Illinois News

Vacancies have area court reporters stretched thin

Court reporter Shannon Niekamp records testimony during a trial Feb. 13, 2019, in the Adams County Circuit Court. There are five court reporter vacancies in the Eighth Judicial Circuit. | H-W Photo/Matt Hopf
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 13, 2019 11:20 am

QUINCY -- Nicole Kopec knows that court reporters in West-Central Illinois are stretched thin, because she travels to various counties to make sure reporters are available when needed. And she's not the only one.

Kopec is the court reporting supervisor in the Eighth Judicial Circuit and sees some of the court reporters, including herself, traveling across the circuit up to four days a week.

The Eighth Judicial Circuit is supposed to have 12 court reporters to maintain records of what is happening in various criminal and civil cases. Currently, there are seven for the eight-county circuit because several court reporters have retired.

Court reporter Shannon Niekamp, who works in the Adams County Courthouse, said her day consists of various court hearings and preparing transcripts.

"I like being busy, so it doesn't bother me," Niekamp said. "You get to be in the action (of the courtroom) without doing anything. You're just a neutral party preserving the record."

Kopec noted that she is surprised at how much she has learned about the medical fields, police investigations and even clothes dryers from testimony.

She and Niekamp both heard that when they decided to become court reporters their profession would soon be eliminated with technological advances, but they remain certain that there will always be a need for court reporters.

Niekamp said, "Somebody is always going to have be there to transcribe the record and make sure it's accurate. There are so many times where the audio -- even in this county -- where it doesn't work."

Kopec once was working during a jury trial when the courthouse lost power.

"I was there, so we got to keep going on with the jury trial," she said. "And I think any reporter will tell you that what we do is way better quality than anything that you can take off the electronic recording. Attorneys talk over each other. There is no one to tell them to stop or slow down."

Court reporters test at 225 words per minute.

"I know in court we type way faster than that," Kopec said. "We have briefs and phrases to make up for it, like we can type, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury' in one stroke, ‘prepondurance' in one stroke."

Employed by the state of Illinois, a newly-certified court reporter's salary starts at about $30,000 and up to $47,000 if they are real-time certified, which is similar to closed captioning on TV.

Court reporters also are able to earn extra money for preparing transcripts.

Anyone interested in exploring a career in court reporting can visit the National Court Reporters Association website at ncra.org. It also offers a free introductory course.

Training programs are site-based or online, and can be completed in two and a half to four and a half years on average.

"There's been reporters who have completed it in 19 months," Kopec said. "It's possible to do it quick. It's all up to you."

Illinois allows court reporters who aren't yet licensed to work for up to a year before they become certified.

"We're trying to get students working as soon as possible, so they can start earning salary and hopefully, we can keep them," Kopec said.

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