COURT REPORTERS OR TAPE RECORDERS
COURT REPORTERS OR TAPE RECORDERS?
by Gregory Keyser, Esq.
I attended a deposition recently. I didn’t hire the court reporting agency for this deposition, and didn’t recognize the court reporter. She didn’t carry the stenographic equipment I associate with professional court reporters, but unloaded tape recorders and a notepad.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a court reporter with a tape recorder. Some court reporting agencies and individual court reporters carry them to make backup audio recordings of proceedings, in case of equipment malfunction or to spot-check transcriptions, but new equipment has made tape recorders obsolete for most professional court reporters.
I asked how transcript production would proceed. The court reporter explained that she’d make a few notes about the proceeding and who was speaking. She’d then forward the recordings to a processing center, where transcriptionists would listen to recordings and produce official transcripts for attorneys.
I understand potential cost savings from this assembly line deposition production. Transcriptionists, skilled or unskilled and having no professional duty, can be paid a relatively low wage to transcribe audio files. And unskilled clerical staff can babysit a tape recorder at a proceeding.
Court Reporting Agency Process
The process raises significant concerns about the reliability of the record. First, assembly specialization avoids professional and skilled court reporters, who exercise important professional judgment about what is included or excluded in the official record. Court reporters who are members of the National Court Reporters Association are bound by a Professional Code of Ethics that governs what is included in the record and how it is produced. While most states’ law permits any notary public to swear witnesses and keep the record, I hesitate to trust the official record to clerical staff or transcriptionists not governed by any professional code or standards.
Court Reporting Agency Quality
I also question the quality of transcripts produced by assembly line. My experience indicates that transcripts produced from audio recordings are of lesser quality than those prepared by court reporters who observe a proceeding. Despite technological advances, audio recordings are often unclear and omit low or mumbled speech that can be perceived live. And recordings can’t transmit mouth shapes and other non-verbal cues helpful to understand speech in a live setting.
Court Reporting Agency Certification
Finally, separation of the recording and transcript production functions draws into question the certificate of a litigation support agency that a transcript represents testimony given at the proceeding. The transcriptionist has no first-hand knowledge to support the certificate, and without tedious review, clerical staff present at the proceeding can’t verify the transcript.
Until these issues are explored and resolved, use of these transcript production lines will draw objection.