by Max Marbut
Since the first time she took out her steno pad more than 50 years ago, Joan Fernandez has watched court reporting transforming from low- to high-tech.
Fernandez said technology has certainly changed since her first job, but the duties of a court reporter have remained the same.
“Attorneys and witnesses create the record,” said Fernandez. “We are the official keepers of the record.”
Over the course of her career, Fernandez said, she’s watched her craft progress – from the Pittman shorthand system to the Gregg system; from the pencil to the ink pen to the ballpoint; and from manual typewriters and carbon paper to word processors, laser printers and real-time court reporting.
She said when she first got in the business, court reporters who worked for attorneys didn’t have offices. It wasn’t until members of the legal profession started preferring to depose witnesses on “neutral ground” that an office became part of her business plan. Today, Fernandez has her main office on the top floor of the Blackstone Building and other offices on Hogan Street, Riverplace Boulevard and a third location in Neptune Beach.
Owner of Executive Reporters, Inc., Fernandez works with her daughter, Elise Fernandez Cashman, who also started with a pad 25 years ago. Now, Cashman uses a “real-time” system. Instead of using a roll of paper like the original machines, the keypad is connected to a laptop computer with software that allows the testimony to be read back as soon as it is recorded.
“Real-time is very convenient for attorneys,” said Fernandez. “It doesn’t disrupt their train of thought or the flow of their deposition.”
She also said the computer has allowed her to improve the way she practices her profession.
“It makes producing multiple copies of transcripts much easier,” said Fernandez. “The technology also makes it easier to make corrections before the transcript is printed. It also allows me to be more productive and shortens the time it takes to go from deposition to transcript.
“But we still read every line of every transcript word-for-word before we put our name on it. It’s an accurate record,” she said.
Cashman added that she has not seen as many changes during her career as her mother has, but the way she works today is quite a bit different than when she started. Cashman said the use of “briefs” is new: “Briefs” are shortcuts used by court reporters similar to hot keys on a computer. The latest systems use more software and less of the time-saving key strokes.
“One of my favorites is, ‘graifd’, which stands for ‘Greater weight of the evidence,’ ” she said. “That’s always included in a judge’s instructions to a jury, and I immediately know what it means when I see it on the screen.”
Fernandez pointed out that while she appreciates the latest computerized court reporting systems, attorneys shouldn’t expect her to arrive with a computer. She plans to stick with her pad and pen.
“If I had to, I could work by candlelight or even in the dark,” she said.