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The 167th District Court

The Court Reporter

My name is Jim King. I am the official court reporter for the 167th District Court in Austin, Texas. It is my responsibility to make a record of every word spoken during official proceedings in court and to type those words if requested. Sometimes, such as in a death penalty trial, the typewritten record of the trial is several thousand pages, bound into as many as 60 or 70 volumes or more. Most jury trials, however, take less than a week and are less than 2,500 pages.
Sal Hernandez, BailiffSome colleges and many vocational schools teach the skill needed to be a court reporter. After about six months of studying the basic theory, the student begins speed-building. Learning to write faster is self-paced, but it generally takes two to four years and sometimes more.
The theory teaches students to use their hands to duplicate phonetic sounds. When we speak, we make sounds with our tongues, throat, lips, et cetera. Court reporters learn to make “sounds” on paper with their hands by typing various combinations of the 22 keys on our stenographic machines, sometimes many keys in the same stroke. This produces what looks like typed garble on a 2-inch wide ribbon of paper, but it represents the sounds we heard, and later we must translate those phonetic symbols back into English. Most reporters now use computers that translate their notes automatically.
In Texas, aspiring reporters must pass a test that consists of listening to three five-minute takes of people talking, after which the candidate must type the words with 95 percent accuracy. The three takes are testimony in question-and-answer format at 225 words a minute, a jury charge at 200 words a minute, and a literary -- one voice giving a speech -- at 180 words a minute.
Our court generally hears only criminal cases. We alternate jury trial weeks with docket call weeks. In docket call, people accused of crime appear before the judge and are arraigned, or they agree to plead guilty in exchange for some punishment terms agreed to by the district attorney, or they appear before the judge to be sentenced. Sometimes during docket call pretrial hearings are held when there is a question of law, such as whether a search was conducted legally. All of that is on the record. A lot of routine court business that is not on the record takes place during docket call too.
Court reporters are well compensated for the work they do, but it can be a tough job. An official reporter must be careful about managing his time, because it is not unusual to have a long trial followed by a busy docket call followed by another heavy duty trial, and before he realizes it the reporter can be two or three trials behind with more trials coming up. Most reporters accept working on their transcripts at night or on the weekends during busy times as just part of the job.

Last Modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 3:50 PM