Federal court reporter brings energy to job, triathlons

Wabeke named president of court reporters association

By Frank Weir

Legal News

Andrea Wabeke brings the same energy to her position as court reporter for Federal Court Judge John Corbett O'Meara to her triathlon athletic endeavors.

Add to that she was recently appointed president of the United States Court Reporters Association which represents federal court reporters nationally.

Wabeke endured a near fatal automobile accident in 1981 that made her realize life isn't forever.

"The accident made me focus on making some decisions about my life and career. My father is a retired lawyer and administrative law judge, Lawrence D. Egan, and he encouraged me to look into court reporting," Wabeke said.

"I graduated from Schoolcraft College in court reporting in 1984. It was a two-year program and it's like playing piano or being a good typist. You can learn the theory behind the language of court reporting but you either have the dexterity and the knack for it or you don't."

Wabeke began work as a court reporter in 1985, joining Judge James E. Lacey's Wayne County juvenile court staff in 1990.

Because of the dire nature of the proceedings she heard there, Wabeke furthered her studies. She obtained a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University in history and French.

Lacey encouraged her to pursue law school, but in 1995, she landed a job in federal court with Judge John Corbett O'Meara.

Most casual observers are familiar with the old-style court reporting machine. It's still there but far more complex than what meets the eye, Wabeke noted.

"The reporting machine is a digital instrument and is connected to my computer along side me in the court room. Actually, a record of my reporting is saved on my machine, on my computer, on the judge's computer, on audio tape and on disk. I also transfer it to a network drive and I back that up to an internet account as well.

"The computer has a program that is able to transcribe input from my machine so I can provide an accurate transcript at the end of that day's proceedings if requested by any of the parties. There will be some errors that I correct for the final transcription."

Wabeke is known as a "real-time" court reporter since she is recording the spoken word "on the fly" as it were.

"I have passed a certificate of merit test, which is a standard that evaluates the speed of court reporters and I clocked 260 words a minute. But I have seen people speak as fast as 300 words a minute in the court room.

"I try to warn lawyers that I am capable of taking down their words as fast as they can talk but juror questionnaires consistently come back saying that lawyers talk too fast in the courtroom and it is hard to follow what they are saying."

She noted that new court reporters can feel intimidated by the speed of the proceedings.

"I have taught court reporting and I always told my students that they must interrupt to slow people down. The lawyers will never remember that interruption but they will remember if the transcript is missing portions or is inaccurate.

"I remind them that they are perhaps the one person in the courtroom who is paying attention to every single word spoken there, every 'uh' and 'um'," Wabeke smiled.

Wabeke stated that she loves what she does and especially enjoys working with Judge O'Meara and his staff.

"This court is a phenomenal place to work and there's always something different each day."

That same enjoyment of the unique transfers to Wabeke's involvement in triathlon training.

"The court has a little bit of everything and the triathlon offers a similar experience, at least for me.

"I started in 2006 after I had Lasik surgery. Before that, I really didn't like to go in the water since I wore glasses or contacts. After the eye surgery, I figured I didn't have an excuse not to swim any more. I participated in a women's sprint triathlon that year and had the time of my life.

"The distances for the sprint triathlon are really short including a half mile swim, a 12 mile biking requirement and a three mile run.

"This year I completed what is called a half iron man. That's a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. A full iron man is double all those distances.

"To some people, that may sound like misery but it's just a lot of fun. You meet some great people to train with and of course it's a real physical challenge to complete.

"The training is especially enjoyable because you are doing three different athletic events so it stays interesting.

"I feel like a kid sometimes. You come out of the water and race to your bike. It's a lot of fun and exhilarating.

"And Ann Arbor is a great town for biking and for triathlons. Lots of people are involved in it and you easily find people to train with."

In her presidential duties this year, Wabeke hopes to get people more involved in the association. She has just returned from a national convention of the organization held in Key West.

"We are an all volunteer organization save for an accountant with an office in Chicago," she said. "We don't use work time for any of our activities so people have to have some dedication to the association.

"It's something you have to really want to do but the camaraderie is wonderful. You meet other people who work for the federal judiciary for all the other circuits. Everyone does things a little bit differently and it's great to meet each other and share our experiences and interest in professionalism.

"If there's one thing I've learned in my life it's that everything changes. That's why it's so important to remain involved in professional organizations such as our association.

"It goes without saying that no one ever predicted that we would be sending digitized court transcripts by email or uploading them to a computer.

"With the demise of the paper transcript, it's a good time to encourage our colleagues to get involved rather than remain in a reactionary mode. And that's what I hope to do among other things this year during my presidency."

Published: Thu, Nov 12, 2009


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