State Seeing A Shortage In Court Reporters

They are the eyes and ears of the courtroom, but less people are vying for the job

In a typical court room there’s a judge, the defense, prosecution, and a court reporter.

Their job is to take down every word that is being said, and who is saying it.

It’s an important job, but the number of people going into this field is declining.

And technology and schooling may be to blame.

“Some letters like a ‘g’ I have to stroke four keys for that, a ‘t’ is only one,” says freelance court reporter Pat Beck as she’s describing how her keyboard works.

It’s not a keyboard we’re used to seeing.

There’s no letters or numbers.

“We’re running the vowel sounds long and short by these four keys right here and this key is the number bar,” explains Beck.

But for court reporters, this machine is their best friend.

It allows them to type up to 260 words per minute.

The average person can only type up to 50 words per minute on a regular keyboard.

However, there aren’t as many people learning how to use this form of short hand as there used to be.

“We definitely have a shortage in the state of South Dakota,” says Second Judicial Circuit official court reporter Jena Skorczewski.

According to the National Court Reporter’s Association, there were 106 court reporting schools in 1996.

In 2016 that number is down to 32.

“We really need to get that younger generation in working as court reporters and think about this now in high school, even in middle school and when they hit that college level,” says Skorczewski.

Because of the shortage many states and counties have switched over to video recording.

However, Chief Justice David Gilbertson of the South Dakota Supreme Court says this position is too important to make the switch.

“As soon as they make a machine that is perfect I’ll consider switching from people to machines,” says Chief Justice Gilbertson.

He says he’s seen too many mistakes happen with video recording.

“In our sister state in North Dakota, they had a murder trial and they couldn’t get a court reporter so they used a machine,” says Chief Justice Gilbertson. “At the end of the trial when they needed a copy for the appeal, there was an 18 minute gap in the recording, they had no way to tell what was said in that crucial 18 minutes and therefore the court was forced to re-try the whole case.”

“Technology in recording, they don’t have the live person there that can hear if a cough covered up a very important word, which could cause a mistrial,” adds Skorczewski.

South Dakota does not have a school that offers a program in court reporting right now.

The closest schools that do are found in Des Moines, Iowa, Anoka Minnesota and Hobart, Indiana.

Skorczewski frequently visits these schools during job fairs, to try to convince graduates to come work here.

Another reason for the shortage is age.

The average court reporter in South Dakota is 52.

So in 5 years, 25 percent of court reporters in South Dakota will be eligible for retirement.

The starting salary for a court reporter is $45,000.

“It’s a great career,” says Beck. “One day you might be deposing a neurosurgeon, and the next you might do a mechanic and you’re learning about tractor parts. “It’s just the sky’s the limit, you really never know what you’re walking into.”

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