Court recorder jailed for not producing transcripts

It’s one thing for the police or the prosecutor to lose evidence, but when an entire preliminary examination is lost because the court reporter is incompetent, it’s time for a change.

Paulette Martin, an official reporter for Detroit’s 36th District Court, has gone from writer’s block to cell block.

Martin is serving a 30-day contempt sentence in the Wayne County Jail for repeatedly missing deadlines to produce an overdue court proceeding transcript — the first court reporter to receive such a stiff sentence for failing to complete her duties.

The jail term also covers her allegedly absconding from an earlier sentence by fleeing the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, where she had been given five days to transcribe the record of a lengthy preliminary examination.

"We just can’t tolerate this," said Presiding Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, who locked up Martin.

"And this isn’t the first time" Martin has stalled cases, he said.

According to the Detroit Free Press story, Kenny tried several ways to get Martin to produce the missing transcript. He set up a workstation for her and had lunch ordered in for her so she could work on it. He offered to trade a five-day jail sentence for a finished transcript. But rather than deliver the transcript, she ran.

What transcript did Martin have was incomplete, as 61 pages of a 300-page transcript were missing, supposedly because one of the tapes couldn’t be found.

The solution to this problem is simple: Fire all of these court “recorders” and bring back the court reporter, the one that follows along and types the testimony on a steno machine.

It doesn’t take much to be a court recorder. True story: before my mother retired as a district court civil clerk, her court needed a backup reporter so the judges’ reporter could take the occasional day off.  After reviewing a preparation booklet and a taking a trip to Lansing, she received a recorder license. It was that simple.

As we discussed in this space a few weeks ago, relying on recording, electronic or tape, for important court proceedings is fraught with peril. Using stenographic reporters add a second layer of protection against losing testimony because you have the recording and you have the steno version. If you lose one, somehow, you still have the other.

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