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Twelve years after the New Jersey judiciary began winnowing out court stenographers and replacing them with audiovisual tape recorders, a newer technology is helping the profession make a comeback. It’s called real-time transcription: a computerized system that instantly converts a stenographer’s keystrokes into text that crawls along the bottom of a video screen like a news ticker. The captioning allows hearing-impaired lawyers, parties and jurors to follow the case, but it’s also becoming popular with lawyers who want immediate downloads of trial transcripts. Real-time has advocates among civil litigators, especially in complex cases or those with multiple parties, because it provides the ability to make notations on the transcript as it is produced, making later reviews much easier. In fact, real-time reporters can make more money in the private sector, laments Administrative Office of the Courts deputy clerk Jeffrey Newman, who since last fall has been recruiting to fill seven new positions. So far he’s found only two new reporters. Not only are wages higher in the private sector, but job opportunities there are wide-ranging, from recording depositions and mediations to performing closed captioning of television programs or even accompanying hearing-impaired college students to lectures. In addition, real-time reporters can work from home, providing closed captioning of television programs, and can freelance as much as they want. Still, with real-time reporters in demand, the AOC is doing its best to compete. There are currently 37 of them on the payroll — roughly half of the court reporters on staff — but they are not dispersed evenly statewide. There are no openings currently in the Camden, Hudson, Monmouth, Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem and Morris/Sussex vicinages. The goal is to have at least one real-time reporter per vicinage. While there are no funds to hire more real-time reporters beyond the seven new positions, Newman says the AOC is encouraging the other reporters on staff to learn the new technology and will match 2 percent of their salary to help fund the special certification and computer hardware and software required. That could run $10,000 or more, says Lois McFadden, a real-time reporter in Camden County Superior Court. There is also a salary perk. The AOC pays real-time reporters $38,000 to $74,000, compared with $32,000 to $66,000 for regular court reporters. Newman says the recent hiring effort is not a reversal of the pro-videotape policy adopted in 1991, when there were 205 court reporters on staff. Rather, the AOC is adding real-timers as advantages of that technology are becoming apparent, Newman says. But the profession with a vested interest is sanguine about the real-time trend. Theodore Formaroli, president-elect of the Certified Shorthand Reporters Association of New Jersey, says it is an acknowledgement that attrition and layoffs led to too few court reporters and that their technical services are needed. “The bar demands these services and it should be the state’s place to provide these services,” says Formaroli, who is a real-time reporter in federal court in Camden. Trial lawyers like Raymond Gill are among those creating the demand. He says the move to audiovisual recording was an “utter failure” because of the delay in obtaining transcripts. “The trial is over before you get a transcript back,” says Gill, a plaintiffs’ attorney at Gill & Chamas in Woodbridge. Gill hires real-time reporters on his own. “It’s expensive, but if the case merits it, this way you have a daily transcript,” he says. He uses real time to compare a witness’s deposition and court testimony. He also projects a real-time transcript at the bottom of a monitor when playing a videotape of a witness’s testimony to “drive the point home harder” for the jury. Despite the new hires, though, litigators like Gill will likely have to continue paying their own way for real-time reporting because those reporters will be in Criminal Part, which takes priority because liberty interests are at stake. While federal courts provide real-time reporting in nearly all courtrooms, most state courts use a mixture of tape recording, real-time reporting and conventional reporting, says Jim McMillan, principal court technology consultant for the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. Budget pressures, a competitive market for real-time reporters and a demand for quick transcript turnarounds are the reasons, he says.

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