The Masked Reporter
Court Reporting During A Pandemic
Court Reporting During A Pandemic
As the country slowly begins to open up, so too have law offices and Veritext offices. When and where legal to do so, court reporters and videographers who are comfortable doing so have begun taking on-site assignments.
We asked a few of our reporters to share what it’s been like taking the record in a pandemically altered in-person environment.
My recent in-person depositions have taken place in Manhattan, NYC. Upon entering the building, I’m requested by the lobby concierge to step in front of a screen that is about the size of an iPad/Android tablet. My image and temperature are recorded in realtime. A voice then announces, “Temperature normal.” Temperatures of 100.4 and above will prevent people from proceeding any further. The next step in the screening process is a questionnaire. The concierge asked questions such as have I tested positive for COVID-19? Have I been in contact with anyone infected with the virus? It’s a brief process.
The deposition rooms I’ve worked in did not have plexiglass sheeting to separate the participants. The chairs were spaced apart according to social distancing guidelines. As Reporters, we prefer to have the witness sitting close to us, so now we have to adjust.
So far, I’ve worked with a witness and attorneys wearing the ubiquitous light blue mask, and I was able to understand them.
I started doing in-person depositions over the past couple weeks. Just like starting remote depositions, it was a little bit of an adjustment. But like anything else, once you get into a groove, it just becomes another day; part of the job.
There has been some difficulty in understanding soft-spoken witnesses, but just like you would any other day, you just ask them to repeat themselves if you didn’t hear what they said. In some instances where there’s a continuing issue with someone not being able to be heard, either by the court reporter or another attorney in the room, the witness has been asked to sit back further and testify without a mask. This is done as long as everyone in the room is comfortable. Other than the masks everything is the same, and it feels good to be back out in the world working in person!
When I look down at my phone to retrieve my job, I always look at the scheduled time of the job. The location is right underneath. To my surprise, one day the location had an address rather than the usual “virtual deposition.” I thought this must be a mistake.
I called the office and they confirmed it was being held in-person. I was all at once excited and anxious: Excited to report in person, and anxious about many other things, including the train ride I had to take. But I was ready, willing, and able.
I am of the belief that this pandemic is here for a long time and we have to learn to work around it. I feel so lucky to live in New York where our politicians have taken this so seriously and brought our numbers down so drastically.
On the day of the deposition, I woke up and I was ready. I put on makeup for the first time in three months and got into my dress clothes, which have been hanging unloved for so long. My comfortable clothes have been getting a lot of wear, especially the comfortable pants since you can only see the top half of me on the computer. I always make sure to wear a nice blouse.
Now was the train ride. It wasn’t a long ride, but I was not sure of what to expect. The last time I took a train was March 18th. I had an important medical test to take and I had to get there. I Uber’d to the testing facility, but then I thought this is ridiculous, I will take the train home. The ride home was scary. There was no one on the train but me and very menacing-looking people. After taking the trains my whole life, me being a New Yorker, I swore off the trains at that moment until things got back to normal, so I was a little hesitant. To my surprise, the trains were squeaky clean, as Governor Cuomo promised. The train was not packed, and there were just enough people to make me feel very safe. Everyone had a mask on. Everyone. I have heard stories to the contrary, though; people telling me not everyone is wearing a mask. My experience was different–everyone wore a mask. So, my first jaunt of the adventure was over.
I got to the office building and went up to the deposition room. There were three attorneys, the witness, the interpreter, and me. The conference room was pretty large, so we were able to distance. The witness’ attorney and the interpreter not only had a mask, but they also had face shields. I think if you are questioning, a face shield is the way to go because it does not muffle your voice. The questioning attorney spoke in a loud and clear voice, so I had no problems. The interpreter did the same. The co-defendant was sitting pretty far down the table. When she had something to say, she pulled down her mask, but as I said, she was far down the table. If I had to ask for a repeat because of the mask, everyone understood the challenges of listening to someone talk through a mask, but that really happened very infrequently because everyone spoke up. The deposition went from 11:00 until 3:00. We were going to continue the following week in person. The day went off without a hitch.
I got back on the train and I had the same experience: Everyone had a mask, and the train had just enough people.
As I said, I think this pandemic is here to stay, and as I have heard expert epidemiologists say, we have to work around it. It has been proven time after time that the masks work. I think we have to think about holding depositions in person again, but safely. This is our new normal, and we have to learn how to work through our new normal. I really think we can do this and do it safely.
The health and safety of our clients, independent contractors, employees and other colleagues is our primary concern at Veritext. The Veritext Management team is monitoring COVID-19 on a daily basis and adhering to the expert advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In the near future, we will be in the process of methodically and carefully re-opening offices. For the health and safety of all, we have instituted the general prevention guidelines put forth by the CDC and elevated the protocols in all of our open locations. https://www.veritext.com/officesopen/
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