Four Ethical Standards Lawyers Should Expect from Court Reporters

Caveat emptor, attorneys and litigants in South Carolina! There is no oversight of independent court reporters in the Palmetto State, and as such, there are wide and varying practices and policies followed by those who perform the duties of freelance court reporters and their affiliated companies. Part of the mission of the South Carolina Court Reporters Association is to maintain the integrity and elevate the standards of the court reporting profession and portray the ideals set by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). CompuScripts’ founder is a long-standing member of NCRA, and CompuScripts subscribes to the Code of Ethics promulgated by NCRA. In addition to promoting competence, professionalism, continuing education, and ethics, NCRA issues advisory opinions, position statements, and accredits schools. Unfortunately, many court reporters in South Carolina see no need for membership in such a professional organization.

When a freelance court reporter covers a deposition, hearing, or other proceeding, we think it’s imperative that the court reporter behaves in a fair and impartial way, ensuring justice for all parties. Whether acting as an official in the courtroom or as a freelancer in a law firm’s conference room, the court reporter is an officer of the court. In either venue, you should expect the court reporter to practice in a way that upholds the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the reporting profession within our judicial system.

Here are four ethical standards you should expect from a court-reporting profession:

A court reporter must be fair and impartial in all aspects of a reported deposition or proceeding and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties and participants. This ethical standard is why a court reporter will offer the same realtime and/or expedited services to all parties once a lawyer has requested a particular service. This ensures impartiality and fairness, as well as providing equal access to the record. Because of economic pressures in recent years, one particular hot button related to impartiality is the practice of insurance companies contracting directly with court-reporting companies, which give special prices or services to one party over another. The American Judges Association has called for an end to this, and many states have adopted legislation deterring this practice.

A court reporter must be vigilant in avoiding conflicts of interest or situations that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a court reporter is aware of a conflict or a potential conflict, the court reporter should disclose that conflict or potential conflict. With court reporters, a typical situation may be where no Notice was sent to the court reporting firm. When the court reporter arrives at the deposition, it may be discovered that there is a litigant or witness with whom the court reporter has a personal connection. Fairly benign situations may include being members of the same church or school carpool group. A more serious violation exists when a court reporter is related by blood or marriage to a witness, counselor, or party. The court reporter has a duty to disclose the relationship. Counsel then has a right to waive or raise an objection. If an objection is raised, the court reporter should recuse herself and make the necessary arrangements for a replacement.

A court reporter must guard against not only impropriety but the appearance of impropriety. This sounds pretty straightforward, but every now and then there is the occasional awkward moment after a deposition when an attorney asks the court reporter a taboo question. What do you think of that witness? Didn’t that deponent sound like a liar? How do you think the jury will perceive her testimony? Answering questions like those could certainly give the appearance of partiality. This standard also applies to the prohibition of court reporting firms giving gifts or anything of value to attorneys or their staff or any other person or entities associated with any litigation in exchange for work in the future. This is to avoid the possible appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the reporter and to preserve the integrity of the court reporter as a neutral officer of the judicial system.

A court reporter must preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information entrusted to the court reporter by any of the parties in a proceeding. Social media is a popular method of communication, and it is simply unacceptable for a court reporter to share details related to your litigation on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Another angle to this standard is the reasonable expectation that your court reporter has secured your exhibits in a safe and secure environment, whether in hardcopy or online.

The best way to ensure that your court reporter is both competent and professional is to use a court reporting firm that values the highest ideals of the profession. For over 20 years, CompuScripts has provided South Carolina with top-notch court reporting services, and we network with vetted firms to provide the same quality nationwide and internationally. In addition to our memberships in the South Carolina Court Reporters Association and the National Court Reporters Association, we are also members of the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting, an organization which addresses the benefits and challenges presented by the rapid growth of technology in the court reporting field. When you enter the courtroom or the conference room, you do so with intelligence and integrity. Let CompuScripts connect you with court reporters who will do the same.