Tommy Johnson has been a court reporter for 35 years, 31 of them working with District Court Judge Don Jones. With such a long history, it is to be expected Johnson has a pretty extensive base of experiences peculiar to his profession. He even spoke of a time he had to step up as a stand-in bailiff.
Question: The machine you work on has very few keys. And the resulting script is impossible for a layman to read. How does the stenograph work?
“A lot of people call it machine shorthand. When the stenograph was created, they gave all the consonants and vowels necessary to make words. But every (court reporting) school teaches its own theory. Every time a reporter leaves school, they adapt their theory to their location. If a person is on the coast, they’re doing maritime law. I have a large dictionary connected to my theory on dairies. Every job is dictionary specific. And that dictionary runs in the background when I start entering strokes into the computer. It translates the strokes I make in the stenograph.”
Question: You have a computer connected to your stenograph. With the advent of this technology, your job must have seen some major changes. How has your role evolved over the years?
“The machine is exactly the same except now the stenograph hooks to a computer. When I started I had gone to court reporting school to be trained to work on a computer. But at that point in time there were no computers available. So the theory I was taught was what people thought would be computer compatible. But it turned out to be wrong.
“When we started in ’81, we were typing and doing triplicate with carbon sets. Then in ’83, we got the first computer and started learning what was valid about the training for computers and what was invalid.
“Through the years the technology has progressed, and we’ve had to modify our way of writing so it is compatible with the computer, and you get a more thorough and correct read out. The computer recognizes what I have put in as words.”
Question: What’s a memorable court case that comes to mind?
“We had a case where a man had been indicted for assaulting his sister-in-law. His father-in-law, the victim’s father, was his boss. At that time we did not have a bailiff. We got there early, and I was setting things up in the courtroom while the judge was in his office. Then I heard cursing out in the hall and a woman screamed.
“I rushed out into the hallway. The father had gotten the defendant around the neck and had him on the ground. The jury panel had shown up and was standing around watching it, and they were the case the jury was to hear. I ran out and got hold of the father’s arm to break it up. Then a guy on the jury jumped in to help. I managed to get the defendant away and took him to the bathroom and locked the door. Naturally, we didn’t have the trial that day.”