I’ll be the first to say it: there are some scary court reporters out there. I’ve seen court reporters who could give looks that would stop Voldemort in his tracks. I’ve heard some yell loudly enough to rupture an ear drum. Recently, I had one insist that my phone be set to airplane mode; silent wasn’t good enough. That being said, I think these types are a minority and a fair amount of indulgence is owed to anyone who works almost exclusively with attorneys for a living.
Then there are the other types of court reporters: helpful, knowledgeable, skilled, and who have just the right amount of assertiveness. I’ve gained a lot of insight into the inner workings of unfamiliar courts by being nice to the court reporter. Once, after an irresponsible court reporter left me in limbo (without a transcript) after my very first deposition, a wonderful woman swooped in and cleaned up the mess.
I called her to book my next deposition: a third-party witness. I was the plaintiff’s attorney in this case, representing an insurer who had a few million on the line. The defendant’s attorney was present & the third-party witness had an attorney present as well. The two other attorneys in the room each had about 30 years of experience on me, but I wasn’t scared. I had done a deposition before and I survived it.
So…here we go…
Me: Will you please state your name for the record?
Witness: “Witness Q. Witness”
Me: Thank you. What is your current address?
Me: Are you married?
Witness: “I’m taking the Fifth.”
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Witness’s Attorney: “I’m instructing my client not to answer based on a privilege against self-incrimination.”
I started to panic. I’m a civil attorney. My experience with criminal court is limited to hot checks (watching the prosecutor do all of the work) and speeding tickets (I’ve gotten some before). I’ve never heard anyone “take the Fifth” who wasn’t on Law & Order! Thinking…thinking…this guy has some financial problems, probably some white collar crime issues, but no one has suggested that his marriage is in dispute. Ok. I’ve got this.
Me: I don’t think you can do that. Marriage is a matter of public record, there is nothing incriminating about that.
Witness’s Attorney: “Well, I’m still instructing him not to answer.”
Seriously??!! Now what do I do? I start coughing to stall time…**cough***cough**
Enter the court reporter: “I’m sorry, Ms. Wells, did you say that you wanted to certify that question?”
I look at her. She gives me a stare that says: “Yes. Yes you do.”
Me: “Yes, I would like to certify that question.”
And on it went. I asked another 40 non-incriminating questions, the witness refused to answer another 40 non-incriminating question, and I certified every one of them. It turns out, that’s what you do to present a little booklet of unanswered questions to a judge in order to get a ruling on whether or not the deponent has to answer them.
After the deposition, the defendant’s attorney told me she was impressed because she wouldn’t have known what to do in that situation. Thanks to the court reporter, I looked smart and I preserved my client’s rights.
How to Stay on the Court Reporter’s Good Side in Six Easy Steps:
1. Present your business card before a hearing or deposition if you don’t personally know the court reporter.
2. Don’t talk over witnesses and don’t let them talk over you.
3. Speak loudly enough to be understood.
4. Don’t act like they don’t exist; offer to get them a drink, if you are getting one, and other common courtesies.
5. If you plan to offer exhibits, make sure you have clean copies, ready to go.
6. If you find a court reporter that does a good job, use them whenever you can and recommend them to friends.
Am I forgetting any? Share your best or worst court reporting stories below (no names please!).
And if you need a referral, please feel free to email me.