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.