WILLIAMSPORT – It was 30 years ago when Roni Kreisher first walked into the Lycoming County Courthouse to start her job as a court reporter.
“It was scary,” she said. This was a world she had never experienced, full of people and tough topics she may have otherwise never heard or seen.
About five years later, Kreisher was assigned as the, then, newly appointed Judge Nancy Butts’ court reporter. As is the case with all of the county’s court reporters, Kreisher would stay with the judge for the entire length of her term.
The pair agree that their work together is more like a partnership than anything else. Now the county’s president judge, Butts said she and Kreisher have a great working relationship as well as a friendship outside of work.
Presiding over criminal cases and violent crimes means there are many tough days, Kreisher said. A naturally sensitive person, Kreisher said she cries a lot, but in the courtroom it’s important to not let emotion take over.
Regardless, Butts and Kreisher are each quick to remember their hardest case together – the death of a young boy in the early 2000s.
Each remembers the trial vividly, specifically the boy – blonde hair, blue eyes. At the time, Kreisher’s own two boys were very young and she couldn’t help imagining if something so terrible had happened to either of them.
“They brought his picture and they put it on the bench. And I couldn’t stop (crying),” Kreisher said, as even now tears streamed down her face.
“She just types away and the tears are coming down her face,” Butts said, remembering Kreisher’s dedication during the trial. “There is so much secondary trauma that we all receive, especially court reporters because they are so vulnerable. They don’t have the opportunity to blow their nose or take a break. They just have to keep, kind of, weathering on.”
It’s up to Kreisher to ensure that the transcript of the court proceedings is accurate and includes all the relevant participants – judge, attorneys, defendant and witnesses. But that doesn’t stop Kreisher from including loud verbal remarks from the audience as well, if she thinks it’s important to include.
These are key differences that make it hard to justify an entirely automated court reporter system. It’s a concern that many in the court system face, as recording equipment becomes more prominent and rumors fly that court reporters will be replaced by audio recorders.
“You can’t replace a human,” Kreisher said. Courtrooms often get heated and multiple people talk over each other, she said, adding that a machine couldn’t be trusted to ensure all of those people’s words are copied accurately.
But the fear of court reporter jobs being replaced by machines is making it hard to fill positions, Kreisher said. There is such a high demand for trained reporters, that Kreisher even fears retiring from her own job because she knows how hard it will be for the county to fill it.
To become a court reporter Kreisher had to learn an entirely new language – it’s called a theory and involves using a combination of letters and sounds to make words, which are then translated into English words.
It’s all done on her stenograph machine, a small typing machine that at first glance might look like a regular keyboard, but the keys don’t have any helpful letter correlations on them and the keys don’t create words that most people would immediately recognize.
Kreisher can type 225 words per minute on the machine, a requirement for all court reporters to have. Kreisher had to learn the theorem and be able to meet the typing requirements before taking her position in the courtroom.
Even though there are many tough days, Kreisher said she loves her job. The days are long and the work is hard, but she enjoys being part of a team and working with Butts, her partner and confidant.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I came here and I saw stuff that I had never seen before, heard things I’ve never heard before … really grown up.”