The field of court reporting isn’t short on its share of subspecialties, with stenographically talented professionals specializing in everything from closed captioning to live event services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. However, one of the most clearly identifiable subspecialties of this profession is no doubt the courtroom reporter; vital to the efficiency and efficacy of the U.S. criminal justice system.
Court reporters, in general, receive the same education and training. But a distinct group of professionals – those stenographers who are appointed for the court – can only call themselves official court reporters.
Official court reporters, also called judicial reporters and official staff reporters, are stenographers appointed by the court for an indefinite term. Official court reporters are state or federal employees, and they are often licensed in the state in which they work.
It is common for official court reporters to be appointed by a circuit, chancery or county court judge in a specific county or district. Therefore, they work in county, state and federal court houses, where their primary job is to take verbatim record during proceedings, thereby producing an official record of the case. Their workload revolves around matters relevant to the jurisdiction of the court, of all state agencies, or the legislature of committee/subcommittee within the legislature.
Official court reporters must be highly competent and trustworthy, as their records and transcripts are critical to the administration of justice. Therefore, they must also maintain the courtroom record and produce transcripts of court proceedings according to strict standards.
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Judicial Court Reporter Job Duties
Although the job duties of an official court reporter will vary according to the specific court in which they work, in general court reporter jobs involve:
- Producing verbatim records of proceedings stenotype, shorthand or stenomask
- Reading back testimony in court proceedings
- Editing and proofreading draft transcripts
- Researching and fact-checking names and other relevant facts
- Meeting strict delivery deadlines of official transcripts
- Assisting judges, counsel, and other court personnel regarding the recording of minutes and the rulings of court proceedings
- Maintaining accurate records and reports as required by law or by court policy
These professional must also tend to administrative duties, including billing for official transcripts; ordering and preparing transcripts; and delivering and/or mailing transcripts. They are also often charged with financial and other record keeping and the preparation and filing of all required administrative office reports.
Official Court Reporters in U.S. District Court
Official court reporters in U.S. district court must meet a specific set of requirements, which include:
- Possessing at least four years in prime court reporting, in freelancing, or a combination of the two
- Passing the RPR exam to be listed on the National Court Reporter Association (NCRA) registry of professional reporters (or an equivalent qualifying exam)
Although not mandatory, many courts now seek certified and official court reporters who hold higher-level certifications.
The federal court reporting program states that all official court reporters must be capable of recording: (1) all criminal proceedings in an open court; (2) all other proceedings in open court (unless the parties agree to the contrary); and (3) other proceedings directed by a judge or required by rule or order of the court.
Their work includes the following:
- All court sessions must include an official court reporter who records verbatim by stenotype, stenomask, shorthand, or electronic recording equipment, although the district judge determines which method is to be used.
- Official court reporters provide written transcripts of court proceedings upon the request of a party of the order of the court; all written transcripts must be prepared using the judicial conference’s guidelines regarding page format, page rate, and delivery schedules
Employment and Salary Expectations of Official Court Reporters
Although official court reporters are appointed by a court, at times the courts may need the services of a contract (freelance) court reporter, in which case they must be administered an oath for recording court proceedings.
All court reporter duties and conditions of their employment are determined by the judicial conference or by the courts. All official court reporters are salaried employees, although some may work as per diem reporters to serve the court on a needed basis.
As of May 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that court reporters earned a mean, annual salary of $53,010.
Recent job postings for official court reporters revealed the following salary ranges:
- Illinois state courts: $37,400 to $42,440 (starting salary), except for Cook County, which reveals a starting salary of between $47,942 and $52,942
- Judicial branch of Arizona in Maricopa County: $49,712 – $65,000
- Clearwater, Florida, 6th judicial circuit: $52,440
- Iowa Judicial Branch, 8th judicial district, Southeast Iowa: $48,464
- Montana 1st Judicial District: $36,483
- Silver City, New Mexico, 6th Judicial District: $37,500 to $46,800