Is there a problem, Counsel?
In Oregon, you must be certified to be a hairdresser, a marijuana horticulturist, or a massage therapist. But to be a court reporter, all you have to do is show up and do the job. Given the importance of the record to all parties involved in litigation, it seems reasonable to require that court reporters meet minimum skill levels and that they obtain continuing education.
Since 1990, Oregon has had a voluntary certification program for shorthand reporters, and I am proud to be a card-carrying Certied Shorthand Reporter (CSR). The Oregon Court Reporters Association worked for a number of years to get mandatory certification in place, but after several trips to the legislature, a compromise voluntary certification bill was passed.
A reporter holding the title of CSR allows legal professionals and the public to rest assured that the court reporter that is employed for their legal proceeding is a competent professional who is current on legal issues, state rules of civil and criminal procedure, and the latest court reporting technologies. It also means that the individual responsible for creating a verbatim record has successfully demonstrated the ability to capture the record at 225 words per minute with an error rate of 5% or less.
However, certification is about more than just whether the reporter’s skills are sufficient to do the job. Certification also requires reporters to abide by certain rules set by the State regarding such things as rules on note retention as well as ethical conduct when it comes to being the non-partisan guardian of the record.
Over the years since I first received my CSR, there have been numerous occasions when I have been questioned as to the various rules affecting the conduct of court reporters. I would pull out my copy of ORS 8.415 through 8.455 and try to answer to the best of my ability.
In reviewing the policies set out by the State Court Administrator, one thought has always stood out in my mind: These rules do not affect non CSR-holding reporters. In other words, reporters who do not have their CSR do not have to abide by ANY of the rules of professional conduct. They do not have to retain their notes, period. They do not have to maintain impartiality towards all participants in all proceedings. They do not have to refrain from accepting or giving gifts, incentives, and rewards—directly or indirectly—that exceed $150 in the aggregate per year per client or potential client — and the list goes on.
I was contacted by an attorney several years ago with a question: Isn’t there a law or rule that requires reporters to retain their notes for a certain amount of time? He had attempted to order a transcript from a deposition he had attended two years prior. The attending reporter informed him that they no longer had the notes. My reply to him was, “Not unless they are a Certified Shorthand Reporter.”
I believe it is time for Oregon to revisit this issue and join 28 other states that have a mandatory certification program in place for court reporters.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has been spear-heading efforts to get certification programs in place across the nation. Their Director of Government Relations, Adam Finkel, highlights some key points: “As to government involvement in court reporting, the court system is one of the most important functions that a state must oversee. Judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals all have various certification and continuing education requirements. Court reporters are just as important as all of these professionals in ensuring that all individuals in a courtroom are given a fair and unbiased trial. Several words on an official court record can mean the difference between an acquittal and life in prison. The government giving a public stamp of approval to a court reporter through a license or certificate provides proof to the public that court reporting is critical to the operation of the state judicial system and raises the quality of the individuals involved in the profession.”
He goes on to point out that certification “prevents individuals who do not go through the same rigorous academic and skills training as court reporters from placing a tape recorder in the middle of a table during a deposition and identifying themselves as the court reporter.”
The importance of certification is summed up in a quote from the NCRA website: “The goal of all certification programs is to raise the level of competence and professionalism of the practitioners in the industry. For the individual practitioner, certification provides a specific road map of the knowledge and skills needed in order to meet minimum standards of qualification, as well as an independent validation of competence that reporters can use to distinguish themselves in the market. There is clearly a public stake in the competent performance of reporters and, in some cases, life and liberty rely on the record.
“In addition to the goal of protecting the public, regulatory programs have two primary objectives that benefit the occupation and the practitioner: to raise the standards of the profession and to raise the personal performance of reporters through the use of testing, and increasingly through continuing-education requirements to remain current in a rapidly changing field.”
Where do we start? As consumers, look for the CSR designation! It means your court reporter is voluntarily complying with Oregon’s certification program.
But back to our “court reporter,” Lucy Mae Duran. In response to any questions by counsel as to her qualifications as a court reporter, she is licensed with Lane County Animal Control, registered with the American Kennel Club, and certified by …. well, maybe we should change that to “certifiable.”