The number of court transcribers in New York City is decreasing, leading to disorder in the courtroom

Despite a decrease in their numbers, New York City’s court reporters continue to type at an impressive speed of 225 words per minute during legal proceedings in all five boroughs.

“It’s a thing, unfortunately,” said Anthony Frisolone, the Chief Court Reporter for the Brooklyn Federal Court system, about the departures in recent years. “The state courthouses had a lot of retirements, probably from COVID. And the freelance market is covered by Zoom conferences.

“Now you can sit there at home and make the same amount of money, with no commute.”

Although there are no precise statistics, court reporters, court sources, and anecdotal evidence all suggest that there is a need to boost their numbers.

“We are constantly looking to hire court reporters as there is a national shortage, along with the fact that many training schools have closed,” said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the New York State Unified Court System.

Karen Santucci is in charge of the sole court reporting program in New York City, which is located at Plaza College in Queens.

“A lot of court reporters opted for early retirement during the pandemic,” said Santucci, echoing Frisolone on the drop-off in workers. “The situation in the courts is desperate.”

There are over 60 vacant positions in the New York Supreme Court and federal courts, and Karen Santucci, who heads the only court reporting program at Plaza College in Queens, sees this as an opportunity for a new generation of transcribers to step up.

Santucci recently took about two dozen students to federal courts in Manhattan and Brooklyn to show them the opportunities available.

“Now things are coming back to life,” she said. “I guess we’re blowing the horn, we need people.”

Court reporters play a crucial role in legal proceedings by providing word-for-word transcripts ranging from trials to hearings, arraignments, and conferences. Additionally, their compensation is attractive, with a provisional court reporter’s starting salary being slightly above $80,000 annually.

“The court reporter’s job is integral to the criminal justice system,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “Court reporters create the official trial transcript that is essential to jury deliberations, appeals, and other aspects of the trial process.”

Amanda Vila, who has been working as a court reporter in Kings County Civil Court since April 2022, has observed the increasing number of retirements among her colleagues and expresses concern about what the future holds for court reporting.

“A lot of my colleagues are nearing the ends of their careers,” she said. “We do talk about where it’s going to be in 15 years, 30 years. If they start recording the proceedings, we have conversations about will we be phased out?”

According to Amanda Vila, a court reporter in Kings County Civil Court since April 2022, she firmly believes that a live court reporter is more superior compared to a recording of any trial or hearing. She stated that it may be old-fashioned, but it is still very effective.

Vila mentioned the recent issues in the South Carolina murder trial of Alex Murdaugh where a digitally-recorded transcript had several problems, including sections marked as “inaudible.”

“We can clarify things in the moment,” said Vila. “It’s not 30 days down the line you go back (to the recording) and you have no idea what anybody said. I would not want my fate in the hands of a recording device.”