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In a rare action, a three-judge federal panel in the Southern District of Texas has found a court reporter in contempt of court and sentenced her to 10 days in jail. It released her after seven. A contempt and commitment order against the woman, Jackie Smith, cites a series of cases in which she failed to deliver trial transcripts in a timely manner or didn’t deliver them at all. Other transcripts contained gaping holes. In one instance, her faulty transcripts triggered a motion for a new trial in a bribery case. Judge John Rainey dissented from the order jailing Smith, which was signed by judges David Hittner and Janis Graham Jack. In re the Matter of Jackie Smith, No. 02-448 (March 20, 2003). David Adler, a lawyer the court had previously appointed to represent Smith, but whom she fired earlier, attended the hearing at the court’s request. Adler said he has no idea why he was fired. Smith seemed to have performed competently since she was hired by the federal court in 1994, until sometime last year. Adler, a solo practitioner based in Houston, said Smith blamed her problems on new software and administrative complications. “The position the court was in, well, they had to do something,” Adler said. “But I don’t think they needed to lock her up.” Mike Ramsay, another Houston solo practitioner, had a different view. “I’m surprised they didn’t give her more time,” he said. He was co-counsel in U.S. v. Yank Barry, No. H-98-18-02, a criminal case that Smith reported. Although “part of the record’s real good,” Ramsay said, there are “holes and gaps, and there’s a part that’s garbled.” Ramsay has filed a motion for a new trial. Barry and his co-defendant, Texas prison director James “Andy” Collins, were convicted in a federal-program bribery scheme. Ramsay had asked for the record so he could review it before making post-trial motions. “In 36 years of practice, I’ve never had a record that was lost,” Ramsay said. “She said she was having problems. … It’s like she went off into Sleepy Hollow.” Smith is not a member of the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) or the Texas Court Reporters Association. She is, however, certified by the Texas Court Reporters Certification Board. No complaints have been filed against Smith. “To the best of our knowledge, no certified members of NCRA have ever been jailed for failing to produce transcripts in a timely manner,” said spokesman Peter Wacht of the 26,000-member NCRA. None of the 1,400 members of the Texas association has been jailed either, said NCRA President Melissa Carson. David Bradley, the chief deputy clerk of the Southern District of Texas, said he tried to cut Smith some slack. “We’d already reviewed [the Collins case] and the Houston judges wanted her out of their courtrooms, so in May we asked her to work only on appellate transcripts,” Bradley said. “She struggled through the summer and was given an ultimatum to get it done, and she resigned” in September. Smith’s contempt hearing began on Jan. 13 because four transcripts were still not filed. The court ordered Smith to report to Bradley at the courthouse until her work was done and continued the hearing until Feb. 5. The court found Smith in contempt because three transcripts were still undone, and it sentenced her to the Bureau of Prisons until she completed her work. The court deferred incarceration until March 20, before it made a final determination, giving her a last chance. In a March 26 order, the court released her after obtaining her software password, copying her computer hard drive and getting her backup tapes. It also referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office because she’d accepted a deposit of $21,800 for transcripts she never delivered. And, it forwarded its orders to the certification board.

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