PCRA President warns: proposed audio system has pitfalls

The Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association’s president wants Erie County officials to “do their homework” and proceed carefully regarding a proposal to install more than $100,000 worth of digital audio recording equipment in all courtrooms at the Erie County Courthouse.

“Live court reporters take down every word as it is spoken, ensuring that the record does not contain inaudible and indiscernible sections that cannot be transcribed,” said Lillian Freiler, of Schuylkill County, a 35-year court reporting veteran. Her association represents more than 300 court reporters statewide.

“A recording device,” Freiler said, “cannot perform this task.”

An ordinance on Erie County Council’s agenda for a first reading Tuesday night seeks to set aside $104,102 to equip all nine courtrooms at the county courthouse, along with Erie County Council chambers and a room used for juvenile court hearings, with digital audio recording equipment.

County Council does not vote on first-reading ordinances, and unlike resolutions — which require only one reading — ordinances require two readings before passage.

County Council could take a final vote on the issue as soon as its next regular meeting, on Feb. 21.

County officials said they believe the project would make it easier to prepare court transcripts and help the county’s court reporters, Erie County Court Administrator Tom Aaron has told County Council members.

But Freiler — who contacted the Erie Times-News after reading a story in Sunday’s newspaper about county government’s plans — said court officials in Ohio, Texas, New Jersey and other locations have experienced problems with digital recording systems.

She cited the experience of prosecutors in Hamilton County, Ohio, where charges against a capital murder defendant were dismissed in 2011 because recording equipment used during grand jury proceedings was not working, something prosecutors did not know at that time.

“Electronic recorders are not the wave of the future,” Freiler said.

Aaron said today that court officials understand the systems are not perfect, but the county believes the recording equipment is a wise investment.

“You’re dealing with equipment. Of course there is a chance of failure,” Aaron said. “In this case, it’s a risk we’re willing to take. There’s a lot of counties in Pennsylvania using this technology right now.”

Aaron said if council passes the ordinance, the purchase of equipment will happen via a public bidding process.

Source: goErie.com