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Court stenographers who fail to produce transcripts in a timely manner are getting a stern message from judges these days: get the work done or face jail time. In Florida, one court reporter spent three nights in jail last month for failing to produce transcripts needed for a child rape case on appeal. Florida v. Smith, No. 074506 (Broward Co., Fla. Cir. Ct.). In Colorado, a court reporter who quit her job due to breast cancer spent the last two years fighting jail time over unfinished transcripts of several felony trials that were awaiting appeal. People v. McGlotten, No. 04CA2636 (Colo. Ct. App.). In California, another stenographer was recently threatened with jail time and sanctions for repeatedly missing deadlines for completing transcripts of two murder trials on appeal. She eventually finished the work, but was admonished by the court “that if this ever happens again, the consequences will be severe because the parties and the public can’t wait for these trial transcripts.” In re the Matter of Ja’Nal Carter, No. 12813 (Calif. 4th Ct. App.). Should stenographers be worried? Only the ones that aren’t doing their jobs right, said Broward County Circuit Judge Charles Greene, the Florida judge who recently jailed the stenographer for missing her deadlines to produce a transcript of a rape trial. “Ninety-nine percent of all court reporters are very diligent. They don’t need a lesson from [this case],” Greene said. “But it’s the one bad apple that’s ruining the barrel . . . that needs to wake up.” A 1,500-page problem The Florida case involved stenographer Ann Margaret Smith, a single mother with three children who failed to deliver a 1,500-page transcript needed for an appeal involving a convicted child rapist and kidnapper. Greene said Smith repeatedly missed deadlines to produce the transcripts, giving him no choice but to jail her. “I had to hold her in contempt. She said, ‘I love my job. I’ve been doing this for 21 years.’ But I told her that the problem is: Your job is different than virtually any other job . . . .You are the memorializer of words and, unlike virtually any other profession, without those words and without the record, obviously the courts and lawyers simply cannot function,” Greene said, later adding, “I don’t relish doing this.” Smith was released from jail and placed under house arrest with the help of Kathleen Achille, a solo criminal defense lawyer who read about the case in a newspaper and stepped in to help. “What I knew was that she had three kids at home. She was a single mom and she didn’t have any provisions for them. In my opinion, that was an emergency reason to release her, and the judge agreed and released her,” Achilles said. “It was unusual and it’s not something that you see everyday.” Clerk quit Colorado attorney David Lane, who had an unusual stenographer case of his own, said that stenographers going to jail for not doing their job is not necessarily wrong, especially if they are contractually or legally obligated to provide transcripts upon request. But, he added, stenographers who have no such obligations or contracts shouldn’t be forced to produce transcripts. That’s what he argued in the case of Valerie Barnes, a court reporter for Arapahoe County District Court who quit her job nearly three years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer. After she quit, however, the court held her in contempt for not producing transcripts in several felony trials that were on appeal. Lane argued that she owed the court nothing. She had quit her job, and had no obligation but to leave her notes with the clerk, which she did. The judge, however, ordered her to finish the transcripts. Lane argued that amounted to slavery. “She quit her job because of the cancer. She said, ‘You do it.’ They said, ‘No, we’re having a difficult time reading your notes, so you need to do it.’ And she was held in contempt,” Lane said. “We argued that’s just nonsense.” Lane of Denver’s Killmer Lane & Newman said that, eventually, other court reporters stepped in and finished the transcript, which led to the contempt charge being vacated last fall. Marshall Jorpeland, spokesman for the National Court Reporters Association, said stenographers going to jail for missing transcript deadlines is a rare occurrence. “I’ve been here 20 years. You don’t hear about [contempt charges] very often,” he said. “It’s awful when it does happen because we expect reporters to do their job and provide accurate and timely records of the trial. Every citizen is guaranteed a fair trial, and that’s what we’re here to do. It’s bad for everybody when these things happen.”

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