April Bloye knew she wanted to be a court reporter the first time she laid eyes on a shorthand machine.
A friend was going to court reporting school and Bloye was intrigued by her stenotype, a specialized keyboard with piano-like keys that spell out whole syllables, words and phrases when pressed at the same time.
“I said, ‘I need to know how this thing works,'” Bloye, 46, recalled recently from her office at the Oklahoma County Courthouse. “I saw the machine and I just knew I had to learn it.”
Court reporters like Bloye, a 20-year veteran, are the eyes and ears of the courtroom, transcribing the spoken word into written form by using machine shorthand to produce official transcripts of court proceedings such as trials and hearings.
“The record provided and prepared by the court reporter lasts forever, and if it ever needs to be reviewed, then the true and accurate facts to what actually occurred are always available,” said Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott.
Elliott's court reporter, Beth Weldon, often has to reads lips to make sure she gets the whole story.
During jury selection, dozens of potential jurors are interviewed by attorneys for both sides, which can make recording their comments difficult, especially if the parties are speaking softly.
“They forget that I'm up here on the bench and I really have to know what they're saying and they don't have a microphone,” Weldon, 55, said. “So, sometimes they get pretty low and I have to say ‘I can't hear.'”
Weldon, like Bloye, stumbled into court reporting.
“For me it was the novelty of it,” she said. “I didn't know much about it until I went to court reporting school.”
When Weldon got her first court reporting job in 1981, her machine spit out a paper feed.
“We would actually read from our notes, flap over flap,” she said.
Those notes were put in transcript form via typewriter complete with carbon paper to make copies.
Those days are long gone thanks to computer technology that makes real time transcription possible.
In 1985, Weldon paid $25,000 for her first computerized machine, a printer and software.
“I took out a loan for it,” she said. That was more than a car.”
Today, digital recordings allow judges to instantly play back or review any portion of the recording.
Court reporters, whose base salary is determined by state law, are paid extra for length of service, certifications and transcripts, according to court officials.
The annual base salaries of court reporters in Oklahoma County range from $35,600 to $39,100, records show. Incentives can add as much as $20,000, not including the cost of a court transcript, which pays $3.50 a page.
All pay for their equipment, and can spend between $3,000 and $7,000 to update their software, Weldon said.
How it works
Traditionally, court reporters use stenograph machines that enable them to type at speeds of up to 225 words a minute. The average person usually speaks 160 to 180 words a minute.
“I know some attorneys who speak faster than that,” Bloye joked.