Court Reporter Licensure in Indiana
September 25, 2013 update:
The Statehouse File recently covered lawmakers’ consideration of a court reporter licensing scheme in Indiana, and turned to Tom Richardson for advice. In Tom’s words, “Court reporters are an integral part of our system of justice, and when we as a profession fail, the results can be catastrophic.” Read more here.
The following article was written by Victoria S. Dudeck, RPR, CSR, and President of the Indiana Shorthand Reporters Association (ISRA). It is also available on their website.
WHY DOES LICENSURE MATTER?
Here in Indiana there is currently no requirement that court reporters be “licensed” or “certified.” What does that mean? When someone utilizes the services of a court reporter, either in a courtroom, in a deposition, or as a hard-of-hearing person, if they are unfamiliar with the person they have hired, they have no guarantee that they will be provided a quality product or service. In fact, in Indiana literally anyone can call themselves a court reporter. While some reporters voluntarily do hold certifications that demonstrate skill, currently, there is not even a basic competency required of court reporters in Indiana.
In our state we have very many excellent professional court reporters. Unfortunately, there are also individuals who are not. As a profession, we as a group run the risk of being perceived as being only as skilled as the “lowest common denominator.” As an example, the Indiana Shorthand Reporters Association has received inquiries from out-of-state attorneys as to how to file a complaint against a court reporter when it was felt that they had received shoddy or unethical services. Unfortunately, our answer to that question is, “There is no such recourse.”
Of course, we are familiar with the idea that doctors and lawyers must demonstrate minimum standards of competency to practice in Indiana, as do accountants, hairstylists, athletic trainers, well drillers, and massage therapists. Do you know that Indiana even licenses interior designers? However, any person may, with absolutely no training, call themselves a court reporter and thus potentially become the sole capturer and protector of the record in a case. ISRA believes that no reporter, regardless of which method they utilize, should fear legislation that institutes a minimum standard.
Unfortunately, with no current licensure requirement in Indiana, a climate has been created that has attracted unqualified court reporters to work here. We have received numerous inquiries from individuals who failed to meet basic standards in Illinois or Michigan, for example, who know they can work here in Indiana. Students of court reporting schools know that even if they are not able to complete their education or pass school competency exams, it really doesn’t matter because they can still work as a court reporter in Indiana.
A court reporter performs a crucial role in the legal process. They are a disinterested, unbiased officer whose duty it is to capture and preserve the record and uphold strict standards when handling evidence, maintaining confidentiality, and creating a useable transcript. While an attorney may develop a relationship with a local reporter with whom they trust and are familiar, there is no way to be assured of a reporter’s ability when one must, for example, take a deposition in an unfamiliar locale of Indiana. One should be able to assume that the reporter you hire in South Bend will be as competent as the reporter you may hire in Merrillville, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, or in Evansville. Also, in nearly every instance where a reporter’s services are utilized there is at least one party who is compelled to use the reporter chosen by another party, one who is not necessarily a reporter with whom they have already established a relationship.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF COURT REPORTER LICENSURE?
Licensure proves that a court reporter has attained a basic competency and skill.
Licensure provides for the benchmark of ethical behavior by court reporters.
Licensure demonstrates to the community at large the professionalism of court reporters.
Licensure of court reporters protects the general public from substandard reporting services and provides recourse if a user of reporting services receives inferior service.
Licensure establishes a common benchmark with which all methods of capturing the record will be required to comply. No matter the method – steno machine reporter, digital recorder, voice writer – and no matter the setting – courtroom, deposition, Grand Jury, etc. – all reporters will be held to the same standard.
Licensure would ensure that court reporters keep their skills current and relevant by requiring continuing education. Examples of continuing education seminar topics might be transcript punctuation and preparation, rules regarding retention of evidence and notes, ethics, appellate procedures, and specific industry terminology.
WHAT WILL THIS BILL NOT DO?
Licensure will not decrease the number of court reporters currently working in Indiana. Our bill would grandfather in all Indiana court reporters who have been practicing for at least two years. New court reporters would be required to pass a basic competency exam. Existing court reporters would be required to attain regular continuing education. Already there are regular opportunities to take competency exams for all three different methods of court reporting given by the National Court Reporters Association, the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers, and the National Verbatim Reporters Association.
Licensure will reduce the cost of court reporter services by ensuring a level of predictable quality in the market.
Licensure will not favor one method of reporting over another; it simply holds all methods to the same basic competency standard.