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Court Reporter Shortages

When most people think of a courtroom, the actors that come to mind are the judge, the various lawyers, the bailiff, the defendant, the plaintiff, and the various witnesses and journalists that are also in the room. There is another job, however, that is incredibly important to keep operations flowing smoothly: a court reporter. The reporter transcribes everything that goes on in the courtroom and keeps consistent records which can then be used for other proceedings. The human memory is very fickle; without a court reporter, a lot of events would be obfuscated, and this could lead to innocent people being left in an unfortunate position. There is a shortage of court reporters in Mississippi, and if this epidemic reaches Texas, the courts could become a lot more inefficient.

In Texas, there is a state agency responsible for managing court reporters and other transcriptionists, the Texas Court Reporters Association, or TCRA. From their website, an aspiring court reporter can take a variety of self-paced certification seminars that cover all aspects of the job, including captioning for the hard of hearing as well as ethics seminars. The certified court reporters are employees of the state and are assigned to work directly with judges and their courtrooms. However, in Mississippi, there is a shortage of court reporters. One judge claims that he is “hamstrung” and cannot get any work done because his court reporter left for Texas, where there are higher wages. In addition, another court was unable to fill an open position while a court reporter was on maternity leave. Ole Miss even discontinued a four-year degree program for court reporting because students became disinterested and stopped taking classes, but some claim it was due to the difficulty of the program; students had to graduate with a typing speed of 250 words per minute.

Do court reporters need to be employees of the local government? In order to address the shortage, state governments could hire an outside legal services company in order to fill court reporter positions. Of course, the main issue with hiring an outside company is ensuring impartiality in reporting. However, increased competition may incentivize more people to become court reporters as companies increase their wages and benefits. Especially since court reporters are highly skilled and require a lot of certifications, we should ensure they are paid adequately. Even though it seems that Texas has more money to give court reporters the pay they deserve, having other options available would ensure a shortage never reaches this state.

Court reporting is incredibly important, and the transcripts from court proceedings are used at every level of the judiciary system. The Supreme Court always uses transcripts from the lower courts in major decisions to ensure that each court proceeded in a constitutional fashion. Court reporters are the backbone of the entire system, and without them, it would crumble to the ground.