Their nimble fingers remain on the pulse of New York’s legal system: The city’s court reporters, typing at a snappy 225 words per minute in proceedings across the five boroughs — even as their numbers shrink.
“It’s a thing, unfortunately,” said Anthony Frisolone, the Chief Court Reporter for the Brooklyn Federal Court system, about the departures in recent years. “The state courthouses had a lot of retirements, probably from COVID. And the freelance market is covered by Zoom conferences.
“Now you can sit there at home and make the same amount of money, with no commute.”
No exact figures were available, but anecdotal evidence, court sources and the court reporters all indicated the need to increase their ranks.
“We are constantly looking to hire court reporters as there is a national shortage, along with the fact that many training schools have closed,” said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the New York State Unified Court System.
Enter Karen Santucci, who runs the city’s only court reporting program at Plaza College in Queens.
“A lot of court reporters opted for early retirement during the pandemic,” said Santucci, echoing Frisolone on the drop-off in workers. “The situation in the courts is desperate.”
There are currently more than 60 openings in New York’s Supreme Court, along with federal court positions as well. But Santucci sees the city’s dwindling pool of fast-typing court reporters as an opportunity for a chance for a new generation of transcribers to step up.
She recently took a group of about two dozen students for visits to federal counts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where opportunity awaits.
“Now things are coming back to life,” she said. “I guess we’re blowing the horn, we need people.”
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Court reporters provide verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings from trials to hearings, arraignments and conferences. And the pay is good: The starting salary for a provisional court reporter is just north of $80,000 a year.
“The court reporter’s job is integral to the criminal justice system,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “Court reporters create the official trial transcript that is essential to jury deliberations, appeals, and other aspects of the trial process.”
Amanda Vila, a court reporter in Kings County Civil Court since April 2022, notes the number of retirements since she took the job and wonders about the future.
“A lot of my colleagues are nearing the ends of their careers,” she said. “We do talk about where it’s going to be in 15 years, 30 years. If they start recording the proceedings, we have conversations about will we be phased out?”
The 28-year-old remains adamant that a live court reporter is superior to a recording of any trial or hearing: “It’s old school but very effective. It may be old, but it really works.”
Vila cited the recent problems in the South Carolina murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, where a digitally-recorded transcript was rife with problems — including sections marked “inaudible.”
“We can clarify things in the moment,” said Vila. “It’s not 30 days down the line you go back (to the recording) and you have no idea what anybody said. I would not want my fate in the hands of a recording device.”
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