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Spotlight Report

Instant access to Law's testimony

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 5/9/2002

Only a select few people, including lawyers, church officials, and court employees, witnessed yesterday's historic deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, which took place in a Suffolk Superior courtroom that was closed to the press and public.

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Instant access to Law's testimony

But a partial transcript of Law's sworn testimony was available to the media a mere 31/2 hours after questioning began, and a full transcript was available within 90 minutes after the deposition ended for the day. Some media outlets, including the Globe, immediately posted those transcripts on their Web sites for public view.

So-called ''real-time'' technology enables transcripts to be produced on the spot. Court reporters, formerly known as stenographers, take down testimony in a phonetic language called ''steno'' using a steno machine. Computer-aided transcription, or CAT, software then translates the steno into English, much like closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired.

And real-time technology allows that translation to be viewed instantly on a computer.

At yesterday's deposition, one court reporter transcribed testimony while a second court reporter proofread the electronic transcript on a nearby computer and corrected misspellings.

All the while, attorneys in the courtroom were able to read the testimony on their laptops minutes after it was transcribed.

For a fee charged by the court reporters, journalists received e-mailed copies of the transcript in two shipments - one for the morning session, another for the afternoon. At $2.35 per page, that meant that the 158 pages of testimony cost about $370 per transcript.

Although it's been around for about 20 years, real-time technology is absent in many courtrooms, making the lack of timely transcripts a perennial frustration. The cost of converting to the newer software is often blamed for the lag.

According to Massachusetts court officials, only a few of the state's approximately 60 court reporters have the equipment and training to produce transcripts instantaneously. In California, about half of the state's court reporters can provide transcripts on the spot.

Loretta Hennessey, the court reporter who transcribed yesterday's deposition - which was videotaped by the court in case Law is not available for a future trial - said 9 of the 14 court reporters at her court-reporting company use real-time.

And Marshall Jorpeland, a spokesman for the Virginia-based National Court Reporters Association, said about 40 percent of the organization's 20,000 members use real-time technology, while 90 percent use computer-aided transcription.

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 5/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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