Court Reporters in the Courtroom




A court reporter's duties during a trialCourt reporters who work in a courtroom every day are referred to as “official court reporters.”  They differ from freelance court reporters in that they generally work with one judge in one courtroom.  Some official reporters may work for a circuit court and travel to several county courthouses within that circuit, depending on when that particular court is in session.  

Arriving and Preparing for Work

The official reporter usually has a specific time he or she is expected to arrive at work.  Most officials are provided with an office that may be private or shared with another court reporter.  Because the judge cannot go on the record without the court reporter being present, it is important for necessary tasks to be handled prior to the judge taking the bench.  These tasks include checking audio and recording equipment and becoming familiar with the names of the cases on the docket to be heard that day.  Stenography equipment and, if applicable, its synchronization with a laptop or other computers are tested.  The court reporter also confirms that the courtroom workstation is stocked with various supplies, such as extra exhibit stickers, paperclips, and a stapler.

The Judge Takes the Bench

Most judges begin proceedings at the same time each day.  The official court reporter is aware of this practice and will be seated at the workstation and ready to begin when the judge enters the courtroom.  Generally speaking, if the judge is on the bench, the court reporter is present.  The judge will greet the attorneys and other people present in the courtroom and go through a tentative schedule for the day or begin calling the docket.  Though this brief period would rarely be transcribed, many official reporters choose to write during this time and use it as an opportunity to get warmed up for the day.

Proceedings Begin

The judge usually follows the court docket, which determines the order for cases to be heard.  The court reporter is provided with a copy of the docket to be able to better prepare by seeing the various name spellings for the cases.  When the judge calls the name of the case, the court reporter goes on the record.  Until the judge indicates that that proceeding is concluded, the court reporter continues to transcribe everything that is said by the judge, the attorneys, and any other participants in the courtroom.  

The proceedings for some cases may be quite short.  Motions can last anywhere from a few minutes to as much time as the judge will allow for the attorneys to argue their positions on whether or not a particular motion should be granted.  Hearings can be brief as well, but they can also go on for days, depending upon the nature of the case and the situation the judge is being asked to decide.  Trials take the longest amount of time and can range from several hours to many months.  The court reporter must be ready to handle all of these situations as they arise.

Duties During a Trial

Court reporting during a trialMotions and hearings are proceedings that take place before a trial.  Many times attorneys will request that the court reporter produce a transcript of a motion or hearing so that he or she can prepare for the trial.  The motion or hearing being requested may have taken place a year or longer prior to the attorney asking for the transcript.  Therefore, it is imperative that a court reporter be exceptionally organized and keep very precise records and notes.

When a case reaches the point of trial day, the decision will have been made as to whether it will be heard solely by the judge or in the presence of a jury.  The court reporter goes on the record when the judge calls the case and confirms that the attorneys and parties are present.  If the trial is to take place before a jury, there is an initial procedure called “voir dire.”  “Voir dire” is Latin for “speak the truth.”  This process involves the attorneys asking questions to members of a large jury pool in order to screen the jurors who may not be appropriate to sit on the jury for that particular case.  This is sometimes a difficult job for the court reporter because the attorneys may fail to state the potential juror’s name or the potential juror may not speak clearly or loudly enough to be understood.  This process is, though, very much a part of the trial, and, should the case be appealed, this part of the proceeding is transcribed and included in the transcript prepared for the higher court.

Once the jury is chosen, the attorneys make opening statements and then begin to call their witnesses in the case.  The court reporter takes down all of the testimony and is always on the record until the judge indicates otherwise.  Throughout the trial, exhibits are presented by the attorneys.  It is the responsibility of the court reporter to mark these exhibits and to keep a log indicating if the exhibit has only been marked for identification or if it has been entered into evidence.  This is very important because only exhibits that have been entered into evidence are allowed to be seen and considered by the jury.

Reasonable breaks are taken throughout a trial to allow the jurors to use the rest room or get something to eat or drink.  If the judge is not hearing a motion during the break, the court reporter can take advantage of the time as well.  Most judges realize the court reporter is human too, and they take that into consideration when allowing breaks for the jury.

As the trial comes to an end, the court reporter takes down the attorneys’ closing statements, as well as the judge’s instructions to the jury, referred to as the “jury charge.”  After the jury charge is given, the jurors go into the jury room to deliberate.  At this point, the court reporter is off the record.  Many times a jury will have a question to ask the judge.  When that happens, the court reporter goes back on the record, the jury comes back into the courtroom, and the judge reads the question in open court.  He or she will then give the appropriate answer to the jurors, and they will return to the jury room to continue their deliberations.  The court reporter will then go back off the record until the jury announces that a verdict has been reached.  

Steography during a trialDuring the jury’s deliberation time, the court reporter can take care of other duties, such as editing transcripts that have been ordered.  There are also times the judge may hear motions from other cases, so the court reporter may remain at the workstation in the courtroom and take down arguments in those cases.

Jury deliberations are unpredictable and can range from a few minutes to days or weeks or possibly months, depending on the amount of evidence entered during the trial.  The judge continues to hear motions and conduct hearings when possible, and the court reporter continues in his or her required duties.  Once a jury reaches a verdict, the jurors return to the courtroom, and the court reporter takes down the reading of the verdict and any further directions given by the judge.  

After the Trial

When the jury is dismissed, the court reporter collects the exhibits that were entered into evidence in the case.  The person who maintains custody of the exhibits varies by jurisdiction, but generally they are kept by either the court administrator or the clerk of the court.  The court reporter usually maintains the notes and recordings made during the trial, so that a transcript can be produced if the case is appealed.  Trials can be long and complicated proceedings, and the court reporter must be physically and mentally prepared for those types of situations.  Also read Work Environment for the Court Reporter because the courtroom isn't the only place reporters are needed, but it is a highly rewarding experience to participate in the process of a trial from beginning to end.

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Written by , CCR on 9/13/2012 Suzanne has been a court reporter and worked in legal communities for over 18 years. 

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