So the Depp v Heard trial has been dominating headlines for a while. It wasn’t good enough for stenography industry news until it started popping up on stenographer social media. Questions started to surface about a video that allegedly showed Judy Bellinger, a stenographer covering the trial, hugging Johnny Depp at an after party. There was skepticism on the part of many stenographers, and it was eventually revealed that the moment captured on camera actually occurred when Judy went to get her equipment.
An outrage story turned into a feel-good one, at least until Judy was quoted as saying some jurors were dozing off.
Once again, stenographer social media was alight with a mix of support and outrage. For some of us, having somebody tell it like it is is cathartic. Many take issue with a court reporter commenting so publicly on specific identifiable proceedings she reported.
Now, I’m an advocate for the integrity of our profession. My personal stance is that I’ll agree with just about anyone that believes we shouldn’t be commenting much on our cases. But I have to give substantial credit, Bellinger’s managed to get more press coverage for the word stenographer than I have, and I’ve put considerable effort in.
One thing I spotted on social media? Stenographer stress. I’d like to offer some new perspectives to diminish that stress. This is a chance for all of us to go back to our mentees and professional circles and have a discussion about best practices. It’s ultimately about growth. I know many of us feel that one bad incident or “misspeaking” can reflect poorly on us all. But I’ve come to a realization that few professions have that sort of thinking, and the ones that do, such as law enforcement, have it thrust on them by media, they don’t agree and say “ah, yes, a cop did an arguably questionable thing, so we’re all questionable!” We need to let go of that mindset of absolutism for our own sanity and advancement.
As for advancement, I would propose steering the discussions toward what we tell our students. As of writing, I would propose the following:
- On the initial video that showed the hug. Let our students know that there are cameras just about everywhere and that guarding against the appearance of impropriety is important. This is not to say that Judy Bellinger did anything wrong, but we still have a valid discussion in that it is a tricky thing to guard against the “appearance” of something because everyone has a slightly different bar for “appearance.” For example, my only training on guarding against the appearance of impropriety, which I had over half a decade ago, involved second guessing even shaking a party’s hand in court. There are also state and regional attitudes to consider.
- On the quote about jurors dozing off, I have to say that my personal stance is to generally avoid commenting on matters I’ve taken, especially if they are identifiable. This is not to say I believe court reporters should never have or even express an opinion. Again, this is not to say Judy Bellinger did anything wrong. But there are ways to make comments about sleeping jurors without making comments about sleeping jurors. “You know, I’ve been doing this for X years, and I notice that sometimes jurors don’t appear to be paying full attention.” “What about in this case?” “I decline to comment on this case.” I’d propose going ahead and having a discussion with students about talking to the media.
- On the right v wrong argument. No matter where you sit on the spectrum of any argument or debate, there’s a “reality wins” component. For an idea of how this works, we can examine my blogging. I’ve made the case many times that the pay in New York is atrocious to the point of being “wrong.” Some court reporting companies do not care and continue to pay stenographers less than $3.50 per page. The reality of the situation changes dependent upon how successful I am at applying social and/or economic pressure and not how “right” I am. Similarly, in an analysis of whether Judy Bellinger did anything wrong, being right means very little. The real challenge is in creating, communicating, and seeing through the adoption of better ways to handle similar situations. Training our students to be solution-oriented people and avoid the black-and-white, good-versus-evil thinking that grips many of us, including myself from time to time, will create better outcomes.
I have no idea what might arise as a result of the media coverage. Should new developments arise, I’ll post an addendum. Please feel free to comment below even if you disagree with my assessment! I’ve never censored a non-spam comment and don’t intend to start!