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County courts going digital


February 19. 2013 6:41PM
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A new digital recording system will soon eliminate the need for human stenographers in some Luzerne County Court proceedings, officials say.


County Deputy Court Administrator Mike Shucosky described the system as the the future of the court reporting system.


The recording program will be installed in a courtroom at the Brominski Building and implemented by the end of the year for child and spousal support hearings and juvenile court proceedings handled by masters, he said.


Masters are attorneys appointed to preside over certain matters in lieu of judges.


The masters must operate the recording device from the bench and will have the option to replay and bookmark the recordings on their computers after a proceeding, he said.


Stenographers will be involved only if a written copy is requested, which will require them to listen to a recording to generate the record, Shucosky said. Court officials have not determined if copies of recordings will be substituted for requested transcripts, he said.


The state agreed to fund the $17,000 system because attorneys who serve as masters must call in outside stenographers at a state-mandated $300 per day when the county's 14 court reporters are unavailable, Shucosky said.


The county spends about $20,000 annually on outside stenographers for proceedings that must be officially recorded, he said.


The scheduling of staff stenographers will continue to be an issue because the county has 10 elected judges, three senior judges and two out-of-county judges in addition to masters, creating as many as 19 simultaneous hearings requiring recording, Shucosky said.


Future of stenography

Angela Sallemi, the county's chief court reporter, said a digital system is almost a necessity without the addition of more staff stenographers. The court is increasingly relying on outside stenographers because the staff ones are stretched so thin, she said.


We don't have the bodies to cover every proceeding, and the cost of outside stenographers is prohibitive, Sallemi said.


Human transcription will always be needed in the county, she said, because a recording can't compensate for poor acoustics in many county courtrooms or people who don't speak clearly into recording system microphones, she said. Stenographers also routinely interject during court proceedings when people speak too quickly or incoherently or if two or more people are speaking at the same time.


Sallemi said the recording system should work well because the courtroom in the Brominski Building is small, and master-level hearings are typically a more controlled setting.


Stenographers have a major responsibility, she said.


If a court record isn't completed properly, it could lead to the need for a new trial, she said.


The county's staff stenographers are paid salaries ranging from $43,709 to $67,309 in addition to a fee for producing copies of transcripts.


The state Supreme Court's new $200 million Family Court building in Philadelphia will have digital recording systems in all courtrooms, and digital is the preferred system for federal court, Shucosky said.


These systems have been placed in a number of other county courts, Shucosky said.


Expansion option

Luzerne County may opt to expand the digital system to one or more of the three remaining courtrooms in the Brominski Building, though it's unclear if any judges will opt to consider the system for their proceedings, he said.


Going forward, the cost becomes less because we don't have to repeat the cost of software or servers. We think it has a really good future for us, he said.




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