Does the Record speak for itself?
You've got to get up to Judges Brown's courtroom and take your notes from the April 1st trial", my supervisor told me.
Anxiety built within me as I approached the courtroom, wondering why the request for notes on a case in which the transcription had been prepared and filed. I felt like the star in The Emperors' New Clothes as I entered the courtroom, aware of all the eyes upon me.
"Young lady." began Judge Brown, "seem like you left something out of the transcription when you typed it up, and you've caused us quite a problem here. Find the instructions to the jury and let's see what you did here."
I listened intently to the banter going back and forth as I looked through the last pad of notes for the day, with the defense attorney arguing a new trial must be granted due to the judge's omission of such vital instructions; and the state's attorney presenting the other side (and the one which seemed more to personal like of the judge), that the instruction had been read and it was an error on the part of the court reporter.
As I read the stenographic notes of the jury instructions, glancing over my brow periodically I recognized the look of empathy of my colleague, who was unfortunate enough to witness what appeared to be an ultimate black mark against my reputation. I think she was my only true friend in the courtroom recording equipment.
Concluding, the defense attorney again asked to have the judgment on the verdict, finding and sentencing set aside, and a new trial set for the defendant. Refusing to accept the possibility of error, Judge brown decided at this point of impasse between the attorney's he would instruct the states' attorney to prepare "a petition against the court reporter for the costs of the original trial," and the matter would have to be reset.
Now I had to overcome the feeling of helplessness. Now was the only moment I would have to save my reputation, which seemed to be bouncing back and forth in the air between them while I watched.
Explaining how impossible it would have been to have left the entire instruction out of my stenographic notes fell on deaf ears. "There's no way you can prove you didn't leave it out, and since I'm telling you I read it, the burden is on you to convince me I'm wrong. Now, I don't think I am. The ball's in your court. Maybe you fell asleep or something. I don't think you people realize how important this stuff really is.
Judge Brown decided to hear the remainder of the motion in his chambers. I fast forwarded the recorder to the beginning of the instructions to the jury, and we all listened as the judges voice began to smoothly read from one instruction to the next.
The quiet continued long past the conclusions of the voice on the recorder. The judge had completely left out that portion of the instructions, and the motion for new trial was granted.
I sat, waiting to hear it, but it never came. Finally, I requested an apology. I was told by the judge,"I'm not apologizing to you - you're only a court reporter!"
The decision to use a recorder backup proved to be a wise one. Without it, there would have been nothing available to support the transcript produced from my stenographic notes. I had used the recorder prudently. My friend in the courtroom smiled a smile of satisfaction.
Yes, the record speaks for itself. And I as the keeper of the record must protect the record.
Be Leona Riley
Official Court Reporter Chicago
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