Court reporters have a tough job. Just take for example the reporters who work for Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in Pittsburgh, Penn. In the recent past, it was quite common for a reporter to spend three or four days working on a single case. To complete the case, the reporter was required to sit in one place, type accurate notes, work up to five hours at a time without a break, go home and start over again. The physical stress of having to sit in one place with a steady hand on the keyboard was known to take its toll.

"Many of our court reporters were ending up with physical ailments because of the intense nature of what they do," said Nancy Malia, supervisor of the audio control room in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas. "We were just too overloaded with transcription work. That's when administration started looking for ways to solve the problem."

And solve it they did by opting to use CourtSmart, a unique digital audio transcription system. The system

is effectively changing the way court reporters get the job done. CourtSmart is developed and distributed by

Karri Technology Corp., and is slowly being implemented in courtrooms across the country.

The system digitally captures the spoken word on ultra-sensitive condenser microphones located at specific points in the courtroom, including the witness stand, bench or counsel table. Live audio is mixed into four separate audio channels, with a fifth composite channel providing a backup recording.

Once captured, audio is transmitted to a central control room where it is digitized by the CourtSmart audio servers and stored on hard disk and Digital Audio Tape (DAT). "Not only does the DAT store all proceedings, but it can be used by courts to retrieve past proceedings," said Andy Treinis, executive vice president of Karri Technology. "One DAT is equivalent to 100 to 200 audio cassette tapes. It costs $7 for a DAT tape vs. $100 to $200 for cassettes."

Instead of sitting in the courtroom, court reporters monitor proceedings from a central control room. For every four courtrooms, one reporter is required to sit and monitor all of the activities through the aid of a closed-circuit television. The system operator is able to add "tags" (text notes) to identify speakers, events or captions.

In Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Malia said they have five reporters working between the monitors and the transcription cases. "We don't have to have one person per room," she said. "Now we have one person watching four rooms. Things do get hectic as that person has to caption all cases, get a recording up and going, shut other recordings off and fly between four rooms. It takes a lot of concentration and organizational skills. But needless to say, the cost-savings based on five people being able to handle monitoring and transcribing is huge."

"You're looking at an investment of $15,000 in equipment and maintenance vs. paying a $47,000 salary for each reporter," said Douglas Leonard, principle of the Pittsburgh, Penn.-based Miando Group, and ex-administrator of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. "In order to cover four courtrooms you need only one person, and this total cost is roughly $60,000. That's a heavy return on your investment."

DEAD-ON PRECISION

The best part of the system is the resulting accuracy added to the transcription process. Transcription doesn't have to be taken as the proceedings occur, which means reporters can rewind tapes to check what they've just heard. "First of all, it takes the human factor out of the recording process," explained Leonard. "I've seen realtime demos and watched reporters miss a word or words.

"The proceedings being recorded and digitized are stored right to hard disk, which allows somebody to make sure the integrity of the records are maintained. And