“I shot the clerk?” Or was it “I shot the clerk.” Accurate punctuation can affect the guilt or innocence of a litigant. Punctuation can also save lives: “Let’s eat, grandma,” or “Let’s eat grandma.”
A court reporter, whether stenographic, voice, or digital, is charged with the responsibility to ensure the accurate capture of the spoken word. Words matter. Punctuation matters. Cases turn on a single word, phrase, or piece of punctuation. When due respect is not paid to the capture of the record, the results potentially change lives.
Accurate deposition transcripts are vital for trial preparation, dispositive motions, impeachment at trial, and for appellate review. Accurate deposition transcripts can be more persuasive to judges and juries, and are more likely to serve their intended function as an authoritative record of a witness’ testimony.
Prescriptions for Reducing Transcription Errors
Errors in deposition transcripts have several common sources. When deposition court reporters, litigants, and participants take the time to address known stumbling blocks, the accuracy of the resulting transcript improves significantly, thereby producing an accurate deposition transcript, usable and unimpeachable in a proceeding.
Strive for Impeccable and Complete Capture
- Court reporters should strive to control the proceedings and remove background noises or distractions to improve the capture of the spoken word.
- Court reporters should seek clarification when needed.
Attorneys should conduct the deposition in a manner that ensures the best possible record capture.
- Attorneys should control proceedings by not allowing cross-talk during the deposition.
- Attorneys should ensure that each participant communicates clearly and enunciates words to convey information.
Attorneys and court reporters should work together to:
- Ensure the venue provides a room without background noises and where distractions are kept to a minimum.
- Ensure that the proceedings are conducted with diction clarity, steady pacing, and controlled intonation.
- Strive to implement a seating arrangement so those charged with capturing the spoken word can clearly hear the proceedings.
Be Vigilant for Homonyms
Many words in the English language sound the same but have different meanings.
Were the combatants really engaged in gorilla warfare?
Did the magician impress the audience with her slight of hand expertise?
Is it really a best practice to share sensitive information on a knead-to-know basis?
Errors attributable to homonyms can be difficult to unearth. They pass right by spell-checking programs. Grammar checkers also stumble on them. Here again, it’s humans to the rescue. Court reporters and transcriptionists are expert grammarians. Their careful review of the transcript will unearth and correct these types of errors.
Proper Names and Unique Terminology
The task of accurately transcribing proper names and technical terms is a challenging one. Experienced, professionally trained court reporters and transcriptionists are adept at delivering deposition transcripts containing the correct punctuation and spelling of proper names and places. Litigators can assist the court reporter by taking the time to identify and spell out difficult-to-discern proper names and terminology that is unique to their case.
The Role of the Errata Sheet
Federal and some state civil procedure rules give deponents the right to review deposition transcripts and suggest changes or clarifications, if necessary. The changes cannot be substantive in nature but, rather, are meant to address typographical errors and testimony misinterpreted or misheard by the reporter or transcriptionist. The so-called “errata sheet” is the record of this process. Although the errata sheet is a separate attachment to the deposition transcript, it is a part of the official court record as a whole.
Clients Win with Accurate Transcripts
The work required to produce a transcript free of errors requires time and dedication to the process. The court reporter must capture the testimony and is ethically obligated to produce an accurate transcript of the proceedings. The legal assistant or paralegal should facilitate requests for clarification of spellings and other case information upon request. The litigator has an ethical obligation of competence and candor to both the client and the court.
At least one court has ruled that error-laden legal pleadings can violate an attorney’s ethical duty of competence. In the case of Disciplinary Action Against Hawkins, 502 N.W.2d 770 (Minn. 1993), the Minnesota Supreme Court remarked that “[p]ublic confidence in the legal system is shaken when lawyers disregard the rules of court and when a lawyer’s correspondence and legal documents are so filled with spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors that they are virtually incomprehensible.”
In an industry that is increasingly driven by technology, it’s important to be mindful that a professional’s thoroughness and judgment are still necessary to produce the level of transcript accuracy required by the legal profession. The wrong words – even a single wrong word – can, if left uncorrected, have negative consequences for the litigation. Attorneys who adhere to the best practices set out above (controlled proceedings, no cross-talk, special attention to unique terms) will ensure that their client’s message and litigation objectives are effectively conveyed on the deposition transcript.