Western Pennsylvania is highlighting a national problem: a lack of qualified court reporters.
In fact, officials everywhere are saying that a sheer lack of trained court reporters is making it near-impossible to keep their courtrooms properly staffed. In South Carolina, for example, a court was forced to close for two days because there were no available reporters.
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Western Pennsylvania understands the difficulty of finding qualified court reporters, as court administrators here say they’ve had a number of unfilled positions for months now. For example, Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca laments that, when she was elected to the bench two decades ago, there were nine court reporters on staff. Now, she says, there are five reporters who must handle the work of four judges.
So, why the shortage? Experts say it is caused by a number of factors:
- There are a number of court reporting schools across the country that have closed due to low enrollment. There are now just two court reporting schools in Pennsylvania.
- Many court reporters are being lured to other positions that often pay more, such as television closed-captioning and voice-to-text services.
- Many individuals say the pay is just too low. Officials in Fayette County, for example, say they can’t recruit many court reporters because the starting salary of $27,000 is just too low.
- Many of the current court reporters are now retiring, with not enough new court reporters to take their place.
The solution for many courts is to purchase a digital recording system. Many counties say this has helped them deal with the staffing shortage. However, even though digital recording systems have come to the rescue, many say that they are no substitute for expert court reporters. For example, a 2010 Kentucky murder trial had to be reheard because the digital recorder failed.