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VOL. 124 | NO. 237 | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Court Reporting Board To Provide State Rules, Licenses

By Rebekah Hearn

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Thanks to a new state law, rules, regulations and licenses soon will be required for all Tennessee court reporters.

The Tennessee Court Reporting Board, which met for the first time Nov. 21, is tasked with serving as the board of professional responsibility for Tennessee court reporters.

The seven-member body – whose members were first nominated to and then appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen – met to elect its officers and lay out its agenda.

Jimmie Jane McConnell, owner of Miller & Miller Court Reporters in Knoxville, was elected chairwoman. Kenneth Mansfield of Mansfield Court Reporting was elected vice chair, and Virginia “Ginger” Truesdel of Truesdel & Rusk Reporting and Video was elected secretary.

One Memphian, attorney Earl W. Houston II of Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC, was appointed to the board. Also on the board is Jasper attorney William Killian and Sheila Staggs, an official court reporter for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts.

Chancellor Russell T. Perkins of Nashville was appointed to the board, but recently submitted his resignation because of concerns any suits filed by or against the board would likely end up in Davidson County Chancery Court. Bredesen is expected to appoint a replacement by mid-December, according to the Tennessee Court Reporters Association Web site.

The board’s makeup requires one judge as well as two attorneys, two freelance court reporters who work with machine shorthand, one official court reporter employed by the state and one freelance court reporter who works using electronic, closed-microphone, silencer or manual shorthand reporting.

Rules to live by

The creation of the court reporting board will for the first time solidify statewide rules and regulations for court reporters – official and non-official.

Official court reporters work solely for state courts, such as the Tennessee Supreme Court, and they generally keep steady work hours. Non-official court reporters can work in any capacity they know how, including for the courts; their hours can vary, and sometimes they are on call.

Houston, a trial attorney, said like many of his colleagues, he wasn’t aware court reporters are not required to be licensed in Tennessee.

“I learned a lot in our first meeting when talking to the court reporters,” Houston said. “I deal with court reporters on a weekly basis, probably, but … I didn’t know everything that their profession entails.”

McConnell said the judge and attorneys are critical to the board’s makeup.

“I consider the attorneys and the judge to be more than advisory; they are essential,” McConnell said. “They bring a different perspective to the board … and, in turn, I think they will be learning about many of the responsibilities, functions, trials and tribulations court reporters encounter and perform.”

McConnell has been in the business 18 years. Her company, Miller & Miller, was founded by her aunt Virginia Miller “50 or more years ago.”

For 15 years, McConnell worked as a machine writer, which is the typical image many people get when they think of court reporters. Machine writers type letters or combinations of letters into a machine that, with today’s technology, is hooked up to a laptop that displays the typed shorthand as fully written English.

Three years ago, when she began developing carpel tunnel syndrome, McConnell switched to voice-writer recognition, which allows her to dictate into her machine and still see the written words on the screen.

Technology aside, still need rules

There are many methods of court reporting today, from standard machine writing to voice recognition to videography. But no matter how it’s done, the importance of having correct transcriptions, especially from court proceedings, is undeniable.

The licensing process, rules and regulations the board will establish are meant to help preserve the integrity of the profession.

“A simple way of looking at it is, if you do not have certification in another state, you could think, ‘Oh, well, I’ll go to Tennessee because I don’t have to have a certification.’ So there is a chance … because we didn’t have established rules here, that we were getting court reporters from other states that were not able to handle certification in those states,” Houston said.

He said he’s never had a problem with a court reporter’s work that couldn’t be corrected, but he has heard of attorneys complaining about inaccurate transcripts or transcriptions that were difficult to understand.

“I do think that … implementing those rules and guidelines will force the profession, as far as Tennessee goes, to better itself,” Houston said. “Because any time you have to receive a license, that means you’re being tested. There are requirements you have to meet. That will help weed out some of your court reporters that may have difficulties excelling in the profession.”

McConnell said she’s been a supporter of licensure for court reporters since 1999.

“The board … is in the process of establishing those rules and regulations; we also are in the process of setting up a statewide database with all known reporters across the state,” she said. “This would help ensure that we contact everyone to notify them of the licensure requirements and the proper procedures in filling out the forms and applications for licensure, which will be provided along with rules and regulations.”

Just like attorneys, court reporters will be required to earn continuing education credits to maintain their licenses. McConnell said she hopes this rule will have the added benefit of encouraging more court reporters to join professional organizations.

The board also will establish a panel to review complaints against court reporters. If a reporter is found to be in violation, that could result in license censure, revocation or fines.

McConnell said the board hopes to have the rules published by Jan. 1, and all necessary paperwork sent to Tennessee court reporters by July 1, although they will have a year to come into compliance with the new laws.

After that, anyone who wishes to practice court reporting in the state will be required to pass either a state certification test or national examination, such as one through the National Association of Court Reporters, the National Verbatim Reporters Association or the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.

“I just firmly believe in licensure, and I think it would be a good thing for the public, since we are in such an important position of recording the record,” McConnell said. “People’s lives depend on it … to have an accurate record to allow them to hopefully come out with a satisfactory result to whatever their problem might be, and I think court reporters are very important to that.”

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