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Court Reporter Caught Between Feuding Judge, Attorney

Court Reporter Caught Between Feuding Judge, Attorney

An Ohio judge recently decided to stop recording proceedings that take place in his courtroom. He says it’s because sometimes the recordings don’t pick up people that speak too quietly while recording off-the-record conversations. But one attorney says the real reason is that the judge wants to alter the official record as he sees fit. And a court reporter is caught in the middle. 

A judge is fighting to keep recordings out of his courtroom in favor of traditional court reporters in Elyria, OH (source)

A judge is fighting to keep recordings out of his courtroom in favor of traditional court reporters in Elyria, OH (source)

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge and county assistant prosecutor Tony Cillo have an ongoing feud, according to the Chronicle-Telegram.

The most recent issue: Burge barred all recording from his courtroom.

The attorney’s side

Cillo says be stopping the recordings, Burge has a chance retaliate against him. He says Burge’s court reporter, Tracy Reiman, doesn’t take down everything the judge says as part of the official record.

Previous recordings may already be trouble for Burge. Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel requested 10 days worth of recordings from Burge’s courtroom, which is what prompted the judge to discontinue recordings in the first place.

The judge’s side

Burge’s arguments against recorders are the same things other judges have said. Some people speak quietly or mumble, and the recordings don’t pick those comments up, leading to an incomplete official record.

What’s more, Burge argues, the recordings often do pick up what are intended to be private, off-the-record conversations between attorneys and their clients or attorneys and judges.

Other judges weigh in

Five out of six General Division judges have taken Burge’s side, banning courtroom recordings recently, the Chronicle-Telegram reports.

These judges were concerned about creating two “official” records — one from a recording and one from a court reporter. In future proceedings or investigations, this could lead to some dispute over which account is the official transcript.

But the lone holdout, Judge Mark Betleski, who will continue to allow recordings said the more information they can make public, the better:

“In my mind this idea that we might be creating more public records wasn’t a concern for me because I’ve always thought that was an inappropriate concern for any public official.”

The role of court reporters

Can recordings replace court reporters? (source)

Can recordings replace court reporters? (source)

There’s obviously a lot of personal history between Burge and Cillo. But the debate over the value of recordings has interesting implications for the court reporting industry.

  • Is it a straight recording of a courtroom proceeding or deposition?
  • How far can a court reporter go in “cleaning up” a transcription before it starts to alter the content of the document, or the intentions of the parties?
  • How should judges, attorneys, court reporters and other legal workers handle “off the record” conversations when they’re people recorded and a stenographer is transcribing?
  • Is it worth spending limited court resources on redacting information from recordings if transcripts can be provided by court reporters?

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