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Friday, December 23, 2011

Discovering the reality of court recorders

Part of the whole "starting my own business" thing has been training myself to consider all problems as potential business opportunities. Basically, where there's pain for one person, there might be profit for another, assuming a solution might be offered.

I had a lengthy look at the internals of the court system over the past couple of weeks, and learned a few things about the recorders who work on every case. I hope it's fairly well-known that they use special stenotype chording keyboards to enter things more-or-less phonetically.

What's probably less well-known is what kind of hardware and software is involved, and the details about those people who make it all happen. In my particular instance, I saw three different recorders working the same case spread across about 7 or 8 days when the jury was present.

If you come from the world of IT, you probably think that anyone can type it in and anyone can read it back. It's not quite that simple. When you ask for a "readback" from some part of the trial, you have to wait while that particular recorder is summoned. She (all three were female in our case) will then enter the jury deliberation room and will read back from the record.

This is when you discover the next part: they are not using standardized hardware, and do not have any particular support program. One recorder had some kind of intermittent problem where bumping the laptop a certain way would cause it to "shut off" as she put it. She would keep it plugged in to avoid this.

I interpreted this as "loose battery connector". I figured she would just take it to her IT folks and they would swap out the battery, or move her drive to another machine, or whatever.


She's not part of any such system. Her plan was to take it to Best Buy and let the Geek Squad (or whatever they're called now) work on it.

That's right. At least in my part of the world, court transcripts are happening on personal hardware which is being "supported" by consumer-grade outlets.

I didn't have a chance to inquire as to how well the actual data is being backed up. I suspect the actual chording keyboard has its own memory, plus then the laptop has a hard drive as usual, and there are probably a bunch of little USB flash drives showing up all over the place. I doubt "the cloud" is involved anywhere.

Granted, this is just a cursory look at a situation, but it's clear there is a user experience which is less than ideal at least some of the time. Someone with sufficient motivation and insight might be able to jump in and clean up.

January 17, 2012: This post has an update.