Ursula H. Pappas, RMR, RPR, CCR-AZ, CSR-CA
750 East Northern Avenue, #1115
Phoenix, Arizona 85020
602-795-3101. [email protected]
I have been active in the field of court reporting for 50 years. I was employed as an official reporter in Pittsburgh in the state court and US District Court for 11 years, then owned and operated a court reporting agency there with approximately 35 employees for 30 years. Presently I contract my services to two large international court reporting agencies and work in the Phoenix area during the winter. I do this as I have always enjoyed my profession and enjoy working on legal cases.
Years ago the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, PA) was going to install an electronic system to record all trials and dismiss the official reporters. The thought was it would be a huge cost savings. The electronic media companies gave proposals on efficiency, cost, no employees to contend with, a big savings on salaries/benefits, and the list went on. On paper, it looked good. No, it looked fantastic! The media salesmen gave fantastic presentations. There was only one slight problem, after a careful, detailed analysis, their presentations proved false. As all good salesmen do, they said and kept repeating what their potential clients wanted to hear: they would save millions and not have employees to contend with.
There’s an old saying: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Those 10 words led to an exhaustive analysis conducted by court officials, court reporters employed by the court system, and documented information provided by the National Court Reporters Association in Washington, D.C.
This analysis, verified by written proof, proved there were quite a few omissions and misrepresentations in the media salesmen’s presentations.
Firstly, as we all know with working with computers in our everyday life, they malfunction. What do you do? Call your IT department. Computers work in conjunction with audio and video equipment. The more equipment that’s installed, the larger the IT department. You have to have well trained IT employees in both audio/video media and computers. The larger the court system, the more equipment that’s installed, the more staff to maintain it.
A good IT employee earns approximately what a reporter does. An audio or audio/video setup per courtroom is very expensive as it involves extensive wiring and placement of multiple equipment both in the courtroom and the judge’s chambers, and that cost is multiplied by the number of courtrooms per county. Additionally, you are employing a large technical staff who,have to be housed on site as they have to be available immediately as trials can’t wait for a day until a repairman can come. You aren’t employing one or even 10 people if you have perhaps 30 or more courtrooms. You have many more. In addition to the IT department, you have to have staff in each courtroom to monitor equipment to track what is being recorded during a trial along with making sure the equipment is functioning. These are employees who have to be housed in facilities near the courtrooms.
In addition to staff to monitor and maintain equipment, you have the equipment itself. It is expensive and as we all know with computers and cell phones, they are outdated the day we buy them and have to be upgraded or replaced on a consistent basis. In addition to that, there is the cost of their operation.
There are many more details I could go into but the short answer of what the Pittsburgh state court system found after its long study: on cost alone, there were no savings and could potentially cost much more! This was never revisited as the circumstances of what all is involved never changes. If anything, with more advanced equipment, it only gets more complicated and expensive! There were approximately 45 courtrooms involved in this study.
Then we go on to the most critical point that must be considered. If a recording fails and it’s not discovered, there would have to be a new trial granted at perhaps multiple thousands of dollars. If that happened in a capital case, a murderer could go free as there’s no accurate record for appeal. There is also the aspect of it being very difficult and time consuming to prepare a transcript from an audio recording as witnesses have heavy accents, people mumble, microphones are covered by accident, there’s a glitch in the equipment that’s not discovered and parts of the proceedings are missing. We go back to a new trial being granted. Judges have to rehear perhaps a three-week trail. That involves the salaries of court staff and all IT employees involved. Just on that one incident we are into tens of thousands of dollars.
I would be glad to meet with anyone on your investigative board to go over any questions you may have. Thank you.
Ursula H. Pappas