The technology and computerization increasingly being installed in courtrooms across the country is changing the job of court reporters, and is, in some cases, replacing them. Overloaded and underfunded courts are increasingly looking at audio and video recording as a way to cut costs, which is achieved mainly by eliminating the salaries and related costs of court reporters.
The California Judicial Council, in a 1992 report to the Legislature on several pilot projects, estimated that each video-recorded courtroom could save about $41,000 per year, and each audio-recorded courtroom -- which requires an employee to monitor the equipment -- could save about $28,000 annually. Courts around the nation find these and similar figures attractive and are increasingly adopting the technology. This trend would seem to mean that court reporting is a dying profession about to be replaced in many cases by electronic recording devices. But reporters have adapted to changes over the centuries, and remain confident that they will not meet the same fate as buggy whip manufacturers.
"As technology changes in the future, we will adapt," said Gary Cramer, spokesman for the California Court Reporters Association. "I am confident that the court reporting field will stay healthy."
Reporters have been in this country's courts since the early 1800s. Their tools have changed over the centuries from inkwells to stenograph machines, and more recently to today's computer-aided transcription, or CAT.
Fredric I. Lederer of the law school at the College of William and Mary and an administrator at the National Center for State Courts' Courtroom of the Future, said rather than simply recording proceedings, the court reporter's job may expand to running technology in the courtroom.
Reporters "who keep pace with technology will become court technologists," running recording equipment and computers to ensure an accurate record of the hearing, Lederer said.
But as courts around the country increasingly use or consider audio or video recording, some reporters are being put out of work. This movement is causing some strain between court reporters and the courts.
In California, an attempt to allow courts to use audio-visual recording has led to a court battle between reporters and the state Judicial Council. The council, which sets court rules, wants to allow local courts the discretion to use recording in place of reporters. Reporters are challenging the council's authority to make these rules. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which as of press time hadn't decided if it would hear it.
A key argument by reporters against audio recording is that costs are shifted from the courts to attorneys and ultimately their clients. "There are huge amounts of hidden costs in this," said Cramer. "It costs the litigant more and the court less." While getting a copy of a tape from the court doesn't cost parties very much, he explained, having it transcribed can be more expensive than buying an official transcript from a reporter.
Reporters' associations aren't against all recording of court proceedings. When there is a relatively low volume and low likelihood of appeal in a court -- said Paula Laws, president of the National Association of Court Reporters -- the group is not against using tapes to create the official record. Traffic or bankruptcy courts are examples when reporters may not object to recording.
"If it is a low-volume court and you see attrition taking place, it's not an issue," Laws said. "If they are just replacing them, it could be an issue. Where you see concern is when [the court] says they want to use tape or video in high-volume courts."
An example of how video used in the courtroom has affected reporters and others is the Kentucky Circuit Courts, which have been recording proceedings on video for about 10