attorneys in a spouse’s law firm upon full disclosure and agreement on the record. Id. The court reporter could also refer the spouse’s work to a different reporter and accept a referral fee from the other reporter. Id.
Obviously, other relationships may challenge the independence or fairness of a court reporter – a close friend, a trusted neighbor, a parole officer, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse’s lover, or a business rival. Though these relationships aren’t specifically identified, they clearly fall within those relationships that “reasonably cause the reporter’s impartiality to be questioned,” and should be disclosed under National Court Reporters Association Advisory Opinion 2.
by Gregory Keyser, Esq.