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Nationwide shortage of court reporters affecting Texoma courtrooms

Texoma courtrooms feeling the effects
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:22 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Right now, there is a nationwide shortage of court reporters. Courtrooms in Wichita County are among those feeling the effects.

“It’s a dire situation in some areas,” fill-in court reporter Ellen Heckle said.

But what exactly does a reporter do?

“We take down the record of testimony as our main job,” Heckle said. “So, any court proceeding or legal proceeding, there is a definite record of that which we file as reporters, and all appeals are based on reporters’ records.”

And it’s not as easy as typing up what you hear on a keyboard. These reporters use a particular 22-key system and phonetically write everything they hear. It’s a process that can take nearly three years to learn.

“It’s not a language that anyone else can look at those steno strokes and figure out what they are,” Heckle said.

Alas, there lies the problem. Without the expertise of these reporters, court trials are taking a hit.

“It can be delayed, or it might have to be pushed back or postponed a little bit for someone to be available,” Heckle said.

The average pay for a court reporter in Texas is $60,000, with some reaching triple digits.

What’s interesting, however, is that the National Court Reporting Association estimated that there were only 32,000 court reporters nationwide in 2013. By next year, that number is expected to dip to 23,000, forcing places like Wichita County to new extremes when finding substitutes.

“A lot of times if we went on vacation, we’d have to get someone from the metroplex, or we’ve had them come and sub from Abilene,” court reporter Leslie Hash said.

Some reporters have made even farther trips.

“One court reporter who came into Wichita Falls and worked several weeks had retired from Congress and lived in D.C.,” Heckle said.

While some courts have moved to electronic forms of reporting to alleviate the shortage, there is a growing fear that machines may do more harm than good.

“I think it’s a travesty to the justice system if court reporters go to the wayside and the legal system is stuck using digital,” Hash said.

Heckle hopes they can begin teaching high school and college students how to report and change the course of the industry. She and Hash plan to assist with a program at Vernon College that is in the works right now.

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