Court reporters play vital role

When one thinks of a trial, it’s likely that the first people that come to mind are the judge, the attorneys, the jury and the defendant.

But there’s another group of people that are present during the trial that play another important role in making the proceedings move forward; the court reporters.

Among their responsibilities are to accurately transcribe every statement made during the trial and make note of any evidence that has been introduced.

For the past 40 years, Nancy Timmons has been a court reporter for the 2nd Judicial District, and was recently honored at the Webster County Courthouse for her tenure.

“My main responsibility is to take down all the testimony in the courtroom,” Timmons said. “We are also the judge’s assistant. We type orders and do anything that the judge needs us to do. And in some of the smaller counties, we also serve as the court attendant.”

In 40 years, Timmons said not much has changed about the job. The biggest change, she said, has been the progression to digital reporting.

“The state has a new electronic system where orders are filed electronically,” she said. “That’s probably been the biggest change over the past few years.”

Court Reporter Jackie Schaffner said the technology has changed the job in many ways.

“Now we have machines that are electronic,” she said. “We can save our work onto an SD card and then put it into our laptops. We can also hook them up to the judge’s computer so they can see as we’re typing.”

Though technology has changed, Timmons admitted that she still uses a manual stenograph machine.

“For the past few years other court reporters have gone the electronic route,” Timmons said. “But I guess I haven’t seen the necessity to do that.”

Courtroom work isn’t the only skill taught to court reporters. According to Deb Christopherson, court reporters have the ability to work in many different fields.

“You can go to colleges and help hearing-impaired students by typing up lectures,” she said. “We can also do broadcast captioning.”

Court reporters also gain new knowledge as they’re transcribing court proceedings.

“We learn about a lot of different areas, not just criminal cases,” court reporter Jody Miller said.

For years, all court reporters attended a two-year program at AIB College of Business in Des Moines.

While that program no longer exists, a new court reporter education program at Des Moines Area Community College’s Newton campus started last year.

There was concern after the AIB program closed that there may be a shortage of court reporters. But according to Chief Judge Kurt Wilke, the 2nd Judicial District isn’t expected to go through a court reporter shortage.

“We think we’ll probably be OK,” Wilke said. “We actually just hired a new court reporter, and I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

The concern is that many court reporters will be retiring in the next few years, but Wilke said none of the district’s court reporters have given indication that they will retire anytime soon.

“We don’t want to see a bunch go away at once,” he said. “But I’m not hearing any reporters talking about retirement.”

Even Timmons, who has been a court reporter for 40 years, said she’s not going anywhere for awhile.

“I’m planning to work for at least a few more years,” she said. “I have worked for three judges in my career, and they’ve all been great.”

Wilke said each district court judge has their own court reporter. Timmons works for Judge William Ostlund.

He’s added court reporters are invaluable to the court process.

“They make the official record which means that if the case goes on appeal, they will type the transcript so the appellate court can read the trial,” Wilke said. “The Supreme Court can sit down and read everything so they will know what happened at trial.”