Related: Stenonymous Slays Speech-to-Text Institute. A hobbyist blog did more to fight corporate fraud than the FTC in our case.
I’ve been made aware of the lawsuit Pasqual Perez III v the Speech-to-Text Institute, the Texas Court Reporters Association, and a host of other court reporting services. Maybe I didn’t beat STTI, maybe it deleted its site to cover its anticompetitive behavior.
I did ask Pasqual, who I’ve always known as Trey, for comment before I posted this blog. I asked a few others too, but since there’s pending litigation, people understandably didn’t have any comment to make.
I think the most creative way to approach this is go bit by bit through the lawsuit and share my thoughts as someone who has a good general understanding of the field and has been talking about Speech-to-Text Institute’s anticompetitive behavior for a long time.
Beginning is real simple. It’s an antitrust action. Competitors cannot get together and perform group boycotts to force other competitors out of the market. That’s the basic idea going forward.
They mention this “fend off the attack by the barbarians,” line and attribute it to “the former president of the National Court Reporters Association.” I become confused by this later, because they attribute it to Steve Townsend. I thought he was involved in AAERT and STTI, not NCRA. Now, keep in mind, this is just a complaint. Just like the US Legal lawsuit, it’s just allegations. Let’s keep going.
Blah, blah, blah, boring legal stuff. That’s what this part is. It’s true.
The complaint starts listing the parties and talks a little bit about the field, how some lawyers contract directly with court reporters and some use litigation support firms. Pretty standard stuff.
This continues for a little while.
It names the Texas Court Reporters Association as a party, as you see above. Then it mentions the Speech-to-Text Institute.
Still nothing special. It’s just going through and talking about who the parties are.
This is where it gets kind of interesting and mentions Steve Townsend in the context of NCRA again. I would appreciate it if court reporters with a better memory than mine correct the record, but I really remember Townsend as AAERT and not NCRA. The complaint is basically saying that STTI was meant to keep competition like Trey’s out of the market in favor of the established methods. I actually think there’s some truth to that and sent an email to the plaintiff lawyer, which is included at the bottom for your viewing pleasure.
The complaint gets into a little more about the industry. Still nothing particularly juicy for my audience, who are mostly court reporters that know roughly how this stuff works.
Now, it launches into an allegation that innovative technology is not welcome in the court reporting industry, and I would actually argue that this is true, but with a simple explanation. The digital court reporting side of the equation is obsessed with firm profits. They’ll push digital regardless of who it hurts or how illegal or unethical the behavior might be. The stenographic side is skeptical of technology claims because they’ve been misleading for at least the last half decade. There are studies such as Testifying While Black and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition, which point to the inferiority of other methods. Right off the bat, the stenographic defendants are in a much better spot, because they can simply say they weren’t convinced the tech was right for them based on the long history of tech sellers outright lying to people in our field. I’m not saying Trey is a liar. I actually think he’s one of the honest business owners out there. But I am saying that court reporting businesses are right to be wary, and my cursory understanding of law makes me think that might just be a problem for his lawsuit.
This part is mostly about uncertified roughs. I think that’s where plaintiff believed the money would be. It’s a fair allegation.
Then it’s laid out that before being blackballed, comments from a Lexitas production manager seemed to point at his product being accepted.
The allegation is made that Shelly Tucker told him he was being blackballed. Obviously, in the context of an antitrust suit, these would be important statements for the parties, and eventually, a fact finder, to examine. But again, court reporters could just point to the long history of tech claims being deceptive and say that Trey just got lumped in with them in their minds. As far as I know, businesses can all independently come to the conclusion that they don’t want to work with another business. If they can point to doubts they had about the product or things they didn’t like about Trey’s reputation, it might just be enough to explain why they came to that independent conclusion. And Trey does have a bit of a reputation. For example, he was being fairly abrasive in one of my Facebook groups, and I had to ban him. But then later we had a brief discussion, and I remember understanding some of where he was coming from. I guess my point is that this is a mixed bag, and if he got abrasive with business owners, they might just point to that behavior to escape this lawsuit.
This is more of the same. Was it antitrust blackballing? Was it a concerted effort to break competition? Or was it the “tech exhaustion” that court reporters have suffered from for decades? Remember, we’ve had tech sellers telling us our replacement is on the way for decades. At a certain point, you’d just start to paint all tech solutions with the same “prove it or lose it,” attitude conveyed here. It mentions how court reporters got angry over the Stenograph logo change. But to be fair, Stenograph had other problems.
It mentions that court reporters attempted to get regulatory action taken against Pasqual and StoryCloud. The complaint against Trey was dismissed. The writ filed against the JBCC for StoryCloud caused the company to shut down, so in the court of public opinion, we’re pretty sure they were breaking the law. Again, not Trey, StoryCloud.
I’m just going to put this out there, it’s absurd to think that trying to get the government to enforce the law equally is anticompetitive. I understand if this is being given for background, explaining that Trey’s company was not breaking the law, but otherwise, I don’t see the value.
This is where we point the finger at the Texas Court Reporters Association. It’s basically saying “hey look, they were discussing me right before this boycott.” But I think it’s the substance of those discussions that might make or break the case against TCRA. Court reporting associations across the country are very, very cautious when it comes to behavior that might violate the antitrust laws. Some might say overprotective. For example, trade associations can gather and distribute aggregated pricing data, but almost none of them do because they’re afraid of antitrust claims. Reconciling that fact with the idea that TCRA was engaging in conspiratorial or group boycott behavior is going to be one of the paramount goals of the plaintiff.
The complaint talks about the markets this affects. It’s actually really interesting because it breaks down what I would refer to as the court reporting and stenotype services market into certified transcript, uncertified transcript, video recording, and speech-to-text markets.
It keeps going on about the markets. I didn’t see anything particularly important at this part beyond fleshing out the complaint/allegations some more.
This is where the complaint really starts to drive home the damages. Basically boils down to “we were blackballed and boycotted in all these markets and then we lost substantial revenue.” If you follow my work, you know that I consulted with a lawyer as it pertains to the Speech-to-Text Institute’s anticompetitive behavior, and I was told that a successful action needed 1) Monopoly power, 2) Anticompetitive act, 3) Damage. If Trey can show damage, he might really be able to stick it to the Speech-to-Text Institute. Anyone reading this has probably figured out that I have some doubt that the case can be proven against stenographic court reporters. But I think it’s a slam dunk on STTI, the organization that failed to defend itself against fraud claims made by me for like a year and a half and that was, in fact, a group of competitors syndicated behind a shell nonprofit to pump the market with misinformation and manipulate it — the same organization that deleted its website about a month after this lawsuit we’re talking about was filed.
I don’t know about procompetitive, but I do know there are social and political reasons for stenographers to stand up against the speech-to-text stuff. Again, it’s all related to the bogus claims made by tech sellers of the past and the science that I mentioned. That’s not a reflection of Trey’s business, but it is an unfortunate market reality.
More legal jargon and the beginning of the prayer for relief. The complaint is starting to wrap up at this point.
This part mentions that to the extent any procompetitive business objectives exist, such objectives could’ve been achieved by something other than total boycott. I actually agree here. I think the players in the market can invest in a little more science to work out what the best methods are in what circumstances. But this responsibility falls to the bigger fish in the pond, as a lot of the smaller owners simply can’t afford to fund such an endeavor. Coincidentally, many of those bigger fish were backing the Speech-to-Text Institute’s bogus claims and its agenda of market manipulation.
The complaint continues to state the causes of action. For anybody that’s never drafted a complaint before, if your complaint doesn’t allege facts that would support a cause of action, your lawsuit can be dismissed. Federal pleading standards changed after Twombly, so lawyers need to write much better complaints than in years gone by.
Plaintiff demands a jury trial and asks for an injunction, damages, treble damages, attorneys’ fees, and interest.
There it was. His lawyer’s email. I couldn’t help myself. I felt compelled to write to Dov Preminger. So I did.
If more information comes in, I’ll put an addendum right below here or make a new post.