Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters - Court Reporting, Legal Videos, and Videoconferencing

For everything you need to know on court reporting, legal video, and videoconferencing.

Future of Court Reporting Discussed at Town Hall Meeting

In September, the Omaha Bar Association hosted a town hall meeting with members of the local legal community to discus the futrue of court reporting in Nebraska.  As a part of that town hall meeting, Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters was asked to sit on the panel to provide insight into the matter.  Below are photos from the meeting, as well as an article by David Golbitz from The Daily Record about what transpired at the meeting.  Thank you to the OBA for including Thomas & Thomas in the town hall meeting.  We truly appreciate being a part of the discussion.

 

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Future of Court Reporting in Nebraska Up in the Air

By David Golbitz

The Daily Record

The Omaha Bar Association hosted a town hall meeting with members of the local legal community to discuss the future of court reporting in Nebraska.

A contentious issue, the hour-and-a-half long meeting—moderated by Omaha attorney Stu Dornan — raised a number of questions but provided few answers.

At the heart of the discussion was the fact that Nebraska has a shortage of trained, qualified court reporters, leaving many courtrooms to rely on potentially inaccurate transcriptions made from digital recordings of the testimony.

“(Accurate records are) the lifeblood of what we do,” Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Funke said. “We can't have a justice system without the record. It's important for the litigants, important for the attorneys, important for the trial judge and it's extremely important for me in my job now as an appellate judge. All I do is read the record.”

Most of the lawyers and judges who spoke at the town hall agreed that having a court reporter in the courtroom is the absolute best way to ensure an accurate record.

“If I had my druthers, I would say every courtroom should have a stenographic court reporter,” Funke said. “Is that financially feasible? No. Is that feasible with the shortage that we’re experiencing? No. So what do we do?”

One of the reasons for the court reporter shortage is that Nebraska doesn’t offer a competitive salary. Some court reporters previously employed in Nebraska are leaving for higher wages — by one count, there are currently nine court reporters working in Iowa who used to work in Douglas County.

Funke said that a pay study is currently underway to determine how much Nebraska should be paying its court reporters, but the study won’t be ready until the end of the year.

More competitive pay doesn’t, on its own, mean that there will be enough qualified workers to serve as court reporters, though. Many employers are struggling to draw in the talent they need, and the shortage of court reporters is national — there just aren’t enough workers for all vacancies.

Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley wants the state to do whatever it has to do to ensure every courtroom has a court reporter.

“Cheaper isn’t necessarily better in this context,” Riley said. “I can think of any number of instances where I’m so glad that there was a court reporter that was involved, a human being, a steno, that knows what they’re doing and can keep track of the record both with regard to the physical evidence and the testimony.”

Riley added: “As far as I’m concerned we should do everything we can to keep live steno court reporters in the courtroom as often as we can. And whatever changes we need to do, keep them here.”

The problem with not having a dedicated court reporter in the courtroom is that something might be missed by someone who is just listening to an audio recording.

“I think of all the sidebars we have where you might be talking over me, the court reporter will say, ‘one at a time’ or ‘slow down’ or ‘you’re too quiet,’” Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle said.

Court reporters are able to actively listen to what’s being said.

“If there’s not a way to discern between what’s not important and what is actually important, that is a concern,” Interim Omaha City Attorney Matt Kuhse said.

The potential that a key part of testimony might be missed is significantly higher without a court reporter working in real time in the courtroom.

During her presentation, Sarpy County court reporter Stefanie Allison presented a transcript that had been made from a digital recording that had “261 untranslates, indecipherables, indiscernibles and unidentified speakers.”

“This is an appeal,” Allison said. “This is somebody’s life here, and this record is not accurate. You can’t make a ruling on this.”

Douglas County Court Judge Thomas K. Harmon said that he has had to change the way he presides over his courtroom when he doesn’t have a court reporter.

“One of the things that I try to do on the bench is to be very clear in the questions that I’m asking, hoping that I’ll have an audible record that will in fact, if an appeal comes about, that you do have those facts available and that there is a record made,” Harmon said. “I’m very anal about making sure everyone identifies themselves, making sure that the names are spelled correctly.”

Kuhse said that judges shouldn’t have to split their attention between listening to testimony in the moment and wondering whether the audio recording is going to be clear enough on a later review.

“I do not like recording systems in county court,” Kuhse said. “It places too much burden on the judges to have to get the exhibits, mark the exhibits, keep track of the exhibits, when their attention should be on the evidence and testimony.”

The town hall meeting ended without a clear idea of how to ensure an accurate record is kept for every case if there is not a court reporter in every courtroom.

Most attendees believe there will have to be some sort of hybrid system between having inperson stenographers and using digital recording technology, but no one knows what it will look like.

“Part of solving that problem is to incorporate digital recording into District Court and do it in a way that supports stenos,” District Court Judge Shelly Stratman said. “How is (digital) going to incorporate with our stenos? And how are we going to make sure that we have the software, the equipment, and everything we need to make sure that every attorney and every litigant is getting an accurate record?”

Until that hybrid system is figured out, there will still be only one surefire way to ensure that the court record is accurate.

“I will tell you right here and now the reality is that if you do not have a stenographer in that courtroom you cannot guarantee that that record is accurate,” Allison said. “You cannot. Period.”

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How to Conduct Remote Depositions

Last week, Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters spoke with Dave Sommers at the Omaha Bar Association to discuss how law firms can continue to conduct depositions during the current coronavirus outbreak.  Below is the recording of said interview as well as an explanation of the benefits of remote depositions and our recommendations on how to successfully conduct one.

While the ability to conduct remote depositions have been around for a while, the advent of the coronavirus has put them in the forefront of the legal community.  Having performed over 2,500 videoconferences, Thomas & Thomas has seen the benefits of remote depositions firsthand.  For starters, it is easy to use.  We generate a unique link and send it to all the participants.  One simple click and you are in.  Another benefit is you can connect from anywhere.  Given the current climate, we have seen attorneys, deponents, and court reporters appear from businesses and homes, allowing flexibility to those who cannot or prefer not to be out in public.  Our remote deposition platform, Zoom, also allows the participants to share exhibits in real time with all the other participants.  This function ensures everyone is on the same page and can easily follow along.  Zoom also works with almost all devices – PCs, Macs, and other videoconferencing units. 

Benefits of Remote Depositions:

  • Connect from Anywhere- Connect from your home or office
  • Easy to Use- Simply click a link to connect
  • Incorporate Exhibits- share your desktop to ensure all participants can see and follow the exhibits in real-time
  • Universal Connectivity - Connect to PCs, Macs, and V/C Units

Even though remote depositions can be a great alternative to conducting an in-person deposition, the participants should be aware of the pitfalls and how to avoid them prior to conducting their first deposition.  As with any technology, you should do your best to use current, up-to-date products that have the latest updates and security patches installed.  As technology ages, they become less compatible with current software and devices and may not work properly.  External devices, both webcams and speakerphones, are essential to a smooth videoconference.  We recommend Logitech’s HD Pro Webcam and Jabra’s noise-cancelling USB speakerphone.  You also want to ensure you have a stable internet connection.  Make sure you conduct the deposition from somewhere with a constant, high-speed internet connection.  Conducting a videoconference on a public network may be subject to varying internet speeds.  If you can, hardwire the internet connection.  If your device doesn’t have an ethernet port, try acquiring a USB ethernet adapter.  Finally, you always want to test your system with the parties involved.  Ideally, it will be the same setup and in the same location as the deposition.  Thomas & Thomas always tests with each participant prior to each deposition to ensure the user knows how to connect and that there is a stable connection.  Troubleshooting in advance ensures your deposition will get started on time and will be successful.

Recommendations for Conducting a Successful Remote Deposition:

  • Use a stable, current device – desktop, laptop, or tablet
  • Invest in an external webcam
  • Use an external, noise-cancelling speakerphone or call in telephonically
  • Use a hardwired internet connection whenever possible
  • Test, test, test!

Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters has led the way in court reporting and litigation support technology for over 40 years, and now we welcome the opportunity to assist you with any need you may have. If you would like to learn more about remote depositions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would love to show you the multitude of services we have to offer. We look forward to making your life easier.

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Omaha Court Reporters Transcribe and Provide Realtime Feed for 2017 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting

On May 6, Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters provided court reporters for and transcribed the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting, which was held at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.  This was the seventh straight year Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters transcribed the Annual Meeting live throughout the day, and was the second straight year we provided a realtime feed for Mr. Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting.  The realtime feed provided Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger with a direct written record of investor and analyst participant questions so they could better respond as the questions were posed.  Known as the "Woodstock of Capitalists," the event drew an estimated 40,000 attendees.

 

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