A tsunami of corporate greed and dishonesty has filled our nation’s leading providers of court reporting products and services. The big companies in the court reporting profession are like an obnoxious, gum-chewing roommate who owns a car when you don’t — just because we can’t live without them doesn’t mean that living with them is easy, especially when they’re, you know, trying to kill stenography and stuff.
You see, while the sales spiel of every moral company is to offer its community some way to make our lives better, to offer products and services that serve genuine human needs, a whole bunch of them in our niche legal industry have secretly been doing the exact opposite. These businesses need not be concerned about ethics in their pursuit of profit. Their weak view of corporate social responsibility drives their principal and overriding responsibility to shareholder profits, and their myopic view that their sole responsibility is to conduct the operations of the company in such a way as to maximize the wealth of their shareholders.
So, let’s get down to the brass tacks and discuss some of the worst examples … that we know about, anyway.
Planet Depos is one of the large international court reporting agencies that engages in a number of practices that skirt the rules and ethics of the profession.
First is cost shifting, where a court reporting agency gives their client, the lawyer who hires them, a discount and then turns around and charges the opposing counsel a much higher rate to make up for the loss. An easy way to spot this is when reporters are paid more for copy orders than for the original. Don’t fall for this.
Many states have anti-contracting statutes, but Planet Depos doesn’t appear to have any hesitation with skirting those. In Indiana, for example, their Code 33-41-3, bans court reporting services from entering into a contract with a person interested in the outcome of a litigation proceeding. The law was enacted during the O’Bannon administration specifically to stop national court reporting firms, but Planet Depo has gotten around the statute by enlisting the local firms on a case-by-case basis, rather than contracting with them.
Many states, such as Washington, have laws that requires court reporters to offer equal services and fees to all parties, but Planet Depos allegedly ignores those laws.
Fraudulent use of NCRA Certification logos
Kathy DiLorenzo, Planet Depo’s ambassador to reporters who is responsible for recruiting reporters all across the country, offers reporters large annual contracts to lock them in to working exclusively for Planet Depos. It’s much like an employment agreement, but calling it that would mean they’d actually have to pay employment taxes, so they just call it a contract to avoid those bothersome little details. Kathy retired from reporting after her stint as the President of the National Court Reporters Association, where, in her inaugural speech, she dared to be the first to broach the subject of being “method agnostic” and was tarred and feathered for it, and was tortured for her entire term. She was permanently emotionally scarred from the experience and confessed as much. The mere mention of it elicits a rather noticeable facial tick and twitch of her upper lip.
Wouldn’t you know, another NCRA past President now sits on the STTI board. Kathy DiLorenzo is listed as a Director. There she is right on the STTI home page of their website. Kathy assures reporters that they will always have a place in the industry, especially reporters that can do realtime and dailies. But in my humble opinion from personal observation, Kathy is on a mission to destroy the stenography industry and make sure that we all go to hell after what we did to her on the day of her inaugural speech as President of the NCRA. Who remembers the Steven King movie Carrie? Not sure if I should feel sorry for her or fear her. Probably safer to just fear her. She’s the only player of the lot of them that is in it with a personal vengeance, a woman scorned, and not pure profit motives.
Planet Depos is one of the biggest proponents of recruiting and training digital reporters, but worse, marketing and educating attorneys to use them and to change their deposition notices to get away with it in the 23 states that have laws against it.
Not only is Planet Depo’s “Digital Reporter” solution inferior, it actually contributes to exacerbating the court reporter shortage. After pouring money into recruiting and training digitals all over the country, Planet Depos realized it had a problem on its hands in the 23 states that require a licensed CSR to produce transcripts, but what’s worse is when they started to realize that, perhaps because of the shortage of certified shorthand reporters in the first place, they couldn’t find any CSR’s to produce transcripts of their audio/video recordings now after the fact. So Planet Depos hosted a Zoom seminar for court reporters on the state of the industry, which turned into a let’s-recruit-court-reporters-to-transcribe-our-audio-files presentation by building confidence in just how great their digital reporters were doing at pushing a button. Kathy and her team tried to set the stage with their phony STTI numbers that were based on a 2013/2014 Ducker Worldwide study. What’s phony about these slides and their projections are that they are not based on any current data, but they simply just took the old 2013/2014 Ducker data, that was obviously wrong in the first place, and only forecasted up to 2018, and then they drew the lines out on the graph in a downward progression to show the future up to 2023 and 2033, and voila! There you have it! An even greater shortage is predicted. All the numbers below that come after the 2013 study are completely fabricated by STTI and not substantiated by any independent study of our market.
At this reporter Zoom training, Kathy DiLorenzo then tried to convince the attendees that every stenographer who wanted a job would have one. But we needed to first help them solve the problem of our shortage by helping them with their backload of audio files that they’ve been doing without us just fine.
The obvious problem here is that transcribing audio files takes four times as long to transcribe and takes more manpower. It would require 4 people to do the job that we could do in person with only one human being. If you had a shortage of machine court reporters before they introduced their “digital reporting” solution to the world, then you’re going to have an even bigger shortage of court reporters after years of recording audio of proceedings are piling up. You can’t possibly train a transcription army of that size in all the nuances that it takes a machine stenographic reporter decades to learn in the field.
Another, more serious problem is that no self-respecting, ethical, professional and certified stenographic shorthand reporter would certify a transcript that they had no part in creating. That is, after all, what we are certifying when we sign our name, that it was taken in our presence. We are the responsible charge of the proceeding who not only was present for every word spoken, but we were at the center and in control of the entire production of the transcript and are putting our license on the line in certifying it. It means that we personally hired and oversaw the production of every aspect of creating the transcript. Court reporters hire subcontractors such as proofreaders and scopists who work under their direction and control. Court reporters have control over the transcript production at all times. Being handed a video or audio file by an agency is completely outside of our authority as the responsible charge. We have no idea who produced that video or audio, if it has been altered or compromised, and we don’t even know where the original file is housed, whether it’s some digi person in the Philippines or elsewhere. We have no idea how many hands it has been through.
The National Society of Professional Engineers went through a similar struggle in their profession when anyone could call themselves an “engineeer.” The NSPE put a stop to it by publishing a “Responsible Charge” statement on their website (which cost them nothing but brain power), they focused on getting every state to adopt a standard title of “Professional Engineer” (“PE”) and then mandating state licensing as a PE, and they criminalized anyone performing the duties of a PE without a license, and the licensing board was given the teeth and budget to prosecute offenders.
Planet Depo’s digital reporter solution is a complete failure and a danger to the entire legal industry. But they are continuing to recruit digital court reporters anyway.
This is from a Planet Depos newsletter send on December 22, 2022, where they advertise for “Digital Court Reporters” in every state. But you’ll see the April 20, 2023 newsletter now advertises for a “Deposition Officer” in California, where they were recently investigated, simply changing the title.
April 20, 2023 e-newsletter:
The California Court Reporters Board is powerless to act because of poorly written legislation that does not clearly state that it’s not only what title they use to call themselves, but it is the job they are doing that should be considered in these investigations, and does not give the CRB the power to enforce the laws,
Misleading advertising of NCRA certifications and advertising for digital court reporters to take jobs in states that don’t allow “digitals” by simply changing the job ad’s title are not all that I take issue with when it comes to Planet Depos. I saw a post on Facebook where Planet Depos was instructing their videographers on Zoom depos to call themselves the “court reporter.”
This image below was a letter from Planet Depos written in 2017 to their videographers when they were just getting started with their solution to just record a deposition with the intent of transcribing it later if it’s ever needed.
Here below is a Facebook comment about the letter by a certified stenographic shorthand reporter speculating about Planet Depos evolution of digitals. Being on the front lines, showing up in court where these fake transcripts are starting to be submitted (and getting rejected by judges), and in depositions at law offices all over the country, CSR’s see what’s happening with their own eyes, and they make friends with attorneys and paralegals and receptionists and hear what is happening in the law firms they service, and reporters (the real ones) talk to each other about what they’re seeing. Nothing is hidden.
Yes, that’s Planet Depos apparently instructing their videographer to put the camera on the floor to record the audio surreptitiously. This snippet should send a chill up the spine of every lawyer and judge in the country. This is written about a company that’s taking the law into their own hands, skirting the laws against surreptitious recordings, skirting the laws requiring a CSR in 23 states, violating the US Constitution’s 5th and 14th Amendments that offer due process protections to litigants, flagrantly casting aside all professional ethics.
Planet Depos can tell stenographers they’ll have a job as long as they want one until they’re blue in the face, but the reality is that they ARE replacing us. This type of post on Facebook is being seen more and more frequently.
In California, a Certified Shorthand Reporter must produce and certify a transcript in order for it to be admissible in court. A Certified Shorthand Reporter must also be present. They don’t have to be in person, with the COVID emergency orders still in place, but they must be present for the entire proceeding. Planet Depos and all the other players pushing their digital and AI solution don’t seem to be complying with the state laws in 23 states that require transcripts to be produced by certified reporters; don’t you think? They can stipulate to other means all they want, but judges, who are the ultimate arbiter, are not admitting transcripts produced by notaries or transcriptionists, and they’re also not admitting video that is not accompanied by transcripts signed by Certified Shorthand Reporters.
Planet Depos can coach law firms and attorneys about stipulating to using their inferior digital transcription and video-only methods all they want. Two attorneys can stipulate to anything they want. That much is true. But the judge must rule on it. And when it gets to court in trial, in the 5% of the cases that do make it to trial, it will not be admitted by a trial judge. Attorneys are playing Russian Roulette in taking a chance their cases won’t go to trial and that a judge won’t notice that their transcripts are not produced by a licensed Certified Shorthand Reporter in 23 states that require it or that they can get the other side to agree to offer a video with no accompanying transcript and pull one over on a judge who will allow it or that they can get an official court reporter pro tem who is obtuse enough to let them talk her into certifying their video at trial. Those attorneys are opening themselves up to the possibility of a malpractice lawsuit and better hope their malpractice insurance is up to date. They better hope they win their case and their client is happy with the result of the verdict, despite their legal malpractice and negligence.
Where do I start. Do I start with US Legal’s CSO allegedly bullying the women in our field? Or US Legal allegedly underpaying stenographers? Or with US Legal’s allegedly unreasonable rates for services. How about the fact that US Legal is allegedly misleading the world and exaggerating about the court reporter shortage with impunity?
U.S. Legal allegedly engages in cost shifting – and allegedly skirts the rules and ethics of the profession – by allegedly giving the lawyer who hires them a discount and making up for the loss by charging the opposing lawyer a much higher rate.
Or maybe we can discuss how US Legal is allegedly operating in the state of New York where it has been inactive for two decades?
But what about the $50,000 donation US Legal made to Project Steno to support the recruitment of stenographers? Isn’t that proof that they support stenographic methods?
If US Legal were legitimately changing course and embracing digital technology and method-agnostic speech-to-text technologies, then wouldn’t their $50k donation to promote recruiting stenos be “undermining” those efforts? Wouldn’t their business and employees and customers and shareholders be harmed? Let me explain why that is possibly not the case. In order for US Legal, and the others, to succeed in fundamentally transforming our legal ecosphere with their “digital reporter” solution, they still need machine stenographers; right? Why? Well, for one, there are still laws in 23 states that require that transcripts be produced by licensed certified stenographic reporters or voicewriters. But most importantly, and most overlooked, is the fact that stenographers don’t learn most of what they need to do their jobs in school. They learn it on the job. And there is no textbook in existence to teach everyone what stenographers know in order to replace us. -There is literally no one-place-you-can-go to learn the art of stenography and producing transcripts. It doesn’t exist. So until they can change the laws in 23 states, and until they can suck all that knowledge from our collective brains, they need us.
Regardless of the appearance of helping stenographers and ingratiating themselves with all things steno, the President & CEO of US Legal is on the board of directors of the Speech-to-Text Institute. That says it all.
Verbit isn’t even a company that’s in the court reporting profession. They’re the ultimate outsider with no connection to the court reporting industry. Court reporters across the country are receiving cold calls from telemarketing people at Verbit who are claiming that they have more “NCRA certified legal transcriptionists” than any company in the U.S. They are so ignorant about our industry that they don’t even know that’s not even a certification that the National Court Reporters Association offers. There’s no such thing. Verbit is perpetrating the greatest fraud ever committed in our Legal Industry, if not all of America.
Verbit is an Israeli company, but they claim to be headquartered in Manhattan, New York, which is allegedly a lie. They claim to have Unicorn Status, where they are valuated at over $1 Billion, but they have no presence in the legal industry which they claim to serve. Their plan is to replace all court reporters in the United States with their subpar automated speech recognition (ASR) software, but they’ve been calling stenographers and begging them to certify their transcripts for them. Their allegedly outright lies and false claims are destroying the image of stenographers — you know, the real court reporters, steno machine writers and voice writers, stenographers, the real guardians of the record, the Responsible Charge; don’t you think?
Verbit claims their Automated Speech Recognition solution is 90% or more accurate; however, a Stanford University studied ASR from the largest companies in the world and found that it’s only 50 to 80 percent accurate, and that’s just with the words appearing on a page. Court reporters are marked off for punctuation errors and formatting errors on tests where we must achieve an accuracy of 96.5% to pass. Realtime reporters, however, consistently write at above 99.8% accuracy. With 300 words on a page, Verbit’s ASR would only be getting 150 words correct, without punctuation. A good realtime reporter makes one mistake every 4 pages, and that could just be a punctuation error. Their claim that ASR is 90% accurate does not include punctuation, which is not included at all in ASR programs.
Automatic Speech Recognition has many well-documented problems. Dropped text due to latency and well-documented racial bias have no place in our legal system or in the captioning industry. With published proof that digital reporters in Kentucky are utilizing speech-to-text companies like Verbit for their transcription needs, privacy should also be of the utmost concern for litigators and litigants alike.
Verbit was allegedly caught putting real transcripts of legal proceedings up on their website to test and train new transcribers – transcribers who are not licensed, not sworn in, not even located in the United States. Verbit allegedly did this without any permission from any of the litigants related to the transcripts. The breach of privacy is grossly egregious in my humble opinion. It’s the kind of practice an outsider to not only the legal industry, but to the United States of America would make, and one that should not be tolerated; right?
Verbit is allegedly in bed with all of the big proponents of Digital Reporting in our industry. We found out that BlueLedge allegedly has ties to Veritext, US Legal, and even Stenograph. Verbit’s only “in” to our court reporting profession has been to partner with the defectors, our Achilles heel. These traitors of the court reporting profession were the only ones to embrace Verbit’s subpar AI technology. They’re holding onto each other like shipwrecked swimmers hoarding pieces of wood. They’re getting absolutely no support from the tried-and-true traditional Gold Standard of the mainstream Court Reporting profession.
VeriTEXT is the biggest offender, in my opinion, when it comes to cost shifting practices – and allegedly skirts the rules and ethics of the profession – by giving the lawyer who hires them a discount and making up for the loss by charging the opposing lawyer a much higher rate.
But where Veritext has really screwed over reporters is with their Digital Training programs. Rather than recruiting and training new stenographers to enter the field, they have decided that it’s more profitable — 50% more, in fact — to create a whole new field that can push a record button. According to Andy Fredericks, Veritext’s Director of Operations in CA, digital court reporters now make up 10% of their business and is growing. If Veritext has an estimated annual revenues of $100 million, that would mean their digital business is already garnering $10 million for them annually, roughly, and it’s growing rapidly. The profits on their digital program is 50% higher than using stenographers who invoice for their services. Veritext is charging the same rates to their attorney clients whether they send a stenographer or a digital button pusher. And Veritext has no plans to back down from their aggressive plan to grow their digital business. What’s really egregiously wrong about this though, in my humble opinion, is the fact that Veritext is going about pushing digitals on their clients by lying about not having an available stenographer to send, when, in fact, the shortage is not as exaggerated as Veritext is claiming it to be.
Veritext is even paying their new digitals salaries and benefits, which crosses the line and violates the ethics of the profession, allegedly. There are attorneys who sit on Veritext’s board, which makes it a conflict of interest, in my humble opinion, for Veritext’s digital employees to be working on cases, whether it be trials or depos. It would also be a conflict of interest for stenographers to be working for Veritext because of its board that includes attorneys, or even worse, reporting a deposition or trial where one of the Veritext Board Member attorneys is on the case you’re reporting!
Many reporters have allegedly witnessed Veritext boldly skirting the laws that require transcripts be certified by Certified Shorthand Reporters (CSR’s) in 23 states. Veritext has created marketing materials and is hosting Zoom training sessions for attorneys and paralegals in 23 states to teach them how to skirt the laws by changing the wording on their depo notices to say that if a stenographer is not available, they will use a digital.
But Veritext goes farther in their alleged scheme to break the laws in those 23 states. They are having these digital recordings then transcribed by notaries, not Certified Shorthand Reporters as the law requires in 23 states. When asked about this, Andy Fredericks fessed up and openly, boldly admitted to me, that yes, in fact, they ARE having transcripts produced by notaries in CA, a state that requires by law that transcripts be produced by CSR’s, and he professed that he knows of “no law that prohibits attorneys from stipulating away those laws. ” But they’re also just skipping the stipulation and stating that “absent an objection,” they’re basically just going to break the law and do what they want; right? This deposition had “Ivory Hallstein,” a “Digital Reporter” and “notary” swear the deponent, record the proceedings, and then included a signed certificate of Notary Public by Ivory, page 27 at the end stating that it was transcribed from the recording, and then the transcriber’s certificate on page 28, clearly violating the law in CA.
What’s even more shocking is that Veritext is now including a “Company Certificate” on transcripts. Veritext is now the transcriptionist. Get a load of this:
Veritext’s “Company Certificate” claims that the transcript and exhibits were submitted by a court reporter, yet no court reporter was involved in this deposition whatsoever. Veritext was acting solely as a transcription company. Then their “Company Certificate” goes on to state that Veritext “complies with all federal and state regulations with respect to the provision of court reporting services,” while not actually offering any court reporting services. Veritext only provided transcription services, which is against the law in CA to have a deposition transcript produced by anyone other than a California Certified Shorthand Reporter. Veritext is claiming to be the Responsible Charge, a position only a Certified Stenographic Court Reporter should have. Veritext employs the digital notary, employs the transcriptionist, has attorneys sit on their board who are also using Veritext for their deposition and court proceedings to produce their transcripts, all of which are unethical and are a conflict of interest, in my humble opinion.
Well, Andy Fredericks of Veritext, you’re looking for the law that prohibits attorneys from stipulating away the law, but you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s unconstitutional. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States protect the Due Process rights of litigants that you are violating with impunity, out of your own mouth! All persons are to be protected of Due Process of Law. These articles act as a restraint against those that seek to change the law by its mere will, which is what Veritext is doing and is teaching attorneys and paralegals to do in an attempt to make more profits for themselves.
Sure, attorneys can freely stipulate to anything, but in order to make it so, it requires the ruling of the court! You cannot simply stipulate to break the law and then just break the law. The judge gets to decide and rule on attorneys’ stipulations when it comes to laws. Judges are the ones who make a ruling as to whether or not your transcript or video that was produced without the involvement of a Certified Shorthand Reporter get to come into his courtroom or not, and they’re not and they won’t.
According to the CRB, only certified transcripts created by a licensed court reporter are guaranteed to be accepted in court. In the case of the deposition transcripts above, a judge in Kern County CA refused to admit these transcripts that were not transcribed by a licensed CA shorthand reporter in a CA trial where they were attached to a motion in that trial this past summer of 2021.
|CALIFORNIA CODES – CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE – SECTION 2025.010 – 2025.620|
Warning To Digital Innovators: Regulated Industries Can Bite…
Yes, Anir, the Stenography industry is unlike any industry you’ve ever experienced because it’s Regulated. We’re not “divided.” We stand united behind Steno. You’re dividing us with your move to cater to button pushers who are unlicensed in a regulated industry!
The backlash over Stenograph’s new MaxScribe product has been seen as an attack on corporate freedom and digital entrepreneurship as a whole. Such claims are inaccurate because undertakings, irrespective of their legal form, location and mode of operation (digital/ ‘traditional’), are equally subject to, among others, (i) competition law; (ii) the respective regulatory framework, and (iii) rules on (un)fair competition. If an undertaking is found to be in violation of any of these, then naturally respective measures shall be taken to deal with the consequences of the infringement.
At the same time, these decisions are part of an increasing pattern whereby conflicts between regulated business and digital networking platforms in many different industries are playing out in the legal and regulatory arenas. Booking.com is a typical example. Others include Uber, Airbnb, and PayPal. The case of Booking.com should be seen from this perspective. Access to the website has been restricted temporarily by the Turkish court on the grounds of unfair competition, and technically, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) has implemented the order of the court.
To be abundantly clear, Anir Duta, the President of Stenograph, the largest 800-lb gorilla in the Stenography industry, now sits on the board as Vice President of STTI, The Speech To Text Institute, which many have called out as being a conflict of interest. Some claim, with merit, that STTI is a propaganda machine for proponents of digital technology.
Since I began writing this article, Anir Dutta’s video has been removed where he talks about his dismay at how our industry is divided on the issue of introducing method agnostic technologies to produce a transcript, which he wrongly believes is our end product. The only YouTube video of Anir that is remaining is his interview with Jim Cudahy of STTI on Spotify.
Who does Anir say he has a duty to? Who are his stakeholders in this ecosystem? He describes them as the stenographers, voice reporters, digital reporters, or agencies, or transcription services. But he leaves off the most important stakeholders in the legal ecosystem: the attorneys, judges, and litigants. And let me just add my observation that digital reporters, agencies, and transcription services have never been Stenograph’s customers or focus, that is, before Anir arrived. He’s selling out the litigants, attorneys, and judges to go after the bigger profits that he can get by catering to the new stakeholders – the agencies now hiring notaries, videographers, and transcription services who are all seeking to replace machine stenographic court reporters, his bread and butter. He may just succeed if we don’t do more to stop him now, while he still needs us. We won’t have any leverage left once we reach a tipping point.
Yesterday’s news story (4/18/2023) says it all.
The news sent shock waves through the court reporting community yesterday, leaving decades-long supporters scrambling for other options as software and hardware providers.
The outrage is real:
Stenograph’s new leadership could be to blame for the new direction. In an effort to expand their market reach and increase profits with new technology offerings, they are alienating the customers that have spent 80 years being loyal to them, supporting them, building them, and buying their products that were built specially for their niche market. By focusing on the “transcription” aspect of a court reporters’ job, they are missing the essence of the value that we bring to the legal profession altogether. My belief and understanding is that Stenograph aims to REPLACE steno court reporters, steno agencies, steno CART providers, steno captioners, and steno students with inferior transcriptionists. Their new partnership speaks volumes.
Where do we go from here?
You don’t have a real court reporting industry if the dominant portion of it has no interest in being legal. There’s no other regulated industry in the world that operates like that.
The regulated businesses’ discontent is understandable since customers favor companies that are taking full advantage of the digital economy/world and offering cheaper services, wider choice, larger corporate profits, etc. Digital entrepreneurs may even be several steps ahead of ‘traditional’ service providers in some aspects like recruiting, sales, and training. This is not bad. Being able to adjust your business to the emerging challenges of the digital economy is part of being competitive and successful in the market, as long as it is done within the legal and regulatory framework (i.e. taxation, licensing, permits, fair competition, working conditions, etc.).
In any case, regulated businesses that are currently at war with digital entrepreneurs may be perceived as unofficial ‘watchdogs’ of online platforms’ compliance with laws and regulations. Beware…they may bite!
Court reporters need to look to other regulated industries and start implementing some of the actions they’ve taken to fight off unregulated outliers. Court reporters need to stand united, adopt customized technologies that can ensure their success, and fight back against the invasion of digital entrepreneurs who threaten not only the livelihood of licensed and legitimate court reporters, but Justice!
A divide in the industry has been taking place. It’s time to just call it what it is. Those businesses who are adopting digital reporting where they record the proceedings and have it transcribed later, are simply “transcription companies” now, and not “court reporting” companies. If every stenographer and voice writer stopped working for “transcription” companies and buying software and hardware from transcription companies, and let the world know that those companies are no longer “court reporting” companies, it could end this fight right now. The money they make off court reporters when working for them and the money they make when their products are bought goes to marketing digital alternatives and are helping them to pivot to this new business that threatens not only the livelihood of court reporters, but their very existence; wouldn’t you agree? In my opinion, if court reporters continue to support them, it will be the death of court reporters and the court reporting profession. It will be the death of Justice in America!
Reporters divide and conquer, but they also must be united. We are stronger together!
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