Two paralegals first to certify as 28 ID court reporters

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Story by SSG Doug Roles on 11/30/2017
By Staff Sgt. Doug Roles
28 ID Public Affairs NCO
Two headquarters and headquarters battalion paralegals are the first NCOs in the 28th Infantry Division to become certified as military court reporters. Their additional skill brings to the division's judge advocate general (JAG) section the ability to conduct court martial proceedings.

The division headquarters needed to have the capability in place for its 2018 deployment to Kuwait, where its soldiers will fall under the uniform code of military justice (UCMJ). Court reporters are necessary under UCMJ because they create accurate records of military legal proceedings.

Staff Sgt. Stephannie Richards of New Milford and Cpl. Owen W. Omari-Reitenauer, of Reading graduated the Army's seven-week Basic Court Reporter course (held at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School, Charlottsville, Va.) in September.

"We had never sent division paralegals to the course before because the Pa. National Guard does not conduct courts martial. Pennsylvania National Guard has all non-judicial punishment and falls under Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice," Richards said. "If we need to conduct a court martial overseas, where soldiers are under Title 10 status, we cannot do it without a court reporter."

"We had slots for court reporters for our deployment," Omari said. "There was a critical need to have people go to this school."

Court reporters are responsible for making sure microphones are placed in the courtroom and that they're used by participants to make an audio recording. Much like their counterparts in civilian courts, military court reporters speak into a stenographer's mask and use voice-recognition software to make a word-for-word transcript of what is said in a courtroom.

The software learns the court reporter's speech and gets "smarter" the more it is used. Following a court session, reporters use the audio recording to double check their transcript.

"As a court reporter you cannot treat producing an accurate record of trial as a simple assignment," Omari said, "because although it is a task that you must accomplish, it is also one of the most important events in a soldier's career and possibly their life."
"The court reporter has to make an accurate record of trial to protect the soldier and the government," Richards added. "You have a very short time to learn a lot of information at the school. You have to be on top of your game."

The transcription standard for course graduation is 225 words per minute. A normal speaking rate is 140 words. Court reporting is a perishable skill and Omari and Richards practice by repeating to themselves what they hear people say, even during a two-week annual training period at Fort Indiantown Gap in October. They've found it's best to practice verbally.

"If you don't do it out loud people think you're crazy and that you're talking to yourself," Richards said.

"The perishable skill is the speed at which you can do it," Omari added. "You predict, you anticipate the next word that will come out of someone's mouth."

To attend the school, Omari and Richards had to make it through a selection process which included a review of their noncommissioned officer evaluation reports (NCOERs). They also had to complete online training prior to the on-site class.

Richards and Omari encourage other paralegals to consider taking the course. They said the school is demanding but adds another dimension to the legal NCO's skillset that can help advance their careers and benefit their units.

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