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Highlighting a trend in the nation’s courts, an attempt to replace court reporters with computers in New Hampshire has fueled a legal battle between stenographers and the state’s Supreme Court. New Hampshire plans to replace stenographers in 11 county superior courts with digital audio systems by June 5, 2005. But the court reporters are fighting back. A Superior Court judge recently denied a petition by 15 stenographers to keep their jobs. But a lawyer representing the group vows a lengthy court battle, asserting he’ll go “all the way to the Supreme Court” if he has to to save the employees’ jobs. “We’re just going to fire every gun we’ve got,” said attorney David Nixon of Nixon, Raiche, Manning, Casinghino & Leach in Manchester, N.H. He filed a motion for reconsideration last week. But like it or not, computers are the wave of the courtroom’s future, said attorney Robert Schaberg, a procedural expert within the American Bar Association’s Section on Litigation. “The courts are, I think, becoming very progressive when it comes to technology these days,” said Schaberg of Shartsis, Friese & Ginsburg in San Francisco. “And it may well be that individual judges have individual quirks that they want.” Schaberg, a trial attorney for 31 years, believes that the preferred method for most lawyers is still the stenographer. He said reporters’ transcripts tend to be clearer and easier to read than those derived from a computer. “Most lawyers are only interested in the end product,” he said. “You want a good transcript. If the digital system has flaws in it that are not going to give you a perfect transcript, then you want the court reporter,” he said. As for himself, “I like court reporters. I think court reporters are a better system,” he said. “If someone were to demonstrate a digital system that was the equivalent of a court reporter, then I obviously would choose the digital system because it’s cheaper.” The sticking point in the New Hampshire case involves allegations by the stenographers that the state had guaranteed them jobs indefinitely�so long as they performed well. In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court, Nixon alleged that the court reneged on promises not to cut the stenographers’ jobs. Lorenz v. The Administrative Office of the Courts, No. 04E0153. The court reporters also claimed they spent thousands of dollars on equipment and education because of those assurances. But Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch, who represents the New Hampshire Supreme Court, said there were never any “enforceable promises made” to the stenographers. Moreover, he argued, the Supreme Court is obligated to run a financially sound court system�in this case, by adopting electronic recording. “I think it’s important that the court values these employees. It’s just that technology has advanced to the point that moving to electronic court reporting is more economical now,” Fitch said. He added: “It’s not reasonable for anyone to think that they have a job for life working for the government.” According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, just 37 of the nation’s 680 federal courts tape court proceedings. Although a figure is not available for the state courts, legal and computer experts estimate the number is much higher in the 16,000-plus state courts nationwide. Bill Wagner, a consultant with the Association of Electronic Recorders and Transcribers, said he gets calls every month from various judicial jurisdictions interested in switching to electronic recording. He said Florida is among the most aggressive states in the area of courtroom technology, as are Alaska, Missouri and North Dakota. He said California has strongly resisted computerization. At least a dozen other states also use electronic reporting in their courtrooms, including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Utah and Washington, according to the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., which tracks trends in the state courts. “Obviously there have been some states around the country that have been looking at [computerized reporting] more seriously,” said Marshall Jorpeland, a spokesman for the National Court Reporters Association. “But the modern, computerized dedicated court reporter is the best means yet devised for converting the spoken work into text,” he said.

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