The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on the increasing move by many courts away from human court stenographers and towards digital court reporting systems. The article, for the most part, espoused the idea that digital court reporting systems are generally more accurate and efficient than their human counterparts. Don’t try telling that to Texas though. In 2001, Texas went back to using court stenographers after having a number of difficulties with digital audio and video systems. Since then, a number of Texas state district courts have been finding out on their own that, as effective as digital systems can be, and as useful of tools as they can be, they are the most effective as tools rather than solutions. While audio only systems can be extremely effective for trained court reporters, the most accurate court reporting requires human flexibility. Houston courts looking to increase the accuracy of their court reporting would be well-advised to not overlook one option or the other.
After a number of mishaps and errors with audio only court reporting, a large number of Texas state district courts, including the 234th in Houston, have switched back to using live reporters rather than relying solely on digital systems. A number of infamous technical difficulties in courts both in and out of state led to these sorts of switches. In some cases, lost or inaudible digital audio recordings led to some appeals against criminal convictions dragging on for years in courts where they would have gone much quicker if the courts had relied on both digital technology and human stenographers. Such technical errors can have delayed or even halted courts, such as in Drayton Valley in July 2010, where a number of trials were delayed because a technical malfunction meant that no audio could be recorded for any of the trials. The court had no choice but to put trials on hold until they could ensure that they had a record of their trials. These sorts of complaints are frequent in many districts when courts attempt to replace human court reporting skill with technology alone. Horror stories abound of trials that need to be recreated and lost or unusable digital audio records.
Modern court reporting technology has made the skilled Houston court reporter far more accurate and efficient than he or she could be otherwise. The experienced Houston court reporter can optimize the efficiency and accuracy of digital recording systems while also being able to serve as a backup in case of system error. A skilled court reporter is far more reliable and trustworthy than technology alone.