BEST IN SHOW: An Interview with Court Reporter Jane Blackerby
Conducted by Jan Ballman – FAPR, RPR, CMRS
Conducted by Jan Ballman FAPR, RPR, CMRS; Veritext-Minneapolis
Q: Jane, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for this edition of The Veritext Reporter!
A: Of course!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your court reporting career? Where did you go to school, when did you begin reporting, and where has your career taken you employment-wise?
A: I attended American Institute of Business (AIB) in Des Moines, IA and began reporting in 1981. I worked in Des Moines for a few months, then got tired of the snow so I moved to Albuquerque, NM. I was there from ’82 to ’89. Then I decided I didn’t like everything being brown, or the scorpions and rattlesnakes (in my backyard), so I moved to Houston, TX. I was there from ’89 to ’92. From there I moved to San Antonio, TX. In ’95 I decided to return closer to my parents in Iowa, so I moved to the Kansas City area, and I have been here ever since.
Q: Jane, which office of Veritext do you report for?
A: I am reporting for The Cooper Group/Veritext out of Kansas City, Missouri. We joined Veritext about a year ago.
Q: Have you always been a Freelancer?
A: Yes, I have always freelanced, although the firm I worked for in Albuquerque had a contract with Federal court, so I did grand jury and reported in Federal court on occasion.
Q: Do you hold any court reporting certifications?
A: I do. I have been certified in Iowa, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri and Kansas.
Q: Wow—you’re a Five-Stater! #impressive So, has court reporting presented any interesting opportunities for you? Have you been able to travel to cool places on the job, for instance?
A: Absolutely! When I was in New Mexico, we had a contract with the Department of Energy and I had “Q Clearance,” which means I could cover employee hearings concerning their security clearance. This involved travel to Los Alamos Laboratories, Rocky Flats in Colorado, as well as Florida. We also had a contract with the State Corporation Commission, and they had their own private jet because the contract involved a lot of travel throughout the State of New Mexico.
Q: So you got to travel on a private jet as the court reporter?
Q: Not too shabby, Jane!
A: I remember one time flying into Ruiodoso, which is this little village in New Mexico right in the middle of the mountains, and the pilot told me to look out the window and see what everyone was having for breakfast. We flew so low over the houses to get to the runway, I could see what they were eating!
Q: Seriously? Aye Yai Yai!
A: I know. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. Then a firm I worked for in Houston covered a lot of asbestos deps which involved a lot of travel to small towns all over the state, so we flew a lot for those. Many a time they only gave me a few hours’ notice to hop on the plane and get to the next small town.
Q: So you are one of those Frequent Flyer Reporters!
A: I was…which also meant I spent plenty of time trapped in airports due to weather delays, but that just goes along with territory when traveling by plane.
Q: So you’ve done lots of traveling as a reporter, which is really cool. What about the types of cases you’ve reported? Have you had any really interested or super weird depos you can tell us about?
A: Once I worked on a lawsuit involving a dog food distributor and I took a deposition sitting on bags of dog food in a pet store.
Q: Oh, woof!
A: You just never know where you will end up working, do you?
Q: You really don’t. It keeps the job interesting, that’s for sure.
A: For sure! I had another case in Texas that involved a kid rolling his four-wheeler and breaking his neck. They wanted testimony and video in the field where it happened, so I am sitting on a chair someone took out there for me wearing a red jacket, and all of a sudden cows start coming into the pasture. So I’m writing and at the same time looking out to make sure there wasn’t a bull with them!
Q: Oh, my! Just slightly distracting wondering if you’re about to become a matador!
A: Tell me about it.
Q: How about the most interesting case you’ve ever reported?
A: My most interesting case involved a security clearance for a scientist at Los Alamos Labs. He was bipolar and they had been having issues with him. He was a tall skinny scientist, and one time he had a bipolar episode and was running through a field naked. It took six officers to bring him down. They brought in as a character witness Edward Teller. For those of you who know your history, Teller and Oppenheimer were the minds behind the atom bomb. He still had a very heavy Hungarian accent, wore suspenders and looked like someone’s grandfather. After the hearing was over, he told us stories about the days in the labs working on the project.
Q: Wow, that sounds insanely interesting!
A: It was kind of surreal.
Q: Besides Edward Teller, any other memorable witnesses that come to mind?
A: I had one witness who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. For the football fans out there, I took the deposition of Derrick Thomas twice. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Q: I’m a big football fan so that sounds awesome. Jane, I understand you have a very interesting hobby. Tell your fellow Veritext Reporters what you do in your spare time.
A: I breed and show Pugs.
Q: That is so cool! When and how did you get started doing that?
A: I have shown dogs since 1986. I wanted a Pug, and the lady I was buying a dog from said she liked her dogs to be shown. I said, “That looks like fun!” and here I am several years later. It’s a great distraction from court reporting, and you get to meet such interesting people. I have had top-ranked dogs and was the breeder/owner of a Best in Show Pug. My dogs have been shown all over the country as well as at Westminster.
Q: Best in Show is pretty impressive, Jane!
A: Thank you. I also judge dog shows, mainly the non-sporting group, since 2006. One of my bucket list items is to judge at Westminster Kennel Club.
Q: That would be amazing! Have you ever been…?
A: My dogs have been shown at Westminster. My judging actually takes me all over the country and out of the country. I had an assignment in 2016 in Melbourne, Australia, where I judged 186 Pugs. Talk about a long day!
Q; Luckily, as a court reporter you’re accustomed to long, hard days! We talked about interesting assignments as a reporter. What about in the dog-showing biz?
A: Well, my favorite judging assignment in the States is Palm Springs, CA. The show is held outdoors under tents on a polo field. In showing dogs I have made friends all over the country. I can attend a show in any state and will find a friend that I have met.
Q: That’s really great. I know the feeling from attending court reporting conferences all over the country for the last 20 years. It’s like having a port in every city.
A: It’s wonderful. And then one day each week I teach a dog training class on how to show dogs. I spend a lot of time working with kids and their dogs. They have a competition called Junior Showmanship for kids 9-18. I actually co-own two of my dogs with a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old to show in competitions. The most satisfying thing about all the dog showing is when one of the kids runs up to me to tell me how well they did that day at the show.
Q: It sounds not just incredibly fun but very rewarding. Good for you! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Jane, and for being an awesome member of the Veritext team.
A: My pleasure!
Jan began her career as a court reporter in 1981. In 1990, she was elected President of the state court reporters association. This experience afforded the opportunity to meet many outstanding court reporters and industry leaders. In 1993, Jan collaborated with two highly regarded colleagues–Jayne Seward and Lisa Richardson–to form Ballman, Richardson & Seward. Five years later, Jan led the merger of BR&S with two well-known and highly respected firms–Schultz & Sorenson; and Oliver, Mitchell & Maves—and launched Paradigm Reporting & Captioning on January 1, 1998.
After a 20-year career as a court reporter, Jan retired her steno machine in 2002 in favor of taking the helm of Paradigm on a full-time basis.
A recognized leader at both the state and national level, Jan was bestowed Minnesota’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, by the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters and Captioners in 2004. In 2010, Jan was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the National Court Reporters Foundation and was honored to accept the appointment as Chair of the Board from 2014 to 2016. In August of 2017, Jan was inducted into as a Fellow into the Academy of Professional Reporters. Currently, Jan Ballman is the only court reporter in Minnesota to have attained the professional distinction of FAPR.
Outside of her chosen profession, Jan enjoys working with local nonprofits, mentoring tomorrow’s leaders, and exploring the world of wine. Since 2011, Jan has been delighted to chair “Legal Wine Lovers,” an official affinity group of Minnesota Women Lawyers.