Court Reporting Goes Digital


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Indiana courts just went all-digital for hearing records, trading transcription for digital video recording. Why? It’s cheaper — and better, too, if well implemented. After all, court reporters aren’t perfect, and even a perfect transcript doesn’t tell the whole story.

Added Justice Michael McDonald, who was instrumental in pioneering the transition to digital recording in Kentucky over 30 years ago: “The court reporter’s transcript is the rankest of hearsay; you’re just trusting she hears it correctly.”

(Including that quote will probably expose me to a fresh round of court reporter anger.) Apparently, Kentucky has been doing this since the 80s, so although Indiana may still count as an early adopter, video is hardly cutting edge. [via WSJ Law Blog & Legal Blog Watch]


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  • This is an interesting time in the court reporting field. You have the full digital systems like Indiana and Kentucky, you have the hybrid systems like Florida, and you have the old school steno like Wisconsin. I wonder when the video aspect of things will make its way to the deposition market.

    Where I am in Florida, I’m the only company offering digital court reporting services, and boy am I taking flak from the steno reporters. It’s like you get crucified for trying to improve an outdated system. I’m curious to see all the, “but, but, but, what if…” comments to this article. I think it’s the way of the future. Black and white transcripts only provide black and white questions and answers. We live in a very colorful world.

  • I wanted to add one more thing before I call it a night. Although it seems like a more efficient way to capture the record by ONLY using video, what about recalling and verifying it in court? I hear all the time, “Judge, if you’ll refer to page 47, line 16, the witness says…” How do they do that with video? And if there is an objection, do they pull out the TV and see who’s right? It seems like that would take the court’s time, which in Florida, we don’t have.

    I also think that it’s better to have a written supplemental for indexing. Most of my clients use firm software like TrialDirector or Summation. It’s my understanding that attorneys can search for specific testimony amongst a case full of witnesses at the click of a button. Without at least a rough voice recognition produced written version, this would be impossible. How does an attorney try to find a specific thing a judge or witness may have said without watching the tape. Wouldn’t it be easier to to look at a word index? Just a thought. There may be a solution I’m not thinking of.

  • Lisa Blanks

    As anyone knows, the best method of making a record is a realtime court reporter. There is nothing out there that can compete with instantaneous live transcript. I have no idea why you are posting on a court reporter’s site and believe you are going to get anything but negative reaction. Your posts are extremely negative towards court reporters, and you better believe, as highly trained and skilled as we are, we will respond. On the other hand, it is a waste of valuable time to go on and on. Realtime reporters have the edge and that is just a fact.

  • Lisa Blanks

    To Sam Glover,

    Sam, if you’d like to sit down with me sometime, I will be happy to give you a realtime demo. I’m in Minneapolis, too.


  • Realtime is great, but how many attorneys want to pay for it? How many attorneys really use it to it’s potential in depo? I’ve always agreed that realtime is the gold standard if you are either rich or deaf. In the other 95% of litigation where two middle-classers are getting a divorce, or a twenty-something construction worker gets picked up for a DUI, you might as well skip the sales demo, Sam.

  • I’m sure everybody is happy to see me here. you all know me.

    Hey Lisa, i found you in Arizona.

    I also found this PDF from 2005 about the Steno schools closing in Arizona like everywhere else. Any new ones opened since then?

    wanna play scrabble on facebook, or jeopardy? You have a better chance than you have in this debate.

    • Susan

      We have two great schools in Wisconsin. Enrollment continues to increase.

  • Tony, why you pickin on Wisconsin? :)

    Watch out for that Paul Ryan.

    You left out the really nice installation in DuPage County, Illinois.

  • Lisa Migliore Black

    Jefferson County court-video failures cause trials, hearings to be lost:

    Three months of failed recordings, spanning multiple courtrooms is described as “human error” by a JAVS representative. The video was captured; the sound was not. What Jefferson County needed to recover its lost court records, apparently, was somone who can read lips. Kentucky taxpayers should be reassured by that as they spend millions with the same company?

    I have over a hundred reports in my database of failures to create a record and/or inaudible or unavailable testimony being cited in motions and appeals, and these are only the reported cases. Deficiencies of this system of capturing our court records go underreported in the news headlines.

    Mr. Glover, I’m almost positive that your time is better spent as a lawyer, not a transcriptionist or spending hours of your time searching for relevant testimony from a video. As an advocate for your clients, you should understand that the cost savings of these recordings in our court systems merely transfers the costs from what is traditionally a government service to that of a privately paid system when a written record is needed.

    Even Tony Wright will agree that the recording quality of these court systems is lacking. Even Kurt Maddox of JAVS is critical of the federal court system’s quality, save his own: Review of Disappointing Federal Courts Video Pilot Project by Kurt Maddox:

    With the tried and true technology that stenographic reporters provide (which is all digital, might I add, down to every one of the four redundant backups of stenographic notes, instantly translated English text, and audio BACKUP saved in multiple secure locations) , we remain the most reliable and efficient method for creating the record.

    • Lisa,

      The Kentucky failure you reference has a factual explanation who you are interested in the facts. As has been outlined before many times, Kentucky has been using video court recording exclusively for over 20 years and began the transition from live court reporters 30 years ago. The issue has never been video court recording versus live court reporters and it never will be other than in the minds of those who try to make it an “us versus them” scenario. I’ve written many times that the best operators of digital recording equipment are trained court reporters for obvious reasons. However, factually, there are just a lot more issues with live court reporting, including unnecessary costs to the taxpayers and courts, than there are with digital court recording.

      The facts of the referenced Kentucky case are this particular court was not following the prescribed practice of performing a daily system check. No pilot ever takes off in a plane without checking their systems and no digitally recorded court should ever start proceedings without first performing a quick check to verify all systems are in proper working order. Just like with live court reporters, human error and negligence of appropriate protocols are always a challenge. The Kentucky case sounds so egregious because the courts become so accustomed to never having an issue with their recording systems over the decades that it was easy to neglect the clearly prescribed protocol of the daily system checks. Just like planes unfortunately crash sometimes because of a combination of human error and mechanical failure, so does any computerized system, including digital court recording.

      I could post links all day to egregious human errors involving court reporters like this one here in Miami where the court reporter was arrested:–1/nL3kk/

      However, the Miami case is absolutely a rare exception to all the talented, hard working and valuable court reporters who serve the courts admirably day-in and day-out. I believe this is the same case where it was ultimately shown that the court reporter consistently didn’t bring enough paper to court for her steno machine. Is that the steno machines fault? Don’t court reporters also use technology that can and does fail?

      So, in the case of my company all the other failures of all the other systems that have been covered, failures are almost always a combination of both system failure and human error. In the Kentucky case, if the system had been properly checked, the worst possible outcome would have been that some portion of a single day could have been missed. Technicians are on call in Kentucky 24/7 to respond to system issues and they address similar issues on a regular basis that identified before any impact to the court because protocols are correctly followed.

      As I’ve said many times to many media outlets, there are no perfect systems and there are no perfect people, including court reporters or operators of digital systems. Period.

      The facts are that Kentucky creates a video record of all proceedings every day in more than 400 courtrooms resulting in over 2 TB’s per day of recordings. Over 30 years, there have been a few rare failures and all of them were the result of combination of factors. Every failure is unacceptable just like every plane crash is unacceptable. Fortunately, the track record of all the good digital recording vendors is very, very good and the issues created by failures of digital systems are a small percentage of the collective issues involved with live court reporters. This isn’t an attack on court reporters because it’s only logical that there would be more issues with a human system than with mostly computerized systems.

      The reason the rare digital recording failures get so much attention is both because they are rare and because those with a vested interest to denigrate what they view as their enemy are always quick to make sure the press knows about every failure. And that’s completely understandable. However, it doesn’t change the fact that regardless of whether it’s my company or one of the other very good digital court recording vendors, most courts will sooner or later move to digital recording. I personally believe the best reasons for courts to go video have very little to do with the digital vs live court reporter question. Video provides the greatest possible transparency, accountability and accessibility to the public concerning the function of the justice system in a democracy. The efficiencies and cost savings are just by-products of advances in technology.

      I’m sure buggy whip manufacturers were none to fond of Henry Ford’s invention. After all, cars break down and run over people. Still, the inexorable march of technology goes on and will continue unabated in our courts. My goal is always simply to help courts improve their product. If they save money in the process, then that’s a very good thing for the taxpayer.

      There will be a good market for talented transcriptionists for a very long time and that’s also a good thing because all the court reporters that I know and work with on a weekly basis are really wonderful, talented, conscientious and open-minded servants of the court. A lot of them even love working with our video recording systems :)

      Kurt Maddox
      Chief Evangelist

  • Jessie

    It would be interesting to know how many of the appeal judges are going to sit and listen to an audio recording that may or may not be clear, not to mention when everyone is talking at once, or mumbling, or has such an accent that they are unintelligible. Get on with your digital recording and when you need an accurate verbatim transcript, you better hire yourself a professional verbatim reporter. Voice writers are also certified in many state courts and federal courts, along with machine writers, and their records are always going to be your best bet when you have a question about the record.

  • Lisa Migliore Black

    Also, I’ll just point out that if a reporter’s transcript is rank hearsay, a transcription of a recording would then be rank DOUBLE-hearsay.

  • Wanda Rowe

    Kentucky politics is a strange environment for coincidence, Sam. The coincidence being: How can we politicans take more money & services from the public to put in the government trough (or our pockets?)? Ask the attorneys & judges (in Ky. & other states) how they feel about digital recording. You won’t quite get the same response as from Justice McDonald. Wanda, from South Carolina, formerly from Kentucky.

  • Melinda

    Lisa said it best: “With the tried and true technology that stenographic reporters provide (which is all digital, might I add, down to every one of the four redundant backups of stenographic notes, instantly translated English text, and audio BACKUP saved in multiple secure locations) , we remain the most reliable and efficient method for creating the record.”

    And as stated in this video from the Michigan Association of Professional Court Reporters, We Are Technology!

  • And the most expensive… No one is doubting your abilities. You have a great skill, but times are changing and people are looking for reliability, efficiency, AND affordability. If the sound quality in that video is anyhow related to the quality of your backups, I’d be terrified, if I were you, to rely on it in any way.

    Check out the redundancy of this reporter’s backup:

    I think the funny thing about the article is that she blamed the error on a computer virus. First of all, did she have the only backup of her notes on the laptop?? For a murder trial??? Secondly, do you know how few viruses actually go after data like that? I think she may be fibbing. I think she just doesn’t really know computers that well and accidentally formatted her SD card before she moved the files over.

    Another point: Do you know how hard it is to even get a virus unless your 50+ and click on anything that blinks at you? If you’re touting how technologically savvy you are, you should take a computer class. That will put you right back in your chair. No matter how you slice it, reporters like this shouldn’t be anywhere near legal proceedings. I think she would be more appropriately assigned to legal transcription. I hear she’s looking for work.

    • karen mccormick

      omg, i can’t even read any more of this crap.

      tony, you are making a lot of money and producing a less than perfect result. you might be okay doing those little one-hour work comp depos, but one day this will bite you in the a**. good luck. you will need it.

  • Lisa Migliore Black

    Tony, perhaps if digital reporting weren’t so concerned about offering such a low price, the digital reporter who failed to turn in multiple court files at the same time this other Florida disaster happened would have been able to pay the bills to keep her firm operating. Pretty creative way to ask for a raise, huh? Security for our court records? A chain link fence in a common area apartment storage area. Dozens of trials delayed:–Court%20ReCORDERS.docx

    Or this one, where those involved had to rely on recollections of what occurred because the digital record couldn’t be located:

    Or this digital hard drive crash:

    Or any of the other hundreds of failures and deficiencies….

  • Catherine

    Yes, voice writers are fully capable of providing realtime now. In fact, I see voicewriting as the wave of court reporting’s future, as it is faster and less expensive to learn and many court reporting schools are lacking steno students today. But I do agree with others’ comments about why advertise or support digital recording on a court reporter site? If I were in trouble and needed legal support, I would never want to rely on a digital recording to “attempt” to capture the issues and I wonder if Tony would either ! Would you trust your life to a digital recorder?

  • I would absolutely trust a recording (especially video) over any manual input method. I trust recordings more than transcripts. What do reporters do when they miss a part or drop words when attorneys argue? They go back to the recording.

    Hearings, on the other hand, are a different story. I would hire a company like mine to record it. I would not rely on the court recorded audio. I do like voice writing technology also, but I find voice writers to be a bit more distracting.

  • Excerpt: The audio recording of the disciplinary hearing is blank after the first minute. Maybe somebody checked the system in the first minute; maybe not.

    No. 1431, Supreme Court No. S-14034.
    Supreme Court of Alaska.
    September 5, 2012.–Audio%20recording%20of%20the%20disciplinary%20hearing%20is%20blank%20after%20the%20first%20minute..pdf

  • At least 96 inaudible sections in 70 pages of transcript:

  • The comments sections of any report on the facts of the trend away from live court reporting and written transcripts and toward hybrids involving one or another of the very good digital recording solutions is instructive. The few folks who actually read the comments of an online article will easily recognize that court reporters have an understandable agenda to attempt to discredit digital recording by posting and repeating the same rare occurrences of digital recording failures. I certainly understand some feel the need to take that route.

    The vast majority of talented court reporters are fully dedicated to the best interests of both the courts and the taxpayers who fund the courts as are the vast majority of professionals working with digital court recording systems. These arguments have played out in many industries and the results will be the same here as elsewhere — technology will continue to be employed for tasks that can be automated so that human talent and scarce financial resources can be deployed in other areas within the justice system.

    Most courts are in desperate need of upgrading their Case Management Systems but most of the courts that need new CMS systems can’t find the capital required to implement an upgrade or move to CMS for the first time. These courts are going to find any efficiencies they can in other areas so that they can free up capital for other investments, like CMS, that save even more money for the courts overtime and vastly improve how justice is administrated in a given justice system.

    The evidence is absolutely clear that digital court recording and specifically video court recording provides enormous value and expanded options while improving access to the record and increasing the transparency of the courts. We can all post links to court reporter and digital recording failures all day long but I’m not sure if engaging in that exercise ultimately does anything for anyone’s real interests. Well, I guess it is good for the blog business :)

    So, I will again say for the record that the digital court recording industry has absolutely nothing but deep respect and admiration for all the very talented and hard-working court reporters working in our nation’s court systems. Our view is that our mutual best interest and the best interest of the courts are served well when forward-thinking court reporters and digital court recording companies work together to help their courts succeed. That’s what I get up everyday to do and it’s been one of the most rewarding pursuits of my career to help the world’s courts improve their product.

    Their simply are no perfect systems just as their are no perfect human beings. I invite courts interested to consider a move to video court recording to do their due diligence to understand all their options and then to design the approach that’s an optimum solution for their courts. I am always available to discuss our particular experience and to make available to any court the actual judges who started the video court recording movement where it all began in Kentucky’s criminal courts.

    Kudos to “The Lawyerist” for inspiring this discussion!

  • Sorry typos above — moving a little too fast this morning :)

  • “The few folks who actually read the comments of an online article will easily recognize that court reporters have an understandable agenda to attempt to discredit digital recording by posting and repeating the same rare occurrences of digital recording failures.”

    And the salesmen of the systems have an understandable agenda to make light of the shortcomings and all-out failures of the recording systems they install. And if these same recording companies are employing reporters to produce the written record from their system, they have a continual revenue stream after their million-dollar installs. I bet those transcription costs aren’t included in the projected saving figures in the sales pitch.

  • Wanda Rowe

    Re : “…judges who started the video court recording movement where it all began in Ky…” I am from Ky. I can tell you that we are last in everything we should be first in, and first in everything we should be last in. KY IS RATED THE WORST-RUN GOVERNMENT IN THE NATION. Ky government did not go audio/video because it was good for the people. Ky government doesn’t work that way. Save the judges who actually started audio/video, the vast majority of judges in Ky do not like it, and attorneys despise it. And those opinions carry in every state. No matter how minor a court appearance or trial may appear to anyone else, it is cruicial and more often life-changing to a plaintiff or defendant. You can diminish the importance of, and quote the low statistics of, your equipment’s recording failures, but that doesn’t quite make up to the person who’s livelihood, finances, reputation, child custody, or freedom depends upon the record. How convenient that when someone posts, they must grant the right to allow you to modify or delete.

  • For those interested, here’s an excellent blog by Mr. Steve Townsend, CEO of AVTranz, a remote transcription service provider who has forgotten more about court records and digital court recording than I know:

    I really appreciate all the comments here. My point is simple one — the transition from live court reporting to digital court recording started a long time ago and will continue on regardless of what I or anyone else says or does or what links can be dredged up to support the vested interest of any of us whose work involves us intimately in the process.

    Many in my family either currently work in the court system or are former court employees. My aunt is the 4 term Circuit Court Clerk in my hometown where the Clerk is the legal “keeper of the official record of the court”. My cousin is the Clerk-elect. My mother is a Deputy Clerk for the past 15 years and my sister formerly worked in a courthouse IT dept. My wife is attorney and many of my friends are judges and attorneys. Through my work, I’ve met court officials all over the world and I’ve probably read more about this particular issue than 99% of anyone on the planet. I have been immersed in courts, court issues and legal culture for a very long time.

    Here’s what I can tell you: most court systems are going to transition to digital court recording. Some will the system that I promote and many others will use systems from my industry colleagues. Some will make the video the official record of the court, as in Kentucky and others will determine that they prefer a hybrid approach. But digital court recording isn’t going anywhere and likely court reporters, traditional court transcriptionists and remote transcriptionists are going to be around at least until voice-to-text technology gets a whole lot better than it is today. (Hybrid voice-to-text augmented by human transcription are just around the corner.)

    In light of these facts, my view is that attacking technology has never been a very successful strategy for industries faced with partial technological displacement. Far better, I would suggest, would be for talented court reporters to embrace digital court recording and demonstrate how valuable a court reporters skills can be when translated to digital court reporting work product. This is exactly what the former President of the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) recently did by going to work for the world’s largest digital court recording provider, For The Record (FTR). I really applaud her for it and her work to improve digital court reporting work processes for FTR’s clients will no doubt lead to valuable improvements for their client courts.

    The JAVS System exists because the courts came to us and asked us to create a solution for them and not because anyone sold them anything. Thirty years later, not much has changed. Courts in general aren’t prone to be “sold” solutions. Courts face challenges and they seek partners to help them meet those challenges. I talk to court officials every day about their challenges and nearly 100% of the officials who contact me already have an excellent grasp of all the relevant facts before they call. After all, these same officials spend all day every day listening to the arguments of folks who disagree about the facts of a situation. I think by and large courts are very thoughtful and serious about these matters, as they should be. Far be it for me to even pretend to be able to convince a judge or experienced court administrator of much of anything!

    In a perfect world of unlimited resources, all courts would have both a talented live court reporter AND a fully-featured audio video court recording system. In the real world of limited resources, courts must make hard decisions about how best to invest the tax dollars of hard-working citizens in their respective states. I respect the difficulty of those decisions and I appreciate that changes impact the real lives of real people. But still those hard decisions must be made and they are harder today than ever!

    Again, this has been an excellent discussion and I hope everyone has a great week helping the best system of justice in the world do it’s important work!

  • “We looked at replacing all of the stenographers with recording devices but they are just not reliable,” said Judge Scott D. Keller, who was president judge at the time. “We were never satisfied that the video recording devices were accurate. The testimony was unintelligible. In criminal trials it’s so important that we have every word accurate.”

    Digital devices no match for stenographers in Berks courts
    Despite hard times, Berks County has no plans to replace people with machines. 9/18/12

  • AVTrans system enhances audio to correct digital transcription–changes NO to a YES. What about the other inaudible and indiscernible testimony?–other%20indiscernible%20sections.pdf

  • jana

    What most people fail to recognize regarding the unique skill of a court reporter is that what we do in preparing transcripts is not “rote.” There is a lot of thought process, knowledge, and research that goes into creating an accurate transcript, not to mention a lot of time spent with just the punctuation alone. I invite you to take an unpunctuated paragraph of any technical testimony and try to punctuate it! Not easy. Our job is way more than just putting words on paper!

  • Robyn you’re saying you’re saving the tax payers money by eliminating the court reporter from the courtroom and replacing them with digital and audio equipment but later are having transcriptionists or, let’s be honest here, court reporters transcribe the audio and digital recording. Sounds to me like you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes here. You are actually saving money by hiring the right person right out of the gate – the court reporter – and eliminating such “middle men” as yourselves. The reason you want us to “work together” is because you need us to put together the mess that you created into a nice readable transcript.