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Iowa has a court reporter shortage
Episode 4021st June 2023 • Careers & Coffee • Corridor Careers
00:00:00 00:15:22

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Iowa courts are facing a serious shortage. The Gazette's courts reporter Trish Mehaffey talks with Becky Lutgen Gardner on the opportunities available to Iowa job seekers.

Key points:

  • Iowa is facing a 'beyond crisis' level shortage of court reporters, with 33 job openings in the state and a nationwide high demand.
  • Court reporting offers an annual starting salary of nearly $56,000 and involves transcribing court proceedings using specialized stenography skills.
  • There's only one school in Iowa offering a two-year real time/court reporting degree, contributing to the shortage. The program recently went virtual and saw its highest enrollment in years.
  • Despite the strenuous certification process, court reporters enjoy the varied nature of the job and the learning opportunities it provides.
  • The shortage is affecting court proceedings, with court reporters having to juggle between different judges and hearings, causing delays and increased stress.
  • Temporary solutions include hiring retired court reporters and conducting remote hearings, but a long-term solution is still needed.

Questions, comments? Contact us at Corridor Careers

Transcripts

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Welcome to careers in coffee. I'm Becky

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Lutgen-Gardner, Product Manager with Corridor Careers. I'm here

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

today with a special guest, Trish Mahaffey, who is a

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

reporter who covers state and federal courts for The Gazette.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So we have a lot of great journalists at The Gazette. And

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

it's really we feel important that we have conversations with

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

people like Trish, about what's going on with workforce

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

development, especially as it relates to Iowa. So Trish,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

welcome.

Trish Mehaffey:

Hey, thank you. Thanks for asking me to do this.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Well, you recently you wrote a story,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

basically, about the shortage of court reporters in Iowa. And so

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

you mentioned in that that it's, it's beyond a crisis state.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

That's what people were saying. Tell me a little bit about the

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

story. Yeah, it's

Trish Mehaffey:

basically yeah, it is a crisis beyond crisis

Trish Mehaffey:

state, I guess, still. And it's just gotten worse. And so they

Trish Mehaffey:

right now, the our district or local district, the sixth, we

Trish Mehaffey:

have 10 openings. They have 20, there have 20 for 20 reporters,

Trish Mehaffey:

we only have 10 filled. And I guess I think we're losing one

Trish Mehaffey:

more, I believe this summer, and with a retirement. So there'll

Trish Mehaffey:

be 11. So I think and so then, and the districts across the

Trish Mehaffey:

across the state are in the same shape. Everybody's got an

Trish Mehaffey:

opening of two or more. And I think we have the most of 10,

Trish Mehaffey:

two or more. And there's only one district I think that

Trish Mehaffey:

doesn't need anybody. But that's rare. At this time.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So what what potential problems or

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

current problems does that create when you've had that big

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

of a shortage?

Trish Mehaffey:

Yeah, basically, it means everybody's court cases

Trish Mehaffey:

getting bumped because they don't have enough court

Trish Mehaffey:

reporters. For the for the court hearings. I mean, the court

Trish Mehaffey:

reporters are the eyes and ears of the courtroom. I mean,

Trish Mehaffey:

they're taking down verbatim, the live, you know, the the

Trish Mehaffey:

court proceedings. And so that's what the court has to rely on,

Trish Mehaffey:

to look back on to make rulings you know, and and have an actual

Trish Mehaffey:

transcript of the of the actual hearing or trial.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So you touch on that a little bit about

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

exactly what that court reporter does. So for people who don't

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

quite understand how do they do their jobs, what do they do?

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Sure,

Trish Mehaffey:

they use like, basically, there's, they're the

Trish Mehaffey:

ones that are singing up front by the judge, and they're taking

Trish Mehaffey:

down everything that everybody's saying. So it's really a you

Trish Mehaffey:

have to be a multitasker, because you have to be able to

Trish Mehaffey:

listen, and then write down and they're using a steno machine,

Trish Mehaffey:

so it's a little bit easier. So they're because they're covering

Trish Mehaffey:

things in real time. And so the steno machine, like, lets him

Trish Mehaffey:

put in a phrase at a time or sentence at a time or, and they

Trish Mehaffey:

build a vocabulary in that in that machine that they can just,

Trish Mehaffey:

you know, hit a button. And that's what it is. And so, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, that helps a lot. But, but it does take somebody that can

Trish Mehaffey:

multitask, and somebody that wants to stay busy, because they

Trish Mehaffey:

are constantly, I mean, they get breaks during, you know, trials

Trish Mehaffey:

or court hearings, but still it's a, it's a pretty, it's a

Trish Mehaffey:

pretty, you know, sorry to say, what's a

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

It's a demanding job and you're you

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

can't really doze off? You can't, because you're gonna miss

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

out. That's what your job is, is to report, for sure.

Trish Mehaffey:

I mean, that's kind of what I do. I cover

Trish Mehaffey:

trials in real time, but nothing like they I mean, I'm not taking

Trish Mehaffey:

down verbatim, you know, I'm writing like normal like notes

Trish Mehaffey:

to myself. And then like, you know, so people can read it,

Trish Mehaffey:

though and follow along with the trial in real time. And so, but

Trish Mehaffey:

their job is pretty, it is pretty demanding. And, but it

Trish Mehaffey:

does really pay well. That's, that's a big thing. You know, it

Trish Mehaffey:

pays well, it starts out about it. I think it's like $58,000,

Trish Mehaffey:

here in Iowa. And then nationwide, I think it can be

Trish Mehaffey:

starting out pay can be like 62 or $65,000. So that's fairly

Trish Mehaffey:

good. And they can I mean, sometimes it's court reporters

Trish Mehaffey:

can make up to $100,000 a year. They can do besides besides

Trish Mehaffey:

court, besides court hearings and court proceedings, they can

Trish Mehaffey:

also be freelancers they can like do depositions for like law

Trish Mehaffey:

firms, you know, civil, there's always these civil law cases

Trish Mehaffey:

going on. And so you can stay quite busy even as a freelancer.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So what does it take? If I'm interested

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

in becoming a court reporter or learning more about it was it

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

take for me to be certified?

Trish Mehaffey:

Sure, you have to go you do have to go through

Trish Mehaffey:

a program. It's called a real time court reporting program.

Trish Mehaffey:

And they only have one in this day and it's offered at said Des

Trish Mehaffey:

Moines Community College DMAC, which people might know it does.

Trish Mehaffey:

And there's a there's an actual they're doing the program

Trish Mehaffey:

online. So you can do the program online now. But it does

Trish Mehaffey:

take two years to get through and then you get certified then

Trish Mehaffey:

you have to go or take a certification test to pass and

Trish Mehaffey:

it's not easy, but you know, many people have done it and

Trish Mehaffey:

they're There are plenty of openings. I mean, I think

Trish Mehaffey:

they've predicted like the the court administrators said that

Trish Mehaffey:

he could guarantee jobs 4848 job openings, like in the next, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, several years. And so but that's the only thing it's like

Trish Mehaffey:

it does take a while to get through the program. So that's

Trish Mehaffey:

kind of the lag time that there are some people going through

Trish Mehaffey:

the program, but it's just gonna take you know that two years to

Trish Mehaffey:

get him in and get them out. And so but

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

it does sound like they decided that the

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

online certainly with only having that one program that was

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

available and making it available to more people online,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

I'm sure fleet will keep upping the number of people who are

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

registering to go through the program.

Trish Mehaffey:

Yeah, right. Yeah. Because there are, there

Trish Mehaffey:

are some in there, I think there's like, I think there was

Trish Mehaffey:

like 48 in there. But, of course, that's going to, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, take a while to get them out too. So that that's the only

Trish Mehaffey:

thing. But once they get out, they are honestly guaranteed a

Trish Mehaffey:

job.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

I think you also talked to some current

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

court reporters, what do they really like about their jobs?

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Right,

Trish Mehaffey:

they like you because it is it does keep them

Trish Mehaffey:

busy. You know, they do stay busy, they enjoy and they enjoy

Trish Mehaffey:

being like, the insider, you know, listener on all the all

Trish Mehaffey:

the other court proceedings, especially like, if you're a

Trish Mehaffey:

crew trot or a true crime fan, it would be it would be great

Trish Mehaffey:

for someone because that's, that's, you know, what I love

Trish Mehaffey:

about it too, is because you get to know, you get to, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

know all the details of the case, which you don't get until

Trish Mehaffey:

you usually get to trial, or you get in a hearing of some kind.

Trish Mehaffey:

But that's what they love about us. They keep busy. And they

Trish Mehaffey:

just they just think it's been a great career for them.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Yeah, it sounds. Yeah. Sounds very

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

interesting. And that's one of the reasons I invited you to

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

talk about this. Just Sure. There's, you know, we were

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

talking about workforce in general, where are those

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

opportunities? And certainly, that kind of struck a chord

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

there, too. In your story, you know, you also, you know, just

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

talked about the future and people's concerns about, you

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

know, whether it's the judges or the administrative folks within

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

the courthouse, the concerns with the lack of the court

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

reporters, and the fact that judges can't, they can't rely on

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

the fact that they're not going to have the same person because

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

they don't there's just not enough of them. And so used to

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

be your record record, it was in your courtroom, and and you you

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

knew them very well, and you still probably know them very

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

well. But, you know, what are those other challenges of judges

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

and others are talking about?

Trish Mehaffey:

Sure. I mean, that's basically it. I mean, and

Trish Mehaffey:

sometimes there's like one court reporter for like three judges.

Trish Mehaffey:

I mean, it's happened like that. And they've all got like

Trish Mehaffey:

hearings. And so it's been interesting, because I mean,

Trish Mehaffey:

those court reporters, they're honestly running back and forth,

Trish Mehaffey:

to different courtrooms, you know, because it's, it's never

Trish Mehaffey:

in the same courtroom, it's always a different courtroom.

Trish Mehaffey:

And some of the some of the hearings have been delayed,

Trish Mehaffey:

because they have to wait for the court reporter finish up

Trish Mehaffey:

with the, you know, the previous hearing. And so it's just been,

Trish Mehaffey:

it has been really crazy. I mean, it's so different, even

Trish Mehaffey:

when, than when I first started, because there were just, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, there were numerous court reporters, and, and nobody was

Trish Mehaffey:

waiting like that, necessarily. And so without the court

Trish Mehaffey:

reporter also, it means that the the trial schedule is going to

Trish Mehaffey:

be delayed, or the court hearings are going to be

Trish Mehaffey:

delayed. So it kind of has to, you know, if there's just no

Trish Mehaffey:

court order, they can't do it, because they have to have that

Trish Mehaffey:

court reporter there, especially in the criminal cases they do.

Trish Mehaffey:

And most of the civil cases, now they're getting more backed up,

Trish Mehaffey:

because they're not the priority on the schedule. That's the

Trish Mehaffey:

criminal that takes priority and like, custody issues with kids

Trish Mehaffey:

and juvenile cases. And so those are those are just being backed

Trish Mehaffey:

up more, and the judge is basically I mean, the chief

Trish Mehaffey:

judge sent out a letter saying that for criminal or for civil

Trish Mehaffey:

cases that they would, you know, they couldn't probably give a

Trish Mehaffey:

quart per quarter per why can you do it longer than five days?

Trish Mehaffey:

Because they just they can't spare them. And so, but a lot of

Trish Mehaffey:

the civil cases, too, they like hire their own, they get

Trish Mehaffey:

freelancers to do it. So that's more the route they're going to

Trish Mehaffey:

take for sure. Now.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Yeah, it sounds like for somebody who

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

might be interested in doing this, you know, I think you

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

spoke to that to attention to detail, huge because you want to

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

pick up on everything and then be able to work fast and timely.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

so you don't miss something. But so is there anything else that

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

that whether it's your courts, or anybody else is doing in this

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

crisis to get that word out about not only the fact that,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

you know, there's a need, but try to let people know that

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

there's a huge opportunity here for somebody who is looking for

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

a good paying position going for or is there anything else

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

they're doing as far as trying to get that awareness out there?

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Yeah, I

Trish Mehaffey:

think they've expanded their advertising on

Trish Mehaffey:

that. And then also, they set up a task force even to look into

Trish Mehaffey:

that. And some of the they've even, like reached out to other

Trish Mehaffey:

workers, you know, in the system, like employees of the

Trish Mehaffey:

court system, that maybe they were like clerks, usually other

Trish Mehaffey:

clerks, to see if anybody had an interest in it. And they would

Trish Mehaffey:

help them, you know, they were working around their schedule to

Trish Mehaffey:

get them to take the classes to be a court reporter. So it's

Trish Mehaffey:

even come to that, you know, even inside, you know, inside it

Trish Mehaffey:

turned internally, they would, you know, move a move a person

Trish Mehaffey:

into the quarter quarter, if that's what they wanted to do.

Trish Mehaffey:

And it would be, you know, a better paying job for them than

Trish Mehaffey:

a clerk's position. So

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

sometimes that hiring from within is your

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

best opportunity, right? Training and down. Move that

Trish Mehaffey:

they Yeah, so the task force will continue to

Trish Mehaffey:

study this and come up with ideas that they can try to try

Trish Mehaffey:

to get people into these because they really do need them. But

Trish Mehaffey:

and it is, you know, it's like I said, it is happening

Trish Mehaffey:

nationwide. So they're everybody's kind of having the

Trish Mehaffey:

same problems.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Yeah, well, that sounds like we're

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

putting together a task force. Everyone's trying to find out,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

how can we learn from others the best way to help solve our

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

current crisis and, and see what we can do moving forward. But

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

taking that two years to get somebody trained, you just gonna

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

have to constantly keep people in that pipeline. And that

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

awareness. So talked about, you know, for sure.

Trish Mehaffey:

And that's what they're kind of trying to do

Trish Mehaffey:

right now. So it's kind of slowly but surely, maybe it'll

Trish Mehaffey:

happen.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So anything else about about the

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

story or about the shortage of court reporters?

Trish Mehaffey:

I don't think so. I just think a lot of people

Trish Mehaffey:

probably aren't even aware of court reporters, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

because they are the ones that, you know, they're the eyes and

Trish Mehaffey:

ears, but they're supposed to just kind of be like, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

into the background, they don't want to draw any attention on

Trish Mehaffey:

them for sure. And so, you know, there's their to do their job.

Trish Mehaffey:

And it's, you know, it's a it's a really demanding job. So

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

it's sounds very interesting. I mean,

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

court record, numbers everywhere, right, every

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

different type of trial and everything from your, your crime

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

type stuff, but also your your other opportunities that arrive.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

So I would think it would be pretty interesting, if you are

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

curious about what's going on?

Trish Mehaffey:

Yeah, I think it is, too. And they always, all

Trish Mehaffey:

the corporates have said to me that they always they love it,

Trish Mehaffey:

because they learn something new every day, you know, for

Trish Mehaffey:

different cases and things like that. I mean, that's true. Like,

Trish Mehaffey:

you know, my job I have, I've learned that stuff, too, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, just like following. Like, you're you're learning all the

Trish Mehaffey:

medical stuff, if there's like an autopsy involved, or, you

Trish Mehaffey:

know, if it's a civil case, you're learning about, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

a civil law that you probably don't even know about, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

the something that, you know, it could be anything, you know,

Trish Mehaffey:

based on it, like maybe it's an automobile accident, or maybe

Trish Mehaffey:

some other kind of, you know, horrible accident of some kind

Trish Mehaffey:

of somebody, somebody's suing somebody. And so, there's just

Trish Mehaffey:

all kinds of things, you know, you can learn in the court

Trish Mehaffey:

system.

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Yeah, I put things up pretty fascinating

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

on that. So I think we have finally, I think you touched on

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

the fact that we two years to get certified, but online is a

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

possibility. And right now that if if I was interested, GMAC is

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

going to be the place I would want to go to figure out or find

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

out more about that training.

Trish Mehaffey:

Yes, they Yeah, definitely to go to them. And

Trish Mehaffey:

then there's also they're supposed to be there's another

Trish Mehaffey:

couple of schools that are looking into, like having a

Trish Mehaffey:

program but they don't have it yet at this time. And so anyway,

Trish Mehaffey:

but so maybe hopefully, that would help too, if they would,

Trish Mehaffey:

you know, have other programs in the state to

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

offer I think even destroying the

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

awareness, if it's more widespread would be definitely

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

helpful. Certainly, anybody can join anywhere. But certainly

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

that awareness of the need, in that the major shortage, a big

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

idea with that, but I just want to leave those job seekers with

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

that thought just saying, hey, you know, there are this

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

opportunity is a big opportunity. And here's how you

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

can take that next step towards maybe even putting yourself out

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

there towards getting this training because it just sounds

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

like a crucial leap right now in the state.

Trish Mehaffey:

Right, and it is a job opening and it does pay

Trish Mehaffey:

well. So that's good to

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

Well, thank you. Thank you so much for

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

talking a little bit more about your story with me and and

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

joining us for careers and coffee. And thank all of you for

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

listening and we'll continue this series of working with our

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

reporters and really trying to get dive into where where's the

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

need in the state as far as workforce development and those

Becky Lutgen Gardner:

jobs that folks may not even know that there's an opportunity

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