Judge Argues for Court Reporters Over Recording Devices

, New York Law Journal

   |6 Comments

court reporter's hands on stenograph machine

A Queens Family Court judge blasted the use of electronic recording systems in place of court reporters, saying the machines frequently produce useless records of trial proceedings and "appears to lack any legislative sanction."

Judge John Hunt (See Profile) said that while the Legislature has allowed temporary experiments with electronic recording of court proceedings, those experiments expired long ago. He suggested that the Office of Court Administration had no right to replace court reporters with recording gadgets and opined that the "For the Record" system that OCA installed in several courtrooms doesn't work very well.

"The present electronic recording of court proceedings is … completely unregulated as there is no court rule (valid or not) governing electronic recording of proceedings conducted before judges and justices in courts of record," Hunt wrote in Matter of Shannel P., D-21117/13. "Electronic recording is being conducted in a haphazard manner by distracted judges and court personnel having other duties in the courtroom, often producing unintended results such as unintelligible records of trial proceedings."

Hunt expressed his disdain for electronic recording, and his reservations about its legality, in the context of a juvenile delinquency proceeding involving a 13-year-old girl charged with felony and misdemeanor violations of animal cruelty laws.

On the third day of a fact-finding hearing in January, Queens apparently had a shortage of court reporters, and one was not assigned to Hunt's courtroom that day. "It was apparently assumed by court managers that the court would simply default to using the 'For the Record' electronic recording system which has been installed in many courtrooms across the state," the judge wrote.

Counsel for both sides objected to changing recording methods mid-trial. Hunt was about to delay the proceeding when local officials were able to find a court reporter, and the matter proceeded on schedule.

But "given the continuing shortage of official court reporters due to fiscal constraints and the proliferation of electronic recording in trial courts" and the likelihood of the issue recurring in the future, Hunt discussed at length the propriety of electronic recording.

Hunt said Judiciary Law §295, which dates to 1909, requires stenographers to "take full stenographic notes of the testimony and of all other proceedings in each case tried or heard."

He said the Legislature in 1992 allowed a two-year limited exception to that requirement and authorized the courts to use mechanical recording devices. After the experiment ended in 1994, the Legislature enacted §290-a of the Judiciary Law, which permitted court officials to use recording devices in certain proceedings on a trial basis. Two years later, the Legislature extended §290-a through June 1999, when it expired.

But Hunt said the Legislature has never repealed §295.

What's being said

  • not available

    We have had recording devices in justice courts for 6 years or so now. It is remarkable how good the quality is. However, there are drawbacks including the read back at trial. In the big courts, I suppose I would come down on the side of stenographic recording but for most justice courts, I would say electronic recording is fine.

  • not available

    It is most unfortunate that a "semi-competent stenographer" had to interrupt the flow of questions and answers in order to make a verbatim record. As a certified professional reporter working as an official reporter in a heavy-volume courthouse, I can attest to the fact that many attorneys could use a good refresher course on how to make a record. As a certified reporter, we are tested in Q

  • not available

    Mechanical recording is far less expensive, and in my experience of 32 years superior to the use of stenographers. I have seen so many stenographic transcripts where portions of the script do not remotely match what was said. I have been in numerous proceedings where a semi-competent stenographer interrupts the flow of the questions and answers, because of her/his inability to keep up. I have seen transcripts from mechanically recorded proceedings that were fine. As an aside, I served four years with the National Security Agency intercepting military and diplomatic communications in an Eastern European language, and the old reel to reel did a fine job of getting it all down. It is about time that the court reporters are outed for what they really are--a part of a technologically challenged age that is no more, and a very expensive and inefficient alternative to mechanical recording.

  • not available

    There are a number of problems with audio recording of court proceedings. Questions, and answers to questions, cannot be read back. When 2 people speak at once, what each said cannot be ascertained -- a court reporter will get both down in most cases -- and a judge has to get the speakers to repeat themselves separately for the record to be clear. Current court reporting equipment allows almost instantaneous transcripts, and at most a transcript can be provided within days of trial; a transcript of electronically recorded proceedings take weeks and often contain "inaudible" entries. Testimony by telephone (primarily in child support cases before a support magistrate) is often inaudible.

  • alm

    The Legislature may not have barred electronic recording, but the statute mandates stenographic recording. Logically, that means there is nothing to prevent the use of electronic recording IN ADDITION TO STENOGRAPHIC RECORDING at the same proceeding. It does not mean that electronic recording can be used as a substitute for stenographic recording. Bookstaver needs a course in remedial legislative interpretation.

  • alm

    The Legislature may not have barred electronic recording, but the statute mandates stenographic recording. Logically, that means there is nothing to prevent the use of electronic recording IN ADDITION TO STENOGRAPHIC RECORDING at the same proceeding. It does not mean that electronic recording can be used as a substitute for stenographic recording. Bookstaver needs a course in remedial legislative interpretation.

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