If you have ever been in a courtroom, the person to the side of the judge typing on a small machine is the court reporter. He or she is highly skilled and has the ethical obligation to take down every word uttered in the courtroom during hearings or trials – verbatim. What a daunting task!

In the olden days, shorthand reporting was done by pen writers. More recently, court reporters used shorthand machines with cumbersome paper trays attached, which scrolled out folded paper about 3 inches wide, and only the court reporter could read the hieroglyphics on the paper. The steno machines used now are small and portable, and back-up storage is on SD cards as opposed to paper. As the court reporter types, the strokes are processed through the reporter’s individual dictionary, and then appear in “real time” on the computer monitor in a readable form.

The court reporter’s dictionary is updated daily by inputting key strokes to define a word or phrase so translation into English is possible. For example, if the court reporter is taking down testimony in a case with medical terms, before the trial, he or she will input numerous medical terms related to the case so they translate properly. If a transcript is requested or a case is appealed, the court reporter must produce the document within the statutory time periods and certify that the transcript is accurate.

Court reporters are licensed by the state of Minnesota and must pass a competency test, which includes typing a minimum number of words per minute. They belong to professional organizations and are required to take continuing education credits and keep up on the latest technology changes.

The only court reporting school in Minnesota currently is at the Anoka Technical College. Typically, less than a third of students graduate from the program as they are unable to meet the stringent speed requirements with a minimum of 95 percent accuracy.

Not all court reporters work for the court system. Instead, they report depositions, do closed-captioning for broadcasts such as sporting events, or report for the deaf or hard of hearing.

As a judge, I appreciate the skill and professionalism of the court reporters who work in the court system.

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Ann Carrott is a district court judge chambered in Alexandria.

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