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Archive for Friday, January 11, 2013

Rare instance of missing record causes problems for plaintiff in Douglas County court

January 11, 2013

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When Tamara Jefferies asked the court for a transcript of her daughter’s domestic abuse hearing, she expected to get it without difficulty.

Courts keep a word-for-word record of almost every type of hearing, as required by law, and this case from Dec. 17 should have been no exception. The Douglas County District Court, where the hearing was held, employs professional court reporters as well as VoiceIQ digital recording technology to make sure records of court proceedings are kept.

But when Jefferies asked for the transcript, court employees told her it was missing. The outcome of the hearing was documented completely, but a transcript of all that was said in court didn’t exist. A mishap with equipment apparently meant it wasn’t recorded.

Jefferies said she needed the transcript to help her daughter press a separate case in another court. Her daughter had been given a concussion and her grandchildren injured by a defendant who perjured himself in Douglas County, she said.

But because the transcript wasn’t recorded, it would be impossible to recover that testimony.

Jefferies was dismayed, but court staff said there was nothing to be done. She wrote to judicial officials, including Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild, about her situation.

“I do not understand how nobody is responsible for ensuring either a court reporter is transcribing evidence or that the Voice IQ system is properly functioning,” Jefferies wrote.

Fairchild said he had never seen such a case in 16 years. He was not the judge in Jefferies’ daughter’s case, but he is the chief administrator of the court.

There have been other instances where records for hearings have been lost, Fairchild said. But never when someone actually asked for a transcript.

The court relies on professional court reporters, but there aren’t enough to cover all courtrooms. In their absence, digital recording equipment takes down a raw record, using voice-recognition software, that can be transcribed later.

It appears the hearing for which Jefferies needed a transcript was supposed to have been recorded by the digital recorder. Part of that recording equipment was accidentally knocked over and turned off for a week before Jefferies complained and the problem was discovered.

There have been at least a few similar cases around the country, according to Jim Cudahy, executive director of the National Association of Court Reporters. Many courts have installed digital recording equipment to preserve testimony, and some have had problems.

“We’ve certainly seen court reporter positions eliminated because of perceived savings of switching to digital systems,” Cudahy said. “But with short-term savings, there are long-term problems of records management.”

Jefferies’ situation is both regrettable and unusual, Judge Fairchild said. They will have to go on without a record of the Douglas County testimony.

But it would be impossible to guarantee that it never happens again.

“There’s no perfect system,” Fairchild said.

Comments

Kat Christian 1 year, 10 months ago

Well yes there is a perfect system...the system of using actual court reporters to take down the information. How many case testimonies are missing from an actual court reporter. Digital systems are not always the answer to save money. With the problems of lack of jobs, there is no reason to cut court reporters from being employed. I think its worth the money to keep them around.

justiceforall123 1 year, 10 months ago

You better worry more when they put you in jail and there isnt money for court records to help you in your appeal or when they violate every one of your civil rights and there is no money for legal aid. I would suggest studying history and the Constitution. Apathy is a poor excuse for ignorance.

Ian_Cummings 1 year, 10 months ago

What Judge Fairchild meant by saying there's no "perfect system" is that, even with professional court reporters, it's possible for a record to go missing. But, he said, the system is much more reliable a human professional in each courtroom.

Claire Williams 1 year, 10 months ago

There's nothing in the article that says this was from a "second time", simply that it was from a separate case. She could be filing for civil damages stemming from the same incident, for all you know.

Regardless of whether it is from a further incident, you really have no room to judge someone that is being abused if you have not been in that situation yourself. Many victims of abuse find it near impossible to leave their abuser because of fear or forced isolation/dependency upon the abuser. The fact that this woman is pressing charges is a good sign that she is "breaking" the cycle.

It is a shame that the testimony was lost for the hearing; electronic methods are fine so long as somebody takes the time to check them before hearings start.

justiceforall123 1 year, 10 months ago

This is not a very intelligent comment. The other case was a criminal case where she was the victim.

Liberty275 1 year, 10 months ago

Subpoena the judge, jury, and attorneys in the prior case and make them submit separate affidavits concerning the undocumented portions of the process. The prosecution kicks out 20%, the defense kicks out 20% and the remaining 60% should be condensed down to whatever relevant information can be gleaned.

Also, Mr Justice System, in the age of digital copies redundancy is cheap. Can we bring our own recording devices? I'll make you a copy for free.

Ian_Cummings 1 year, 10 months ago

The court typically doesn't admit recordings or transcripts of hearings except those taken down by court staff. The reason is, you don't want to have various competing versions of what happened. Also, getting a clear record of what the judge, the attorneys, the defendant, and various witnesses said isn't as simple as it might sound, Transcribing it into a written record is laborious, too.

Patriot2 1 year, 10 months ago

"It appears the hearing for which Jefferies needed a transcript was supposed to have been recorded by the digital recorder. Part of that recording equipment was accidentally knocked over and turned off for a week before Jefferies complained and the problem was discovered." So does this mean that ALL the testimonies from cases heard in that courtroom are missing for that time period? And was it just for "one" week? This is very disturbing!

Patriot2 1 year, 10 months ago

A co worker of mine tried to enforce a restraining order. The police officers who responded called in the docket number and told her the order didn't exist! Even though she presented them with the document that was signed by the judge and filed with the court they refused to enforce it.

justiceforall123 1 year, 10 months ago

It is not about raising our taxes. It is about preserving our civil rights. What is that worth to you. There is no excuse.

justiceforall123 1 year, 10 months ago

This is a sad commentary regarding our justice system. Would it take so much for a judge to just check to ensure the equipment works properly. An entire week and nobody would have even known had someone not exercised their rights. How many others have been run over. These rights are guaranteed by statutes and laws. Inexcusable and some individuals need to be held accountable.

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