October 2021 –
A few months ago one of the reporters I worked with in my freelance career
unexpectedly died. She and I hadn’t talked for a few months and were more likely
to communicate via text in the last few years. Nonetheless, her death is still jarring
for me. At the funeral one of our magistrate judges commented to me that she
thought this loss was particularly hard because court reporters are like snowy owls,
an endangered species.
Those words of consolation were an analogy I had never considered; but after
spending some time reflecting on it, there are parallels. My trusted resource of
Merriam-Webster tells me an endangered species is anyone or anything whose
continued existence is threatened. The less trusted resource of Wikipedia says
some of the factors that threaten a species are habitat loss and poaching.
In the last few years, there have been times when it has felt like the continued
existence of federal reporters has been threatened. There was the unfortunate
adoption of the .89 funding scheme, causing a loss of reporting positions in some
districts. We have seen state courts and the freelance world lure reporters from
federal court with fewer rules and sometimes higher pay. At the same time many of
our veteran reporters have entered retirement. These events have led to the
increase in vacancies that districts are struggling to fill.
While this all seems like bad news, being endangered can have some advantages.
For instance, endangered species are considered more valuable because of their
decline in numbers, so advocates protect those that remain while developing
programs to reinvigorate the species. With time and effort, the population of the
species can return to numbers that remove it from the endangered list.
The snowy owl analogy resonated with me. After a little research, I found the
snowy owl is now considered “vulnerable” rather than “endangered.” It seems that
categorization also may be more appropriate for federal official court reporters.
The truth is no one else in the courthouse understands exactly what we do and how
we do it. So while our positions are always vulnerable, with USCRA’s advocacy,
we can withstand the threats to our existence.
Advocating for federal court reporters is at the heart of what USCRA does. For
more than two years now, it has been my privilege to lead this association as we
have continued this mission. In just a few weeks, I will be turning the USCRA
reins over to Kathy Fennell. As I look forward to moving to the position of
Immediate Past President, which I like to think will be akin to a senior status judge,
I have reflected on what has been accomplished and what remains on our list of
things to do.
One of the most important projects in the last two years has been USCRA’s
organizational restructuring. I am happy to say that transition is nearly complete.
You can read the details on what was done and why in the pages ahead. None of
this would have been possible without the time and dedication of all members of
the Board of Directors from 2019-2021 and, in particular, the members of the
Executive Committee. I appreciate their contributions more than I can say in this
There are issues like salary and page rate increases and changes to the eVoucher
program that USCRA members are persistently raising through CRAG and other
avenues. While we have not seen the results we want yet, this kind of advocacy is
one of the most valuable benefits of USCRA membership. When I think about
these projects, I am reminded of the bench conference jury instruction that tells the
jurors, “While you are waiting, we are working.” USCRA members continue to
volunteer their time to work on these and other issues that will benefit everyone.
Looking back, I am still glad I said yes when Rick Ford called on behalf of the
Nominating Committee. My time as president has been challenging in ways I could
not have predicted, but it has been an honor to hold the position representing the
only association dedicated to advocating for Federal Official Court Reporters.