Mom Always Said “Never Interrupt”


Was she right?

Well, your mother was probably right.  As a small child, it was not your place to interrupt adults when they were speaking.  It is also rude to interrupt people when they are giving a presentation or in the middle of a thought or sentence.  But what about court reporters?  Should they interrupt?

The answer is an absolute yes!  I am often asked whether I’m worried if stenotypists are going to be replaced by voice recording.  This question comes up more often nowadays with the advent of voice recognition on cell phones.  It’s safer to speak your e-mails or texts while driving and many folks use this technology in their everyday lives.

However, when in a deposition setting, it is imperative that the court reporter gets every word spoken.  That is why we are hired.   Attorneys speak on top of each other while making objections or in heated colloquy.  Witnesses answer questions before the questions are fully posed to them.  Background noises, such as airplanes, copiers, or loud employees outside the deposition suite are all picked up on audio recordings and video recordings.

Court reporters can hear and process two people speaking at a time for just one or two words.  Their brains retain the last few utterances spoken by the questioning attorney and perhaps the first word by the witness, who jumps the gun and answers too quickly.

The official deposition record may be used at trial for impeachment.    Witnesses who continually interrupt might not be happy with their answer coming in before the question is fully posed  because they potentially could be answering a different question and simply assuming they know what they are being asked.

Court reporters are Officers of the Court, responsible and liable for an accurate transcription of testimony.  In doing so, there are times when we have no choice but to interrupt.  If attorneys or witnesses speak too softly or too quickly, we cannot do our job.  We do not have magical ears that can pick up soft whispers uttered by the witness.  If the attorney cannot hear the witness, neither can we.  The same would apply to heavy accents.   Court reporters don’t have a special way of understanding gibberish.  We have to interrupt and ask the witness to repeat themselves.

Recently I encountered an attorney in court who was speaking so fast, he did not finish his words or sentences.  He thought he was speaking out loud to the judge, but he garbled his words and said things he clearly did not mean to say.  As court reporters, we cannot change what the lawyer is saying to make him “sound good.”  Our job is to write what we hear.  Since there were times throughout the transcript where I had to put (sic) to make sure anyone who read the transcript in the future would know it was not my lack of ability as a court reporter, but merely incorrect words and phrases being used by counsel, I received a nasty e-mail, criticizing me for the accuracy of the transcript.  Was the transcript accurate?  You betcha!  I had interrupted  the attorney in the nicest of ways, asking him to slow down and speak clearly, but to no avail.  Even the judge cautioned him.

It’s important, when necessary, to interrupt the proceedings.  All we are doing as court reporters is ensuring we take down the most accurate and complete record we can.

Mom was right, but not if their kids grew up to become court reporters!