Court reporters capture legal proceedings such as depositions, hearings and other events and get them transcribed verbatim. They record the dialogue using specialized equipment, including stenography machines, and video and audio recording devices. Legal transcription companies work with court reporters to accurately transcribe these proceedings, which form an important part of the court record.
According to a recent report from the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Department of Administration’s 2017-19 biennial budget has put forward a proposal to eliminate court reporters in worker’s compensation hearings and other cases. Plaintiff and defense counsel are opposing the proposal to replace court reporters with audio recorders in cases that fall under the Division of Hearings and Appeals (DHA).
There were more than 17,000 cases DHA hearings in 2015. The worker’s compensation system received more than 5,300 applications for contested hearings per year. As of 2015, 24 administrative law judges, seven court reporters, and other administrative staff handled these trials.Various bar groups argue that removing court reporters from DHA hearings and using audio recorders instead is not feasible due to the following reasons:
- Only court reporters can provide a clean and accurate record of the hearings, which is particularly crucial for worker’s compensation cases
- Court reporters can capture legal proceedings verbatim, while audio recorders cannot
- Tape recorders just records sound and cannot make out the speakers
- Court reporters can instruct witnesses to speak louder or more clearly, which a recorder cannot do
- There is no guarantee that the recorder will function properly
- If the audio is not clear, it will cause gaps in the transcript, which is not acceptable in worker’s comp cases
- A recorder cannot identify what documents are being marked
- Even if the audio recording is completely intelligible, it would still need to be transcribed
Bar associations are concerned about the need for accurate record keeping in worker’s compensation cases, which often involve thousands of dollars. Court proceedings transcription is essential in these cases as parties often appeal adverse decisions. The reviewing tribunal would need an error-free record of fact-finding proceedings and having a court reporter there would ensure that “things are accurate and are well managed”, something that an audio recorder cannot accomplish.
Court reporters are trained and educated to produce accurate transcripts. However, when it comes to handling a large number of complex proceedings with large amounts of evidence, they usually rely on a digital transcription service to get quality verbatim records of legal proceedings. Legal transcription companies have expert teams that have a good understanding of the terminology and can deliver accurate transcripts in quick turnaround time.
Some courts in Wisconsin do use digital audio recording in rural areas and in places where court reporters are unavailable. One expert recommends that digital audio recording be reserved for cases where a transcript may not be required or requested.