The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 29, 2012

Different technologies preserve court records

By WARREN DILLAWAY - warren@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  

 Technology has been changing the way we work and play for generations.

Area judges are grappling with the best ways to apply technology to capturing the official court record.

Two Ashtabula County Common Pleas judges use stenographic court reporters while a third has gone to a digital sound system that records the proceedings from eight different microphones.

Common Pleas Judge Gary Yost chose to go the digital recording route in 2007 when his long-time court reporter retired.

“I have been very satisfied with it,” Yost said of the system. He said the technology was originally for audio recording only but a video component can now be added if needed.

He said he made the decision because of the county’s financial situation at the time and believes it is a cheaper way to handle the court record.

Yost said he has not had any severe problems with equipment malfunctions but has heard of issues in other courts. He said in a worst case scenario there is a “procedure under the rules” that stipulates what happens if a piece of the record is lost.

“We have eight tracks that record at the same time,” Yost said. He said you can even isolate one particular microphone.

Yost said the only issue was a user error that caused a short delay. “I’m not saying it never happens,” he said.

Yost said one advantage is the availability of an audio compact disc that can be produced quickly and provided to anyone who needs it.

 All audio digital recordings are downloaded to a computer in the judge’s chambers and to a separate server.

If a transcript is needed for appeal, or other purpose, a transcript must be made from the audio recording.

Yost said 306 of the 371 trial courts in the state of Ohio are using some method of digital recording.

Common Pleas Judge Ronald Vettel and Alfred Mackey still employ stenographic court reporters.

“I think it makes the best record,” Vettel said of the “highly skilled” people that can transcribe up to 260 words a minute. He said the possibility of unintelligible portions of the proceeding make it too risky.

Vettel said a person may turn while speaking or several people talk at the same time and it would be hard to discern the exact record. “That never happens with a court reporter. She stops (the proceeding),” he said.

Vettel said his court reporter, Terri L. Tisch, also handles all the evidence exhibits. “I know it is going to be done right,” he said.

Tisch, Carrie Iarocci, a floating court reporter, and Amy Nettles, Mackey’s court reporter, all attended two-year court reporting schools that provide a detailed education.

Tisch has been a court reporter for more than 33 years, starting on carbon paper and moving on to the computer era.

 “I love writing in ‘real time.’ It makes the job fun and challenging,” she said of software that shows her notations on the right side of the screen and the transcribed version on the same screen available for the judge and attorneys as the proceeding moves along.

“What we do is a skill. We are highly trained,” she said.  

“We are able to come out of school and go right to work,” she said. Many higher level certifications can be earned after further experience and continuing education, Tisch said.

Mackey said the ability to go back and quickly find a portion of a trial and transcribe it is helpful in long, difficult trials or at sentencing hearings that may occur months after the trial.

While the Ohio Supreme Court allows judges wide guidelines on court room records, it stipulates capital murder cases must have a stenographic court reporter transcribing the proceeding.

Iarocci got her start as a court reporter after hearing a lecture during her senior year at the Ashtabula County Joint Vocational School.

She said she enjoys all the experiences that occur during a trial that help explain what is going on in the world.

Iarocci said court reporters are trained in how to be “guardians of the court record,” apply ethical neutrality to their jobs, handle evidence and many other important tasks.

“We aren’t only court reporters we know everything that is going on,” Iarocci said.

Tisch said different studies have provided different conclusions relating to whether digital recording saves money. She said new technology will allow an expert witness to testify from another city through video.

Nettles said she enjoys her job because every day is different even though she is performing the same task.

The court reporters are very proud of their profession. “It has yet to be shown, or proven, that we, the stenographic reporters, are not the very best and most efficient keepers of the records. So, as the old saying goes, ‘Why try to fix something that was never broken?’” Iarocci asked.