Human vs. electronic: Court reporter shortage could affect trials

Critical field faces shortage

Court Reporter Shortage
Court Reporter Shortage in Cherokee County, Tx.
Court Reporter Shortage in Cherokee County, Tx. (Source: KLTV 2020. All rights reserved.)

Cherokee County, Tx (KLTV) - Across Texas, a shortage of court reporters has caused a Cherokee County judge, Chris Day, to pitch an idea to the Texas attorney general.

The idea is to have an electronic recorder in-lieu of an appointed court reporter if they’re unavailable, and this worries Smith County official court reporter, Kristy Crawford.

“If you have electronic reporting then you have an uncertified person pressing record on the tape recorder,” she said.

Currently Judge Day is three months without a court reporter and he says that the goal of the recorder is not to replace a court reporter, but to have an alternative in case they’re unavailable.

Court reporters are sworn officers of the court and their role is to protect the integrity of the record. If any mistakes are made in an electronic recorder, 321st District Court Judge Robert Wilson says it’ll cost the county.

“You’ve already lost an important part of the record. The authenticity is questioned and what that creates fertile ground for an appeal. Which ends up costing a county lots of money or resources to retry a case,” he said.

According to the National Court Reporters Association, the average age of a court reporter is 53 years old.

Many court reporters are now retiring and local schools are not offering classes to train their replacements.

In the state a lot of people have retired and then there’s also the schooling situation. Schools have closed that provide court reporting programs, Cherokee County official Court Reporter Tena Argenbright said.

Some court reporters believe that going electronic is a step in the wrong direction.

“There’s been a problem with the audio recording. Either it wasn’t three or someone forgot to hit record after a recess…those things happen because there’s not someone with their license on the line charged with making that record,” Crawford said.

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