‘Capture the verbatim’: Court reporters play an important role in the justice system | New


ENID, Oklahoma. – Sometimes when Mary Kirkhart watches a TV show or listens to something, she mentally trains herself to type what she hears.

She’ll see a stenotyping machine in her head and see her fingers press buttons to go with what she hears as a way to work on her stenotyping skills.

“People see me moving my hands in fun ways or just in my little world, and that’s because I’m going through all of this shorthand in my head,” Kirkhart said.

Kirkhart began taking online court reporting courses through Tulsa Community College two years ago, and once she is certified, she plans to work as an official court reporter at the County Courthouse. Garfield, where she currently works as Assistant Clerk.

“Hidden gem of a career”

Reporters can provide many services – court reporting, medical transcription, real-time television captioning – and in many areas of accessibility.

According to the Oklahoma Bar Association, a court reporter plays an important role in the court system by protecting and preserving evidence and testimony and providing an accurate account of the events of a court proceeding.

All Oklahoma court reporters must be certified by the State Board of Court Reporters Certified and approved by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

There are 26 district courts in Oklahoma and currently four official court reporters who serve in Alfalfa, Blaine, Dewey, Garfield, Grant, Kingfisher, Major, Woods and Woodward counties – and work at the Garfield County Courthouse. : Beth Malatin, Madelyn Ackley, Melissa Atkinson and Ruthann McCrary.

McCrary, who became certified in 1989, began working with Judge Dennis Hladik in 2013, and in 2016 she moved to Judge Paul Woodward, with whom she travels to other cities like Medford and Kingfisher on occasion. for legal proceedings.

Using his stenographer, which is a specialized string keyboard or typewriter used for shorthand, McCrary listens to everything that is said in a courtroom during a hearing and types it all in real time. .

Her daily job changes, but on a normal day she will be in a courtroom for five minutes to the rest of the day. She will keep the records for 10 years and, if necessary, provide transcripts.

“It’s a lot of time in the courtroom when we’re really busy,” McCrary said. “We could have a week-long jury trial, and they settle at the last minute, so it’s a week of catching up on the transcripts. I work a lot in my office. I work quite a bit in the evenings and weekends on transcriptions.

McCrary knew from the start that she wanted to be an official court reporter instead of freelance court reporters, which Kelly O’Rourke does.

Instead of being employed by the court system, freelance court reporters are independent contractors or work for a court reporting firm and are typically hired by law firms to cover depositions, arbitrations, meetings, sections sales and more, according to Stevens-Koenig Reporting.

During O’Rourke’s fourth year of college majoring in pre-law, she realized that she wanted to do something different but still in law, so she went to a school. shorthand in Tulsa and fell in love with it.

O’Rourke worked as an official court reporter for approximately 30 years before retiring in 2016. She then opened O’Rourke Reporting & Transcription and is the only independent court reporter in Northwest Oklahoma, a career that gives her flexibility while doing what she loves.

“It’s a hidden gem of a career,” O’Rourke said. “It’s like a front row seat in the circus of life. You can’t get close to the things that are happening. Some of them are heartbreaking. Some of them are funny. Some of them are scary. Some of them are terribly boring. It just depends on what you’re doing, and you’re doing something totally different every day.

“In crisis mode”

Once Kirkhart is certified, she plans to stay in Garfield County as an official court reporter, becoming the fifth in the courthouse.

However, more court reporters are needed across Oklahoma.

As of Oct. 1, Oklahoma District 1, which includes Panhandle and Harper counties, will have no court reporter, Woodward said.

“We are in crisis mode,” she said. “We don’t have enough court reporters.

According to the Oklahoma Bar Association, several factors have contributed to the critical shortage of court reporters in the state: lower salaries, fewer accredited schools, uncertainty about career advancement and retirement.

TCC offers an 18-month court reporting program with tuition paid monthly of approximately $ 355 per sub-module for an approximate total of $ 6,400, although this number may vary depending on how quickly a person progress in the speed building portion of the course.

The critical shortage of certified court reporters in Oklahoma has also prompted Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City to launch its own two-year court reporter program, according to The Oklahoma.

Both schools are open for registration for January 2022, and Kirkhart added that anyone with questions or wanting more information about court reporting can contact her on Facebook.

“We need people to be interested in (court reporting),” said Woodward.

“Like a duck swimming in a pond”

O’Rourke said that while it may seem like an easy task from the outside, court reporting is not as easy as it sounds.

“They see people on TV, and they’re just sitting there staring into space and barely pressing any keys,” she said, “but it’s like a duck swimming in a pond. . You see the duck gliding effortlessly from the top, but you don’t see its little feet going crazy underwater. … It’s your brain at your fingertips, and it takes a lot of brainpower.

Using a shorthand machine is like playing the piano, O’Rourke said. Stenotyping machines have 22 keys and work by typing syllables rather than letters, like normal keyboards, and court reporters use the chord-like system to combine hundreds of syllables to type over 300 words per minute, according to Naegeli. Deposition and Trial.

Using electronic tapes or recorders in place of court reporters, O’Rourke said, cannot capture everything that is being said in a courtroom verbatim.

Everyone is talking at the same time or other noises like a crying baby or a slamming door can drown out what needs to be recorded, and without a court reporter in the room there is no one to step back, slow down and clarify what was said.

“It’s just better to have a human to capture everything and get it right, do the research, do the spelling and make sure every word is correct,” she said, “than have someone go back and just try to transcribe something from the tape that may or may not have the best audio quality or may have malfunctioned.

McCrary and O’Rourke added that it can be difficult at times to contain emotions during court proceedings as well, but they try to focus on their work and stay as positive as possible.

To be a court reporter, McCrary said court reporters must pay attention to detail and have good hand-eye coordination, and O’Rourke added that a court reporter must be patient and have a broad knowledge of the English language and the ability to concentrate.

Kirkhart said learning to be a court reporter has been difficult, especially because she has a family and a full-time job. She said there was a lot to learn and improving her speed and accuracy has been the biggest hurdle so far.

“We have to be quick and to the point,” she said. “To pass our certification tests, we need to have an accuracy of 95%.

Right now, Kirkhart can type 120 wpm on her shorthand machine, and she trains about 20 to 30 hours a week, saying it’s almost like she has another job.

While the job can be difficult and time consuming, Kirkhart said it was worth it.

“It’s such an amazing career, and I’m not even there yet,” she said.

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