In the digital age, many worry that mechanized systems, machines or even software will replace their jobs, and some court reporters in Massachusetts feel the same way. In a $5 million dollar project, supreme courts across the state have begun installing digital recording systems that would remove the need for a court reporter entirely. The reasoning for the project is that it would streamline the judicial process, and helps balance shrinking court budgets.
This is a trend that is happening nationwide as well, underfunded court systems are opting to use digital software to keep costs down, but that too comes at a price. In criminal cases, court reports must be without error, since they form the basis for most appeals. A mix of judges, lawyers and other legal professionals are objecting to the Massachusetts project, claiming that the digital records will be inaccurate, which could cause convicted persons to go free on a technicality.
Superior Court Magistrate Gary Wilson thinks the decision to cut funding for court reporters by using digital means is a poor decision. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he expressed his concerns: “This is an attempt to do this [balance the overextended court budget] on the cheap, and it’s not where I would want to be saving money. I think it’s penny-wise and pound foolish to fool around with the record on a very, very serious case.”
The difficulty with a digital system lies in the unpredictability of how it will handle real world situations. Defendants or witnesses who speak softly, have a harsh accent or do not space their words adequately could severely compromise the record. The more dangerous problem is that a mistake in the record like this could go unnoticed until it was much too late to stop the record, and that is the kind of error a conviction can be overturned with.
Wilson hopes that continued discussion will help administration see just how important these reporters are to the judicial process, and allow them to continue being a vital part of the courts in Massachusetts.