Innovative program keeps Wisconsin courts 'on the record'

Madison, Wisconsin - July 28, 2023

When Connie Hansen stared with the court system as a digital court reporter in 2020, she was one of just two employees hired to provide remote court reporting services on an ad hoc basis to circuit courts throughout the state.

Now, Hansen oversees a group of 27 digital court reporters providing that service regularly from nine locations, including courthouses, district offices and “digital hubs” in Waukesha and Menasha.

The program, now known as the statewide digital court reporting pool, has helped keep courts “on the record” as Wisconsin, like many states, works to meet challenges created by an ongoing shortage of stenographic court reporters, said Director of State Courts Randy R. Koschnick.

In Milwaukee County, for example, 10 of the county’s 47 circuit court branches rely on the pool for court reporter coverage.

“The transformation of the statewide pool from an upstart project to a full-fledged operation has been nothing short of extraordinary. It has helped us keep cases moving and prevented the cancellation of many proceedings,” Koschnick said.

Reporters assigned through the pool are referred to as “digital court reporters” because they use digital audio recording (DAR) equipment to record audio of a proceeding. The recordings and log notes can be accessed later to produce a written transcript if needed.

DAR is also used by court reporters working inside a courtroom, but reporters in the statewide pool are able to log into a courtroom system remotely to take the record. The technology records on multiple audio channels and allows reporters to create time-stamped log notes while recording, all of which is saved and backed-up on court system network servers.

Digital court reporting differs from stenographic court reporting in which a court reporter takes the record by taking shorthand notes on a stenography machine. In contrast, digital court reporters ensure the audio of proceedings is captured clearly for later transcription, if necessary. The court system currently relies on a “blended” system, which takes advantage of both approaches to take the record.

“We are very fortunate to have many dedicated and talented stenographic reporters. Stenography is often the preferred method of taking the record, but stenographers are a limited resource in many parts of the state,” Koschnick said.

While the number of digital court reporters available through the statewide pool has grown dramatically, new positions haven’t been added to the budget. That’s because judges who want to take advantage of the pool’s resources relinquish their personal appointment authority of a court reporter to the pool.

Judges are not required to join the pool, but many do because it offers them guaranteed coverage of their proceedings without the need for them to personally hire and supervise a court reporter.

The system adds flexibility because assignments can be made across county and judicial district lines based on demand and availability, Hansen said. Overall, 27 court reporters in the statewide pool currently provide regular coverage for court branches in eight of the state’s nine judicial administrative districts. In addition to the digital hubs in Menasha and Waukesha, there are pool reporting offices located throughout the state, including Madison and Wausau.

The office location options have helped recruit court reporters who otherwise would not want to travel too far to a courthouse to provide coverage in person, Hansen said.

Koschnick credits Hansen’s training and recruiting efforts for all but eliminating what had been a steady waiting list for judges who wanted to join the pool. The court system also provided a pay increase for court reporters to encourage new recruits. Thirteen court reporters have been hired and trained to serve the pool since the beginning of the year.

Koschnick said the lack of a waiting list is a sign of success and a result of all those efforts.

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