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High court to hear testimony on court reporting changes, appellate e-filing proposal

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will be holding public hearings in April on both a pilot project introducing mandatory electronic filing to the state’s appellate courts and a plan to allow alternatives to stenographic court reporting.

The high court is scheduled to hear public testimony on both proposals at a meeting starting at 9:30 a.m. on April 8 in the Supreme Court Hearing Room at the state Capitol.

Sheila Reiff, clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, filed the petition on Feb. 15 proposing the pilot project, and the justices voted on Feb. 19 to send it to a hearing and solicit feedback from the public. Chief Justice Pat Roggensack sent a letter to Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer inviting the court’s judges and staff to participate.

Reiff is proposing that the court adopt a pilot project as well as interim rules to allow the testing and development of procedures for rolling out mandatory e-filing in appellate courts.

Upon the completion of the pilot project, Reiff would file a separate rule-change petition calling for permanent changes to the court’s rules.

Reiff noted in a memo accompanying her petition that the high court took similar steps when it rolled out mandatory e-filing in circuit court.

Moreover, she wrote that her office and others involved in the project would not be starting from scratch, since e-filing already supplements paper filing in the Court of Appeals and that some rule changes have already been made to accommodate electronic filing. For example, in 2016, the justices approved a rule change that allowed for the electronic transmission of records from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

So far no one has weighed in on the latest proposal with written comments.

The other proposal up for a hearing on April 8 was filed by the Director of State Courts, Randy Koschnick. The proposed changes call for, among other things, allowing digital audio recordings to be used as an alternative to stenographic court reporting and specifying that a chief judge and district court administrator in a judicial administrative district may assign the coverage of proceedings and assign a court reporter to produce a transcript if whatever court reporter who was originally to be used turns out to be not available.

Koschnick wrote in his memo accompanying the petition that he’s seeking these changes in response to a shortage of stenographic court reporters in the state. He noted that of the 280 court reporters employed by the circuit courts, 43 percent are eligible for retirement and 63 percent will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years. To keep up with those retirements, the courts would need to hire 35 court reporters a year.

He also noted that enrollments in court-reporting programs have dropped nationally and in Wisconsin.

The justices voted on Feb. 19 to send the petition to a public hearing and solicit comments from the public.

Barron County Circuit Court Judge James Babler wrote a letter to the court on Feb. 25 in support of the proposal, saying that he had hired a student studying to be a stenographic court reporter to be his digital audio reporter when he could not find a replacement court reporter. He said the experience has dispelled misgivings he had about digital audio reporters.

“I have conducted all types of hearings and trials and have found the digital audio reporting to work extremely well,” he wrote. “ It does require the Judge to pay attention to attorneys and witnesses using microphones but other than that issue, no additional problems have arisen.”

But the National Court Reporters Association filed a letter Monday cautioning the court about the proposed changes.

“The proposed statutory and rules changes would be amended to allow monitored digital audio recording (DAR) as a regular method of taking the record,” wrote Sue Terry, president of the group.  “We believe that the rule changes suggested in this petition could allow for subpar court records and could have negative consequences for the Wisconsin court system.”

The association made several recommendations for changes to the proposal, calling for digital audio recording to be used only when no live court reporters can be enlisted.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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