As you know, the role of the court reporter in a deposition, hearing, or trial proceeding is to “make the record.” There is, however, much more involved in the role of making the record than simply capturing words. Ethics is a big part of a court reporter’s responsibilities, and ethics come into play each time a court reporter provides their services.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has a Code of Ethics, which includes very specific rules that all court reporters are supposed to follow. My goal with sharing this information is to help ensure that you’re asking your reporting firm the right questions. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers you get from your firm, it might be time to look for another, more ethical, court reporting office.
Here are 5 ethical responsibilities of your court reporter:
1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding. Guard against not only the fact but also the appearance of impropriety.
This means, very simply, that your reporter MUST provide the same services in the same time frame to all parties in the proceeding, not just to the firm that hired them, not just to one individual party, but to all parties in a proceeding. If one attorney wants a transcript delivered in three days, do all parties get that same transcript in three days, or does your reporting firm “hold” your copy until the standard delivery of 8-10 days have passed unless you agree to pay an additional expedited fee?
If one attorney orders a rough draft of a proceeding, are all attorneys notified so they have the opportunity to also purchase a rough draft to get the benefit of that litigation tool?
2. Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the reporter by any of the parties in a proceeding.
Though again fairly self-explanatory, reporters must put into high regard the confidential nature of all proceedings. No information learned, whether on or off the record, at a deposition or hearing is a topic of discussion outside that deposition room. I’ve heard reporters repeat funny stories heard in depositions, but even if they change the actual names, this is inappropriate because it was part of the proceeding. What happens in the deposition room or courtroom STAYS in the deposition room or courtroom. Period.
Now I’ll get into some important, yet unpublished, general rules of ethics that court reporting firms should follow, so you might want to ask about these as well.
3. Do not allow any discounting of prices to one side of a case which would imply a bias.
If there is some “contract” in place with one side of a case, the reporting firm should disclose that information to all parties in the case. For example, if a contract allows for a $.25 per page reduction in that client’s page rate, then everyone ordering a copy should receive a $.25 reduction in the cost of their copy order. Court reporters must remain impartial. By extending one side a reduced cost and not applying that across the board is not being impartial.
Some court reporting firms offer deep discounts to large clients, particularly those representing major companies, but then make up for those costs by charging the copy sides a much higher rate. In this instance, very often the copy side attorney is paying as much as the original and one attorney that has the “arrangement” with the reporting firm. Any attorney attending a deposition has the right to ask their court reporter if they have a contract for pricing with a third party.
4. Do not hide fees and costs in an invoice by not
delineating out the expenses included on the invoice.
We sometimes receive calls from clients who receive a copy invoice from another court reporting firm where the invoice is not detailed, but simply has a lump-sum amount due. They’ll tell us that the invoice seems really high, but wonder how they can tell how the charges are broken down. In these situations, I advise them to call the firm and request an invoice broken out by line item. If the firm refuses, you may suspect that some cost is hidden within the standard costs for the deposition. Firms often have handling fees, administrative fees, scheduling fees, processing fees, all of which should be included in the cost of the deposition itself. Firms who openly itemize their invoices generally don’t include those costs.
5. Always protect the information you obtain through testimony and/or exhibits related to a proceeding.
You may be thinking, “Duh!!” I know, it sounds obvious, but protecting the record entails a number of different aspects within the word “protect.” Allow me to explain further.
HIPAA rules apply to court reporters to the extent that we’re required to protect the information we hear and write including private information like: social security numbers, credit histories, health information, credit card numbers, and any other personally identifiable information. The items listed above are all examples of details we hear every day.
Exhibits are another example of documents that need to be protected within the HIPAA rules. Often medical records are admitted as exhibits to a deposition or court trial and there are numerous rules and guidelines that must be followed to maintain their confidentiality.
One last example of “protecting the record” has to do with having our reporters upload the deposition or trial proceeding onto a flash drive before leaving the location just as a back-up for any catastrophe that might happen to them and/or their equipment on the way home. The files can also be uploaded to a repository for safekeeping until they’re ready to work on them. If, God forbid, something happened to a reporter after taking a deposition but before he or she arrives back to the office or home, another reporter can finalize that file from the notes stored on the repository.
Some of these things sound obvious and seem to be common sense. However, it’s important to ensure that your reporting firm takes them seriously and follows them without fail. It’s your right and it’s your client’s right.
Hopefully you are now better educated on the ethical responsibilities of every court reporter. Make sure to discuss the topic with your reporting firm and ensure that they are following ethical guidelines when they’re providing their services for you. If you discover that your reporting firm is not delivering the best ethical service possible, it may be time to switch firms.
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