How To Spot A Fake Court Reporter

There are some things that can be faked without dire consequences–high-end bags, shoes, watches, and apparel, to name a few.

Whenever I visit New York, I’m amazed by the number of street vendors peddling an array of counterfeited luxury items, everything from Lois Vuitton to Rolex.  While I would agree with Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute in New York that “the biggest risk is certainly reputational damage,” and, of course, profits to the manufacturers of ripped-off goods, most people purchasing such items are well aware that they’re buying a fake.  They don’t expect such a purchase to stand the test of time.  To be sure, purchasing a fake Fendi won’t endanger the buyer in any way.

Not that I espouse counterfeiting, but, let’s face it, purchasing a Prada knockoff won’t kill you, and it certainly won’t destroy a legal matter that will ultimately be tried before a court and jury.  The fact is, there are times when nothing but the real thing will do.  Say, for example, engaging a licensed professional who adheres to high standards and examinations that set them apart–like doctors, nurses, lawyers, physical therapists, accountants, physicians’ assistants, as well as court reporters.  Such people are licensed for a reason—to protect the public interest.

The truth is, everyone would be outraged by someone posing as a medical, legal or accounting professional.  It not only reflects badly on a given profession, it is downright dangerous.  Imagine, if you will, being examined/treated/operated on by someone who has not gone through the rigors of medical school training, not even close.  How about a layman not educated in accounting practices who signs off on  your tax return or audited financials?  Well, the same holds true for the keepers of the record, court reporters.

Court reporters record depositions, statements, hearings, arbitrations and trial proceedings via shorthand keystrokes on their steno machines that they then turn into transcripts.  And many of us can provide rough draft transcripts shortly after the close of proceedings, and final transcripts not too long after that.  We employ top-notch proofreaders to make sure our transcripts are, in a word, PERFECT.  Not sort of perfect, not just the gist of what was said, but PERFECT.

The result, our transcripts, are relied upon by counsel, judges, appellate courts, for citing in briefs, for impeaching witnesses on the stand.  And so we have no choice other than perfection.  The industry demands it, and we deliver.

So you can understand my chagrin today when I was informed by the Polish translator at my deposition who said, “I do that,” nodding in the direction of my court reporting machine, a device that few are able to comprehend its mechanics.

At first, I was duly impressed–a simultaneous translator who is also a court reporter?  Wow.  But my fascination turned to indignation as I probed how it was that this woman found time to engage in two highly skilled, time-consuming professions, only to learn that she doesn’t “do that,” do what I do, do what all licensed court reporters do.  And to insinuate as much minimizes the skill level that court reporters must possess, not to mention the painstaking hours and exacting demands of the perfection required by our profession.

So here are the questions I used to ferret out a counterfeit/fake court reporter.

Q.           Where did you go to school?

A.           Oh, I didn’t.  I taught myself.

As all court reporting students can tell you, court reporting is not a self-taught skill.  It takes a skilled teacher along with a student’s dedication to learn the theory.  Once the theory is learned, it’s just raw, dogged determination that's necessary to build one’s speed to the entry level of 225 words per minute.  And what veteran reporters will tell you is that 225 wpm is a drop in the bucket, that we are always acquiring new outlines for words and phrases to increase our speed and our accuracy.  We’re perfectionists by nature.

Q.           How did you pass the test?

A.           I didn’t take that.  I didn’t need to.

Big.  Red.  Flag.  Illinois, along with many other states, requires licensure to enter the profession, along with continuing education requirements that, if not fulfilled, will result in a suspension of one’s license.  And for those states that do not have court reporter licensing examinations, our national governing body, NCRA, provides examinations with equally strenuous requirements for both written knowledge and machine shorthand speed and accuracy.

Q.           How did you get a job in my profession?

A.           I know a very important person who got me my job.

That’s interesting.  I know a lot of really important people—judges, both state and federal, as well as esteemed members of the bar.  And not a one of them can give me hall pass into my profession just because they like me.  Not without a license.

Q.           Where do you work?

A.           I work for the Social Security Office and I do worker’s comp hearings.

I wanted to yell, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” but I decided to put a lid on it.  For the time-being.  Until I returned to my office.

With very little effort, I got to the heart of this woman’s hoodwinking.  Indeed, she is not a court reporter.  She is a Verbatim Hearing Reporter, a VHR.  And that is a far cry from being a [licensed] court reporter.  There are no standards, no licensure, no continuing education, no governing bodies for what she does.  In short, she’s a hostess for Social Security hearings.

Below is her job description.

The Verbatim Hearing Reporter (VHR) is responsible for escorting claimants in and out of the courtroom. They will prepare all documents to be used for that day's scheduled hearings prior to first hearing. The VHR will also prepare compact disc by labeling the CD with the claimant's name, Social Security number, hearing date and identification number. The VHR will insert the compact disc into a computer hard drive which will record the proceedings.

Finally, it occurred to me, I was in the presence of a knock-off.  For I am a Louis Vuitton and, simply put, she is not.

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