Verbit Published Kentuckiana Proceeding Audio Online Without Anyone’s Permission

It came to my attention some time ago that Verbit was using a real proceeding’s audio to test its potential transcribers. After entering one’s information, one will get to a screen that encourages him or her to download all the files and put together a transcript from the information and audio given.

Legal professionals = transcribers.

I’ve already made it pretty clear I don’t like digital reporting as a modality. It can threaten access to justice and is the corner-cutting modality of my industry. I don’t like Verbit either. As I see it, consumers and investors are being misled constantly by the company. I do love digital reporters, but mostly because I see them as being taken advantage of. As I see it, we can bring them into the mainstream stenographic court reporting industry and train them to stenotype just like us. I’m very pro-people, and that’s why one of my biggest criticisms of US Legal Support was that it was using all of its power to mislead people into believing the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve while doing nothing to recruit stenographers.

But this just takes my criticism of digital reporting and Verbit to a whole new level. Anyone with access to the link from anywhere in the world can just pop on and download a bunch of files from somebody’s case. These files have been accessible since July 2021 that I personally know of, and these files were still accessible as of September 15, 2021.

Each of the green buttons is a file that you can click and download.

The whole thing leaves me in a pretty tough position. I want to prove this is happening so that court reporters can warn the legal community. But just dumping the evidence onto the internet a second time will violate the parties’ privacy more than it has already been violated. With heavy redaction, though, we can go through the various files and get a good idea of it. Let’s start with the cover page. Just remember, the redactions were put there by me. In the actual files there are no redactions.

This was surprising to me, because usually family court stuff is usually private in my jurisdiction of New York. It’s not something the entire world is able to get its hands on.

There’s a file labeled TAG, which appears to be the digital reporter or video operator’s annotations. If I am correct about that, this is a window into just how useless the annotations are for a transcriber.

Redactions are mine. The full file has names and information I just don’t think should be published on this blog.

There’s a file containing a notice of deposition. To limit the time spent redacting, I’ll offer up the first page only.

Remember, I was only able to get my hands on this because of Verbit’s recklessness with it.

The “must read” file comes next. Since that’s created entirely by Verbit, it’s downloadable here.

Then there’s a Verbit guidelines page, which seems harmless enough. But it hilariously refers to a “USLS” manual. The file is literally named “redone for USLS,” which to me seems to be fairly good circumstantial evidence that Verbit has a connection to US Legal Support. Not only is US Legal potentially defrauding consumers by making bad claims about the stenographer shortage, they might be working with a company so ignorant of good court reporting practice that it posted a proceeding online.

For the sake of completeness, I went looking for a USLS Manual and I found a 2017 version. Interestingly enough, it reads very much like an employee manual and has very specific formats for jobs. Remember, common law employees are all about who has direction and control of the work. I would say that if US Legal is or was using a 150-something page manual to “train” its “freelancers,” those people are actually common law employees and US Legal probably should have been paying employment taxes for them. What a shame it would be if I uploaded that manual and someone let the IRS know there was potentially a failure to withhold those taxes.

Back to Verbit’s files, they offer a template, which is more or less a transcription of the audio file they’re asking transcribers to transcribe. It is the single greatest indictment against digital reporting I have ever seen. The reporter’s name, Hang Nguyen, is misspelled as Han. The term “court reporter” is spelled “core reporter.” There’s a missing apostrophe. There’s a zero in the word “point.” She asks them to state their appearance and how they’re attending, but somehow it’s transcribed as “state your up here.” There are so many errors that quite frankly I hope my reporting colleagues do not let this go and that they take the time to send this to their bar associations. I am quite sure there are stenographic reporters that make mistakes. I personally make mistakes. But this falls well within the territory of “way too many mistakes to be normalized and accepted by our justice system.”

I bet you Hang Nguyen could be trained to be a damn good stenographer and would do far better than whoever transcribed this.
Remember, companies don’t typically tell their digital reporters we’re an option, let alone that we are the market preference.

There’s a Kentuckiana reporter worksheet that’s published by Verbit. It’s a pretty standard worksheet, so I will not bother to publish it here.

We get to the audio file, and it’s a 22-minute file. Given that this proceeding is a family court matter between two individuals, it’s not appropriate for me to republish, but again, it was available on the internet for months and being used to screen or train Verbit transcribers. It’s real testimony about a family court matter.

This image shows the file time on the right.

I set out to investigate whether permission had been granted to Verbit to publish these proceedings on the internet. In full disclosure, court reporters have shared audio in our field, but it’s usually a snippet of a word or sentence for clarification purposes and not large chunks of testimony with information that can identify parties. Now, I don’t really like Kentuckiana because of their pro-digital stance, but when I reached out, Michael McDonner seemed very reasonable and made it very clear, permission was not given to distribute this audio.

I had the link and I gave it to him in the hopes he could do something about this.

But what about the attorneys? Maybe John Schmidt said it was okay.

John Schmidt did not say it was okay. And I gave him the files and link from my investigation.

But perhaps Amber Cook had given permission?

“the public should have had no access to the depositions.”

I reached out to Hang Nguyen on LinkedIn but I got no response as of writing. I also reached out to Leor Eliashiv from Verbit. Predictably, there was no response. But at the very least, Kentuckiana made a commitment to demand the audio be taken off the internet after I told them where to find it.

I asked Kentuckiana to consider using stenographic transcribers. I pointed out that we spend a lot of time training our newbies not to make the kinds of mistakes that have been made here.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Kentucky, I’m clueless. I have a pretty good relationship with Lisa Migliore from Migliore & Associates. Just to be sure, I asked whether what Verbit was doing was good court reporting practice in that state, and she answered that it was not, citing the Kentucky Court Reporters Association Code of Professional Responsibility.

“…I find it very concerning that one cannot obtain this from our local courthouse–yet it is easily accessible by any number of people located across the world with nothing more than an email address and/or a real or fictitious name.”

For so long our institutions and businesses have been trying to find a way to say we are the superior product. Maybe the answer is to just show consumers what they’re really signing up for if they entrust the future of the legal record to companies like Verbit, tons of errors and potential breaches of privacy. We have to direct people to the many resources to learn stenographic court reporting, such as NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno. We have to get serious about educating consumers. Please consider a donation to Protect Your Record Project today. They have been pioneers and powerhouses in consumer awareness, and it is largely thanks to them that this article will reach thousands.

Addendum:

Within 24 hours after the posting of this blog the files were taken off of the internet.

This is where it used to be.