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Court Officers and Staff: Court Reporters

Since the beginning of the federal judicial system, judges and justices hearing appeals have relied on stenographic records of the proceedings of the federal trial courts. Despite that, for many years Congress made no provision for the hiring of court officers to prepare such records. Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, trial transcripts were prepared either by trial judges themselves or by private stenographers, who were hired and compensated directly by the parties.

In 1901, the congressionally chartered Commission to Revise and Codify the Criminal and Penal Laws of the United States recommended that each district court be permitted to appoint an official stenographer. Despite the fact that most state courts had such officers at the time, Congress declined to provide for them until 1944 when it amended the Judicial Code to authorize the appointment of one or more "court reporters," the precise number to be determined by the Judicial Conference (58 Stat. 5). Under the terms of this statute, the reporters' duties included recording verbatim "by shorthand or by mechanical means" the proceedings held in open court (except for certain proceedings in civil cases that the parties, with the permission of the judge, agree not to record); the prompt filing of the original records with the clerk of court; and the provision of copies of these records to the parties upon request. The present judicial code permits each district court judge to authorize the reporting of trial proceedings in his or her courtroom by electronic sound recording "or any other method" subject to regulations promulgated by the Judicial Conference (28 U.S.C. 753(b)).

In 1982 the Conference recommended that the circuit judicial councils require each district court "to develop a court reporting management plan that will provide for the day-to-day management and supervision of an efficient court reporting service within the court," and specifically assign supervision responsibilities to the clerk, district court executive, judge, or "other person designated by the court." The Conference has maintained consistently that court reporters work for the court and not for individual judges.

Further Reading:
Chandler, Henry P. "Some Major Advances in the Federal Judicial System, 1922-1947," Federal Rules Decisions 31 (1963): 436-44.