HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Our nation has been dealing with a shortage of court reporters, and just recently Horry County courts have been impacted. An average starting salary for a court reporter in South Carolina is about $40,000. Their job is to copy down everything that's said in a plea hearing or trial. Without them, there's no way to have court.
In response to the shortage of court reporters in our own state, the South Carolina Judicial Department has turned to digital recordings for assistance. Horry County Clerk of Court Renee Elvis, said there's a couple factors in play for the lack of court reporters. Right now, the National Court Reporters Association says the average age in this profession is 55, and they're starting to retire without enough people to replace them.
Elvis said she's concerned there's not enough education around this profession to attract millennials to the job. Although not guaranteed, Miller-Motte Technical College says they're willing to look into providing courses if enough people show interest in this career.
"So, we just make the best of it and do the very best that we can. I don't want to see electronics come in because I think it's a wonderful thing that they do, and they're so needed in the courtroom… and I hate to see… and I don't want to say them replaced - because still, there would be court monitors. But I like the trade. I like to see… I hope people become interested in it," said Elvis.
15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said they have about 52 terms of court a year, and Horry County has been lucky so far until just recently. For the first time, it was forced to drop a term because of the court reporter shortage.
Richardson said we're in a time where there's more court cases, and with the lack of court reporters on hand, courts are being cut back.
"In a time when there's more crime statewide, nationwide - maybe not violent crime but at least more crime going on… they're having to cut back court but for the shortage of a court reporter," said Richardson.
He said about 10,000 cases go through the Horry County court system each year. Typically, two terms of court are scheduled each month with two judges. Since there's only one court reporter this week, they're only able to run one term of court and decided to do that through pleas, just to keep up with the numbers. Richardson expects to go through about 150 to 250 pleas this week.
From the eyes of a prosecutor, Richardson said there's a lot of advantages to having a court reporter instead of digital recording systems. He said a problem with going fully digital is not only expensive, but technology might not be able to pick up certain dialect that a person can, adding people often talk over each other in the courtroom, which is something you can't really trust a computer with.
"I think it's stunning to know that this week, and again we've had it made here in Horry County - we've only lost one week. At the same time, this week we've got judges, we've got prosecutors, we've got defendants, we've got defense attorneys, we've got bailiffs, we've security, we've forensic pathologists, we've got witnesses, and we got clerks of court. But if you don't have the court reporter, everybody else has to go do something else. It takes the whole team and one being out, it just doesn't cut it. It's just like not having a judge or not having a prosecutor, all of the parts have got to be there," said Richardson.
Richardson says there needs to be a clear decision made on the court reporting industry in order to attract people nationwide.
"Ultimately, we've got to make a decision. This indecisive, this grey area is leading people to say I don't want to go into this line of business if I'm going to stake my whole career on you know, how would you like to be the last guy running the railroad? So, either we've got to back up the court reporters and say that's what we're going to do or to be fair, say we're going to do recordings. But if you're ever going to bring in more court reporters and restart that system, there's got to be some assurity that they're going to have a job once they go through the certification process," said Richardson.
There are available court reporter positions in South Carolina right now. If you'd like to learn more about the career, follow this link.