Meet The Sixth Judicial Circuit

sixth-jud-bannerPinellas and Pasco Counties are fortunate to be under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. It’s Florida’s third largest trial court and recognized as one of the most efficient trial courts in the country. And efficiency includes it being nationally recognized for its automation leadership as well.

According to their website (www.jud6.org), there are a total of 69 judges – 45 at the circuit level and 24 in the county courts. That volume of judges shows just how active and busy the Sixth Judicial Circuit is. And, on the chance that some of you weren’t aware of how many amenities the Circuit offers, we thought we’d do a brief overview.

For instance, Law Libraries. Were you aware of how conveniently located and extensive these libraries are? The libraries can be found in the courthouses in Dade City, New Port Richey and downtown Clearwater, some with over 20,000 volumes and electronic products. These public Law Libraries were created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in 1937 to make legal information readily accessible to the community, from attorneys to the general public.

Another part of what has made this Circuit so efficient is its available technology – technology that every one of us can use as needed. The Technology Office has a staff of 15 who evaluate new technology to purchase, train the staff, develop custom applications, conduct or oversee repairs, installations and relocation of equipment. All of this includes computers, communication, applications, video and audio, Internet and Intranet support.

Some of the technological amenities available in the courts are:

–       Audio/Visual Equipment. A/V  is available at all locations within the circuit and  includes projectors, screens, plasma displays, document cameras and VCR/DVD players. All of this allows the presentation of multimedia evidence and/or documentation. Training prior to use is available if needed but must be arranged in advance.

–       Videoconference. The ability to use videoconferencing technologies saves the community thousands of dollars in transportation cost while reducing security risks at the same time.

–       Internet & Intranet servers. The Sixth Judicial Circuit was one of the first in Florida to create and maintain a website. The website is very active and new information is being uploaded continually, including general Court News and specific news for attorneys, vendors and service contractors.

For a complete list of the equipment available at each Courtroom location, go to www.jud6.org/contactinformation/technologyoffice.html.

Posted in Profiles

It’s A New Year… And A New You!

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Ok, we’ve all done it. We’ve made New Year Resolutions and started with a ton of enthusiasm only to be astonished at how quickly we’ve discarded the “new resolutions” and quietly fallen back into our old habits. Don’t you agree?

We think it’s time for a different approach to New Year Resolutions and instead of a list of energetic (and often time consuming) new approaches, how about we agree to open ourselves up to some “tips” and integrate these unassuming routines into our lifestyle!

Here’s our first entry into our new series of “2013 Tips For A Better You” – Relieving Stress. Let’s face it – the Holiday’s can be stressful. Factor in our stressful profession and well, you get the picture – we’re all just a big bundle of stress!

Here are some easy stress-relieving quick fixes you can do right at your desk.

     Chocolate. (Yes, we started with our favorite quick fix!) Small amounts of chocolate are known to release “feel good” chemicals to your brain which gives you time to reflect on whatever it is that is stressing you out. Chances are, those things aren’t as bad as they seemed just a few moments ago. Remember, don’t overdo it! Save them for when you need them!

– Keep some miniature-sized chocolates stashed away in your desk.

– For extra health benefits, stash dark chocolate.

Exercises:

Chair Exercises: Don’t laugh… they work! They increase blood flow and relax the body, thus reducing stress. Do some leg raises, roll your neck and shoulders and stretch your arms above your head for a few seconds. Do some wrist exercises by rotating your wrists and stretching out your fingers as wide as you can. All of these will make you breathe easier.

Neck Stretches:  Relax your shoulders and let your head roll forward, then slowly rotate your head to one side and then the other. Repeat gently four times.

Leg Lifts:  Sit with your back straight and your arms at your sides, then lift one leg straight out in front of you and rotate your foot in a circular pattern. Switch legs and repeat four times.

Shoulders: Shrug your shoulders, hold for a few seconds and then return your shoulders to their normal position while keeping your back straight and breathing normally.

Bun Squeeze: Tighten up those buns by squeezing them together for 10 seconds, release for 10 seconds, repeat.

Wrist Exercises:  Make a loose fist and rotate each hand outward from the wrist. Do 10 circles and then reverse the direction of the circle and do 10 more.

Laughter:  It’s still the best medicine. Recall a funny joke, or story, anything to bring a smile to your face and make you chuckle.

     Start a Humor Journal. They’re easy and fun to do. Every time you hear something funny, write it in your journal to refer to “when you need it” or to share with friends.

What do you do to relieve stress? Please share with us – so that we can share your ideas with others. Let’s all help each other have a healthy and productive 2013!

Posted in Info

‘Tis The Season to Give… Or Is it?

Gift giving. Wasn’t life easier when you could give and accept gifts without any repercussions? Remember when you could say “Thank You for your business” with a small gift and no one questioned the reason behind the gift? Well, that was then and this is now. Those days are gone, sadly forever. Gifts and the legal profession do NOT get along, so don’t even go there.

You’ve seen it – someone makes an offer of a gift or gas card to choose their agency over a competitor’s agency to use for their deposition. It’s been known to happen frequently. Did you ever stop and wonder who actually got the gift card? Was it the scheduling secretary? The attorney? It really doesn’t matter who ended up with the gift. It’s the fact that a gift was accepted that presents the long-range problem. And remember, gifts can be anything – from a gift card, to tickets to an event or meals or even a nice pen… anything.

Think of it this way: What’s the difference between gifts and bribes? A gift is something you give because you want to and you don’t expect anything in return. A bribe is the same thing except there is an underlying hope on the giver’s part that the gift will influence or benefit someone. The line between them is really thin and easily misconstrued. And how can the thought behind the gift be proven?

It can be impossible to tell them apart and the rules differ for all types of businesses. In some industries, gifts are allowed if the value remains below a specified limit. In other cases, the value is not important so long as the gift is reported. And in other cases, they are not allowed at all.  It is critically important that you know not only your state’s rules on the subject, but also your association or firm’s rules.

Remember the old saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? It’s true, especially these days when any excuse to find fault or point a finger is being utilized to sway the outcome of a proceeding. According to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), “The giving of gifts by reporters to attorneys has been a hot topic for reporters for years. NCRA first tackled these questions in 1993 when it amended the Code of Professional Ethics to include, as Provision 8, language prohibiting ‘…giving, directly or indirectly, any gift, incentive, reward or anything of value to attorneys, clients, witnesses, insurance companies or any other persons or entities associated with the litigation, or to the representatives or agents of any of the foregoing, except for items that do not exceed $100 in the aggregate per recipient each year…’ The Association held that the practice of giving valuable items to attorneys, their staffs, or their clients undermined the integrity of the reporting profession by raising questions about reporters’ neutrality.”

It goes on to state that “Last March, in response to member requests, the Board of Directors asked the Committee on Professional Ethics to consider these matters and determine if Provision 8 is still relevant. Following extensive discussion at the Committee and Board levels, NCRA has issued a new COPE advisory opinion, No. 45, to provide additional guidance on the subject of gift giving. Although the $100 limit remains in place, this new document provides additional clarity to this longstanding policy.”

These codes and issues exist to protect the reporter and the lawyer in regards to the costs for the case. For instance, if an attorney turns in a $100 bill for his use of a court reporter, and he has received a gift card for $10, then in reality he can only turn in a request for reimbursement of $90 for the reporter. If he submits documentation for $100, he is in reality lying and can be held liable.

All of this is literally a question of ethics. We are officers of the court and our job is no less important than the attorney or the judge – we all have to be fair, impartial and held to the highest degree of ethics. Decisions need to be made on the points presented, not on the receipt of a gift. And remember, even if the recipient of a gift isn’t influenced by it, the mere fact that they accepted a gift opens up the question of the validity of their choice even if it isn’t true. And unfortunately we see it happening all too frequently.

The bottom line is that your actions may affect all parties involved in litigation. It’s just not worth the risk.

Next we’ll go into more detail about “Ethics First”.

Posted in Need to Know

The “New” World’s Oldest Profession

Yes, we know what you’re thinking!  But, you’re wrong!  There are more than one “world’s oldest profession”…and, all of us, the modern day scribes are members of it.  Shorthand!  Who knew?

We’re talking about the Gallery of Shorthand, at the Federal Courthouse in Central Islip, NY.  This Gallery is an impressive museum of the evolution of shorthand that dates back to the shorthand developed by ancient Egyptian scribes in 3500 BC!

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

Gallery Director Dom Tursi has put together a permanent display (the first one of this magnitude) that ranges from the Egyptians to the Romans and showcases various methods and machines such as those used at the Nuremburg trials to ones used in speed contests to luminaries and finally to realtime.

Some of the special exhibits at the Gallery are:

  • Reporting the War Crimes Trials
  • Congressional Reporting
  • Legends of Shorthand
  • Famous People Who Wrote Shorthand
  • Historic Reporter Delegation to China
  • World Shorthand Speed Record
  • How They Do That
  • “Alphabetum Tironianum”

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

In addition to the special exhibits, the Gallery is a great historical learning experience.  How many of us really knew just how far back our profession went and how many alterations it went through?  Following are the ten epochs of shorthand.

  • Ancient Scribes – Developed in 3500 BC, these scribes were considered among their society’s literary elite.
  • Chinese Shorthand – Dated to 207 BC, this method is identified with the early successful English systems.
  • Roman Scribes – In 63 BC the orator Cicero invented the first shorthand system of writing.
  • Abolition and Renewed Interest – Considered secret writing, it was forbidden during the Dark Ages around 500 BC.  Around 200 AD, Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury is credited with the renewed interest.
  • Shorthand’s Revival – In 1588, interest was sparked again by Timothe Bright’s creation of the first usable English-language version of shorthand.
  • Revolutionary Shorthand – Sir Isaac Pitman and Dr. John Robert Gregg stand above everyone as being pivotal in shaping the profession of shorthand reporting.
  • Proliferation of Shorthand in Europe – The Industrial Revolution, Clerical demands and Parliamentary debates fuel the increase in use.
  • Proliferation of Shorthand in America – Brother Benn brought Pitman’s Phonography to the U.S. and by 1889 97% of U.S. stenographers used Pitman’s invention.
  • Machine Shorthand – In the late 1800s, the invention of typewriters started man’s love of machines and led to the invention of the first “shorthand typewriter” in 1879.
  • Shorthand in the 21st Century – By the 1940s, shorthand machines had replaced the pen.  And now, computer technology is creating instant transcriptions.

[Source: Gallery of Shorthand website]

Photo courtesy of Melanie L. Humphrey-Sonntag

Long story short, this Gallery is a “must see” and a great source of pride to all of us!  The Gallery of Shorthand is located in the Alfonse M. D’Amato Courthouse and Federal Building at 100 Federal Plaza, Central Islip, NY 11722.  Phone: 631/712-6108 www.galleryofshorthand.org

While we’re on the subject of the history of shorthand, do check out The Pitman Gallery online (http://pitmanshorthand.homestead.com/Gallery.html) for some more about Egyptian scribes including samples of the different kinds of Egyptian scripts.

Posted in Info

Man vs. Machine… in the courtroom

Sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. In fact, it seems to be an ongoing issue. And, it shouldn’t be… for a lot of reasons. We thought it was worthwhile to re-run our original article and video that we posted on this subject in addition to some new comments and comparisons. The main thing to keep in mind is that the man vs. machine in the courtroom issue is NOT about going paperless, or green. It’s about accuracy, and the nuances that only a human being can bring to the table. We can’t stress enough that court reporters take great pride in providing accurate records and also in the ability to be versatile and timely in reacting to situations, especially when machines break down!

Let’s do a quick comparison between the two.

Accuracy: Humans –  All NCRA approved court reporting schools require an accuracy level of 95% when taking high-speed dictations before allowing a student to graduate. Machines – No one seems to want to give out any details about the machine accuracy rate. In fact, some are saying that they’ve found the accuracy level to be more in the 70 to 80% range.

Professional: Humans When you hire a court reporter, you are hiring a professional, unbiased guardian of the record whose main accountability is to ensure a verbatim record is captured.  Machines – I haven’t met a machine who cares yet!

Reliability: Humans –  Regardless of power outages or equipment failure, the court reporter can quickly and efficiently proceed by using a battery equipment alternative or by using their steno machines in manual mode. Machines –  Sorry, can’t do!

Time: Humans –  Court reporters have a distinct advantage of having the availability to view the transcript real time on their screens or print a hard-copy from their computers. If a section needs to be “read-back”, no problem, the court reporter is trained to find the exact location quickly and efficiently. Machines –  If a playback is required, someone in the courtroom (most likely a recording technician) will have to find the right spot for the read-back. This may or may not be accomplished quickly.

Cost: Humans –  You get a professionally trained court reporter who can accommodate your needs in a variety of ways – realtime viewing, hard copy, CD, etc. at a pre-agreed price.  Machines –  Did you know that you will still have to pay someone to transcribe the second-hand sound on the digital recording if you want more than just an audio or video tape.

Education: Humans – Education is a top priority with court reporters. The average length of training is for 44 months – that’s almost 4 years. They are professional listeners trained in courtroom procedures, legal procedure, notary law, and vocabulary to name a few. Machines – Machines record whatever noise is happening in the environment without discernment -shuffling paper, chairs squeaking, people coughing or talking. Machines need a person to play back the sound.

Remember that when you are comparing “man vs. machine”, you’re not comparing apples to apples. In reality you’re comparing apples to oranges – they are as different as different can be!

When you use a “human” court reporter, you are dealing with one person –  the same person who sits in the courtroom is the same person who will be transcribing the proceedings. They will automatically have recall of nuances that occurred throughout the deposition. With machines, you never know who is going to be doing the transcribing. And, since they weren’t part of the proceedings, they won’t have any recall.

Here’s a recap of our original article we did on the subject.  Some time ago we posted a video of Lisa Michaels (President of the Deposition Reporters Association of California) responding to Governor Schwarzenneger’s  comments about replacing live court reporters with machines to help save money in order to help reduce the California state debt.

This is not a “one state” issue – it’s an issue that affects all of us in the legal profession and it’s been spreading to other states. We owe it to ourselves and the legal profession to stay on top of this issue and to take action if needed.

Following is another video.  This one is from the official reporters of the Superior Court of King County, WA who are about to become extinct and replaced by machines.  It goes into some very important detail about some of the problems courts are facing with ER (electronic recording) devices, including inaudible and indecipherable transcripts as well as equipment failure, timeliness of transcripts and failed court cases because of inadequate records. Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Nevada switched from “live” court reporters to electronic recording devices.  Did it work out well for them?  Not at all.  In fact, they are, or already have, switched back to “live” court reporters.

Bottom line is that machines are just machines and sometimes they fail or fall short of expectations.  There is still a lot to be said for having a trained, dedicated, impartial, intelligent person representing the court and being the keeper of the official record.  But then, I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I!

Please watch this video, and leave a comment!

Posted in Need to Know

The Greening of Florida’s Courts

Thanks to a recent ruling, offices and legal libraries will soon be slimming down… or at least their “paper” waistlines won’t bulge any further than they already have! A new ruling will require nearly all court documents to be filed electronically and those bulging shelves will soon become a thing of the past. The News Service of Florida recently stated that this “may lead to paper court files going the way of phone books and taxes in the increasingly e-world.”

The decision didn’t come quickly though. There have been countless articles and studies pushing for a new paperless court. The proposed changes were extensively studied by the Florida Bar rules committee and many other groups. Many Florida trial courts have already been using electronic records for a variety of reasons, including lack of space, manpower, etc. The difference now is that instead of it being a matter of individual court choice, electronic filing will be required and should be in place by the end of 2013.

This will all take place in steps with the first being on October 1, 2012 for cases that affect the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal. After that, the new filing requirements will take affect April 1, 2013 for parts of trial courts handling civil, probate, small claims and family law cases and on October 1, 2013 for the parts of the courts that handle criminal, traffic and juvenile cases.

Most agree that changing from paper to electronic filing is a huge step forward in the areas of efficiency, sustainability, cost cutting and time. What are your thoughts about this? Please share your comments with us!

Additional reading on this topic and the road to paperless:

Florida Court E-Filing How to Video

Fla. Clerks’ Offices Prepare to Go Paperless

Posted in Info

Our New Port Richey Office Is Moving!

We hear that our last email created quite a stir! To clear up any confusion, we thought we’d launch our new monthly newsletter with some FAQs to help clear up the “moving mystery” and some other items!

Q – Is it true that Executive Reporting Service (ERS) is moving?

A – It’s partially true – our New Port Richey office is moving, but NOT our other offices or main headquarters in Clearwater.

Q – Who do we call to schedule depositions?

A – For any and ALL scheduling, continue to call our main office at (800) 337-7740  or  (727) 823-4155

Q – Where do I send my notices of deposition for Pasco County depositions?

A – Snail mail to our central scheduling  –  13555 Automobile Boulevard, Suite 100 Clearwater, FL 33762

– Email to ers@executivereporting.com;

– Fax to (727) 822-5458

Q  – What is the new address for notice of depositions in Pasco County?

A  –  Florida Design Consultants Building, 3030 Starkey Boulevard, New Port Richey, FL  34655

Q – What number do I use for telephonic depositions in Pasco County?

A – Telephonic Depositions Conference Phone: (727) 849-7588

Q – What is the official date in new location?

A –  Beginning August 15, 2012

Q – Is videoconferencing available at this location?

A – Yes.  See our coupon at the bottom of this newsletter.

Q – Where is the New Port Richey office moving?

A – We’re moving to a 21st Century office building with lots of amenities. Check out some of these great advantages….

–       More room

–       Easily accessible to both Pinellas and Hillsborough County lines

–       State-of-the-art conference rooms

–       Superior technology readily available

–       Complimentary Ionized water, coffee/tea in a comfortable break room.

We promise to give you the same great personalized service that you’ve become accustomed to.

Posted in Info