In a previous blog post we discussed the case of a Texas man facing trial for tax fraud who alleged that attorneys for the government had a court reporter in a pre-trial deposition change the official transcript without his knowledge.
In the case, the defendant's counsel noticed a discrepancy in the line and page numbers of the transcript when both sides were designating which sections to be used at trial, which led to the discovery of two "final" transcripts. The first final transcript (an expedite) was sent to both attorneys, then the next day the government's attorney requested that a couple of changes be made. The court reporting firm made the changes, without informing defense counsel, and then sent a revised final transcript to both attorneys by email. The email to the defense attorney containing the revised final transcript went to his spam folder, and since he already had what he believed was a final transcript he didn't realize he was missing anything.
Since there was already a lot of contention and distrust between the parties and attorneys in the case, this episode led to a Motion to Dismiss the case and a Motion for Sanctions against the government attorneys. It all could have been avoided by strict adherence to the Code of Ethics.
In addition to state court reporting boards, each court reporting professional association has a Code of Ethics. The wording isn't exactly the same for each, but each contains the same essential provisions. Looking at the National Court Reporters Association Code of Ethics, there are four sections that apply to this type of situation:
1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.
2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the Member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.
3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.
4. Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.
In this particular case, when the court reporter received a request to "review" the final transcript before it was sent to a hearing officer and opposing counsel, the court reporting firm need only reply saying that it's not possible to accommodate that request. A court reporter's final transcript, the official record, is not to be subjected to an editing and vetting process by counsel. Should errors be found in the final transcript, they can be noted on the errata sheet if the witness has chosen to exercise their right to read and sign the transcript, or attorneys can bring it to the court reporter's attention at that time. At no time should a court reporter make changes/corrections to a transcript without informing opposing counsel that they've done so, listing the precise changes/corrections made, and providing the reason(s) for the change.