The documents scopists prepare can carry a lot of weight in a court of law. And the bread and butter of a scopist’s legal work is the deposition.
If you’re new to court reporting or to the legal world in general, the concept of a deposition may be unfamiliar, but you’ve probably heard of the concept. A deposition is when someone important to a legal case takes an oath to tell the truth. If they lie, they can face severe penalties.
You may remember a scene from the movie The Social Network, when the young Mark Zuckerberg is interrogated by an attorney in a severe oak paneled room. Here’s the clip:
Basically the attorney asks Zuck a condescending question. Zuck responds with an even more condescending answer that “I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no…” In other words, Zuck is saying this is a deposition, everything I say here has to be true and therefore, you’ve given me a legal obligation to be snarky. The idea is that every word in a deposition counts.
Because the deposed person is acting under oath, every word must be true. A deposition under oath is frequently used during cross-examination of witnesses when their testimony in court is inconsistent. The accuracy of the words in a deposition can be crucial when considering the credibility of witnesses in court. Depositions can have real and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people involved, and that is why it is so important that every word be accurate.
Early in my career, a civil deposition literally decided a criminal conviction. A man had been arrested on serious drug charges and had $23,000 in cash in his possession at the time of arrest. Ultimately, it was the written record of his deposition during a civil condemnation proceeding that lead directly to his conviction in the criminal case.
Court Reporter Clients are Counting on Your Accurate Transcriptions
A lot of people can be involved in a deposition (see wikipedia for details on deposition proceedings). There are attorneys, litigants, and a court reporter. Each person can remember something differently or hear it differently. It’s up to the court reporter to record each word accurately, but it’s the scopist’s responsibility to check that accuracy.
There is no doubt that each person in the room has a vested interested in hearing what he or she wants to hear in a deposition. It’s up to the court reporter and by extension the scopist to see to it that the true and accurate wording is recorded.
The Bottom Line
Scopists are responsible for protecting the integrity of a document that can decide a criminal conviction or award thousands of dollars. The documents created by a court reporter at a deposition can be subject to the interpretations of attorneys, litigants, and judges. It is the scopist’s job to make sure that every word is correct and accurate, and it is a job that can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives.
Written by Patricia Stone, an attorney and partner at the law firm of Stone & Sullivan LLC located in Savannah, GA. Her practice areas include family law, education law, juvenile, criminal and general civil litigation. She is also a mediator in Savannah, GA and a senior Juvenile Court Judge. She earned her law degree from Walter F. George School of Law of Mercer University in 1995.