Judge Gary Oxenhandler sits across a table from court reporter Kristal Murphy. Every word he says shows up on the laptop computer he is sitting behind.
As the text shows up on his computer Oxenhandler can highlight, copy and take notes for future reference. He can also go back and double check exactly what was said earlier.
Oxenhandler and Murphy are using a real-time court reporting system. The system translates the shorthand that Murphy creates from testimony into readable text that is displayed instantaneously to attorneys and Oxenhandler on court-provided laptops. The record provided from the system is unofficial, and rules prevent attorneys from taking transcripts of the testimony out of the courtroom.
For about a year, Oxenhandler has been using real-time reporting for all trials he hears. The system was set up and used by attorneys for the first time about a month ago. Currently, the system is only available to attorneys during cases heard by Oxenhandler in Boone County’s Ceremonial Courtroom, but the judge hopes to expand the system throughout the courthouse with the installation of a secure wireless network.
“It is helpful to see who said what, and is good for looking back at specific material,” Oxenhandler said.
Murphy said real-time court reporting can make cases more efficient. A written record is immediately available to the judge when attorneys raise objections, questions or testimony.
“(The judge) can go back and see it and rule on it,” Murphy said. “If someone recalls something different he can go back and check it.”
A few local attorneys have had a chance to see how the system works. Columbia attorney Tom Harrison was recently able to use the system in a hearing.
“I kind of glanced at the monitors once in a while to see how it worked, but didn’t really use it,” Harrison said. “I’m glad to see the system, and I think that it will be a great benefit to the 13th Judicial Circuit.”
Murphy said that real-time court reporting has forced her and Oxenhandler to run a more orderly courtroom. In order to make an accurate record they try to ensure that attorneys do not speak over each other and that witnesses do not talk over questions.
Oxenhandler said he hopes to make a laptop accessible to the public so courtroom visitors can read testimony as it’s presented.
“It would be helpful to people who have slight visual or hearing impairments,” he said.
The laptops provided for attorneys were donated by the Office of State Court Administrators. Murphy already had the necessary software on her personal laptop.
Oxenhandler sees the system as the first step in advancing courtroom technology in the 13th Judicial Circuit. In the future, Oxenhandler would like to see technology, such as a document camera, that would make it easier for lawyers to present evidence during trial. Oxenhandler wants to give lawyers “a piece of technology that is simple to use, but is subserviently useful.”
“Every judge has the right to run their courtroom the way they like it,” Oxenhandler said. “To me, (real-time reporting) makes perfect sense.”