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Oklahoma County court reporters work fast to get it on the record

The keepers of Oklahoma County court records occasionally have to read lips to get the whole story; their service is essential to maintaining the history of certain legal proceedings
by Tim Willert Modified: June 30, 2013 at 8:00 pm •  Published: June 30, 2013

The machines have a syllable-based system of 24 keys that spells words phonetically, the way they sound, rather than how they are actually spelled. Stenographers, commonly known as court reporters, use a keyboard with only 25 keys (there about 100 on a standard computer keyboard) that account for just 13 consonants and vowels.

While court reporters are taught shorthand theory, they create their own keystroke combinations for proper names, words and phrases they're likely to hear during a particular court proceeding whether civil or criminal.

“They give us the basics in court reporting school and we build on that,” said Ken Sharpe, a veteran court reporter. “A lot of it is personalized.”

Marilyn Hodgen is a court reporter with 34 years of experience. Her boss, Oklahoma County District Judge Lisa Davis, presides over mostly civil cases.

“You hear a new story every day,” Hodgen, 54, said. You think you hear them all, but you hear another one.”

With each new story comes a new challenge for a court reporter. Some witnesses mumble. Others have thick accents. Many forget to say yes or no, choosing “uh-huh” instead.

“We're working throughout the whole trial listening to every word that's being said,” Hodgen said. “Someone that's going to speak really fast or a doctor that's going to use really long words, those are challenges.”

Bloye finds herself making the occasional objection in her head from her perch next to Oklahoma County District Judge Jerry Bass, her boss for the past 17 years.

“I'm thinking, ‘I would have asked this question, I would have asked that question,'” she said.

The two have grown close working side by side over the years.

“I've worked for the judge so long I can write his voir dire,” Bloye said. “I write some things before they come out of his mouth.”

Hodgen also began her career reading paper feeds and typing up transcripts on a manual typewriter with two carbon copies.

“We used to have six months to get transcripts out in criminal cases,” she said. Then they moved it to 90 days.”

“Now I write it and it comes out on my computer. Now I'm hooked up to my judge.”

Sharpe, 64, is the senior member of the Oklahoma County court reporting staff. In December, he will celebrate 41 years on the job.

“The faces change, but the cases stay the same,” said Sharpe, who doubles as a freelance photographer.

His first judge, in 1972, was a retired FBI agent named Byron McFall.

“He would tell a lot of stories,” Sharpe said. “He was a lot of fun and everything.”

Since then, Sharpe has worked alongside nearly a dozen different judges and too many court reporters to remember.

“It's an older crowd, you sort of wonder who's going to replace you when you do leave,” he said.

While technology has improved the process, it's doubtful the court reporter is going to be replaced by a machine anytime soon.

“If you want to preserve the record, I think the court reporter, the live reporter, is the only way to go,” Hodgen said.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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I saw the machine and I just knew I had to learn it.”

Court reporter

April Bloye,
Speaking about the

first time she say a stenograph machine

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