All in the Family - Court reporters have long history in Washtenaw County

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

As a court recorder in Washtenaw County for 35 years, Amy Shankleton-Novess has some simple advice for young litigators: When you're making your final arguments in that courtroom, stay put.

Otherwise, she said, some of your carefully crafted verbiage won't get recorded.

"Your case doesn't end in the courtroom with the judge's final jury instructions and verdict, said Shankleton-Novess. "If it gets appealed, and I can't hear what you're saying on your points or the cases you're citing, I can't type it. It'll come out as inaudible or indiscernible and that just kills me! But if I can't hear you ..."

Thanks to constant advancements in technology, Shankleton-Novess' job has evolved in the years since she first started providing the law community with court and deposition transcripts.

Her career began when she became a single mother in 1979, and she took a part-time job working at 14th District Court. That led to becoming a secretary/recorder for Judge Robert Fink back in the day when she made copies on onionskin and carbon paper rolled into her typewriter.

She left her official reporter position with 22nd Circuit Court in Washtenaw County in 1988 to establish Modern Court Reporting (MCR), now located in downtown Saline.

Since 2000, Shankleton-Novess has shared the business with her daughter, Kristen Shankleton, 36.

"About seven years ago I thought I didn't want to do this anymore," said Shankleton, who then went on to earn a master's degree in counseling. "Then when I got really acclimated and felt more comfortable in doing this, I decided I really like it."

She also likes the flexibility that allows her to take a few days off to go hiking in the Appalachians, as she did recently.

Mother and daughter work together just fine.

"We have a riot, said Shankleton with a laugh."

"She understands when I need a break, and I understand when she needs a break," said Shankleton-Novess.

Each also understands how frustrating it can be, for instance, to try to figure out on the tape if the attorneys are talking about $150,000 or $15,000.

They also agree that new technology has made their jobs easier.

When the courts transitioned from court reporters to video recordings the two were prepared, and transcribed from the videos for about 10 years.

But that was extremely time-intensive, and now most of the courts are digital, so they can take the CDs and transcribe from them.

Working as a team is good because they can divvy up the work according to interests, they say.

And often, the cases are memorable.

Shankleton-Novess worked on the disposition of Kwame Kilpatrick at Milan Federal Prison when he was suing the cell phone company that released the texts.

"He's very charismatic; very pleasant," she said. "At that time, he seemed very optimistic ... Actually, the prison is about the safest place you can be. Everybody's screened. Beforehand, I had to tell them exactly how many paper clips I was bringing, how many pens, what kind of paper, how many tapes, how many extension cords."

A few days later, the transcript appeared on the Internet.

Some of the depositions get very emotional. But the two know not to react emotionally--at least until later.

"We wear our game face because there's a lot of emotion going on," said Shankleton. "I just sit there as a neutral, taking notes, doing my job. But sometimes afterwards ... oh man."

Business is good, said Shankleton-Novess, who also has on the payroll eight women who work part-time from home transcribing transcripts.

They've also recently started offering video deposition services due to increasing demand.

"We love what we do," said Shankleton-Novess, "because we've worked hard to develop a good rapport and reputation throughout our local legal community. Our attorneys know we appreciate that our work product affects their clients' lives and livelihoods. We feel honored that we are entrusted with that important responsibility."

Published: Mon, May 13, 2013

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