Lawmakers are considering whether to create a licensing system for the state's 500 or so court reporters to try to bring standards to an occupation that is currently unregulated in Indiana.
Advocates for licensing say it's necessary to ensure that the judicial system has accurate records of proceedings - including those that take place inside and outside the courtroom - so that justice can be served.
They pointed to a death row sentence that was overturned in 2003 because the appellate court found the record of the trial was too filled with errors to proceed. And they offered other examples of problems in Florida and Marion County.
"The public has a right to feel there is a level playing field and the court staff is capable, competent and committed," said Tom Richardson, past president of the Indiana Shorthand Reporters Association
. "Court reporters are an integral part of our system of justice and when we as a profession fail, the results can be catastrophic."
Twenty-eight states already require court reporters to be licensed or certified, some under state law and others through judicial rules. Nine other states seek voluntary certification of court reporters, Richardson said. And the federal courts impose their own certification standards.
In Indiana, there are no rules, although many court reporters have certifications from one of three national organizations. In many cases, states accept those certifications - which also require continuing education - as criteria for licensing.
"We are not proposing to replace any existing court reporters but instead to arm them with the tools needed to meet recognized minimum standards in the field," Richardson said.
Richardson presented his case Tuesday to the Commission on Courts, a group of lawmakers and judicial officials who make recommendations to the General Assembly. The group's chairman, Sen. Brent Steele
, an attorney from Bedford, told the committee his goal "is to try to see if we have a problem and if we have a problem to try to correct it."
Sen. Lonnie Randolph
, D-East Chicago, told the committee Tuesday he'd seen no evidence that Indiana was facing a problem that could be fixed with licensing. He called the examples "isolated" and said local judges should be able to choose the court reporters they find to best qualified.
But Sen. Greg Taylor
, a Democrat and attorney in Indianapolis, said he proposed legislation earlier this year to require court reporter licensing because of a problem he had with the record of a deposition.
Taylor said there's no way to know that a court reporter isn't competent "until you have a problem with a transcript. Then it's too late to have it resolved."
"This is a very important issue," Taylor said. "We all agree we need competent court reporters."
Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson
, who serves on the courts commission, said implementing a statewide system that serves all 92 counties - where local judges essentially run their own courts - could be difficult.
But advocates of licensing said they are flexible about the type of changes implemented - as long as they provide some accountability for court reporters.
"We're trying to do this efficiently," said Mike Leppert, a lobbyist working with the court reporters. "We're not stuck on one solution."
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.