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The number of certified court reporters has dropped dramatically during the past 10 years � the result of tough certification requirements and a declining lack of awareness about the profession. Administrators of court-reporting schools and longtime workers in the field have expressed concern that a decline in the number of court reporters could affect the integrity of judicial proceedings across the nation. They said they are exploring options to attract new students to court-reporting schools or to rely more on electronic equipment. “It’s bad for the system,” said Judy Lehman, the acting director of Sparks College, located in Shelbyville, Ill. “In courtrooms where I’ve worked, there were times when we had more judges than court reporters. Judges would have to wait on recorders. I’d see judges waiting for me to get done, peeking through the door, because they didn’t want to proceed without a reporter.” Schools closing In 1996, almost 1,000 students graduated from more than 100 certification programs across the country, but this year, 62 certified programs will certify fewer than 350 ready-to-work court reporters, said Marshall Jorpeland, director of communications for the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), based in Vienna, Va. Of the 62 certified schools, 18 are community colleges offering court-reporting programs. The rest are legal arts, technical, private or court-reporting schools. Also, 12 uncertified “participating programs” enroll students in the United States, but are not subject to independent review by the NCRA. The decrease in interested applicants has caused many of the schools to close since 1996, Jorpeland said. The strenuous court-reporting training programs � which can take between two and four years to complete � teach the use of a steno machine, a type of computer that allows users to enter information phonetically at a much faster pace than the conventional “Qwerty” keypad. They are offered as certificates or associate degrees at community colleges across the country, Jorpeland said. The president of the NCRA, Reesa Parker, said the first steps are to get more students into court-reporting schools and then give the schools enough funding to graduate students who can pass the stressful certification exam. Schools must also keep graduates interested in courtroom jobs, rather than in closed-captioning broadcast work, which draws from the same pool of graduates and is also experiencing a shortage. These reporters transcribe live broadcasts of television programs for closed-captioning. Steve Leben, the president of the American Judges Association and a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals, said his court has lost several court reporters to broadcast work during the past few years. He rejected the idea of replacing court reporters with electronic recording equipment. While there are electronic devices available to record testimony, they cannot alert court officials when a witness is inaudible or note movements and gestures, the way a live court reporter can, he said. Bill Wagner, treasurer of the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT), said electronic reporters, who operate recording equipment and do not use a steno machine, can be trained in as little as three months by an independent agency or a court. Training more electronic reporters would help fix the shortage, he said.

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