CONFESSIONS OF A COUNTRY COURT REPORTER yt? u7 hi

As it is for most people, the time comes when one has to make a living all by one’s self. Mine came when I was first a grass widow. That’s a very old-fashioned term meaning a divorcee.  I did so for the most part “working for the man,” as it was called back in the day. When First Husband took off to build his love nest in another tree, my only skill was typing. Given a typing test as part of the application, I almost always secured the job by typing so fast my fingers were a blur. My average speed was 100 words per minute, no errors. Needless to say the job for which I was applying was mine for the asking. The problem was the job never paid a living wage and First Husband only paid child support when it suited him to do so. It never occurred to me he would not pay the amount we agreed upon: $150/month).

When my lawyer suggested I set the agreement up so that the child support would be paid to me through the court, I refused. First Husband adored his sweet little girls, and he was gainfully employed, as was his new wife. I did not wish to insult him by forcing him to pay support through the courts. Ha! What an idiot I was. The ink wasn’t dry on the divorce decree before he just couldn’t make it this month, and he would get caught up next month, and on and on. The answer was obvious: I had to get married again. And thereby hangs a tale for another telling.

The most money I made was working in my own business: court reporting. It was also the most fun I had while making a living at the time. John and I had married, and we moved back to his hometown, Watertown, New York. I had become interested in court reporting after typing transcripts for the Grand Jury reporter in Nashville. After researching court reporting I found, to my surprise, there was no license needed. There was no skill required except an ability to quickly take down every word uttered and then transcribe the testimony neatly and efficiently. Most reporters who worked in actual trial cases used a transcription machine, which took at least three years to learn in a special school. There was only one requirement to become a court reporter: one had to be a Notary Public. The testimony was not acceptable unless the witness had been sworn in by a genuine Notary Public. The testimony had to be signed and stamped by the N.P., before it was legal. That’s all it took to become a court reporter. Easy Peasy.

Among my possessions was a tape recorder operated by a foot pedal or a button on top of the machine. I also had two high-quality microphones on stands that my electronic genius buddy hooked up to my fancy recorder. To be on the safe side I had a plain-Jane tape recorder to use as a back-up. I could also write faster than the speed of light using my own bastardized version of shorthand. I applied for a Notary Public stamp, which soon arrived in the mail, and I was in business.

No one had ever seen all this paraphernalia spread out in a courtroom. I therefore opted to make myself available only for private depositions. It had never been seen in those proceedings either, but I felt it would be easier to pull off among less legal surroundings. I did trial runs casting friends and family as attorneys and defendants and plaintiffs. My only stumbling block was reading back testimony, as was often required. Most of the time, I could do it from my short hand, but sometimes if it were long, I had to run the tape back and hope I guessed correctly where it was. Most of the time I hit it with no problem.

There were still a couple things I absolutely had to have to be able to pull it off. I had used them before, and found them to be reliable and in good working order, but I had never called on them to see me through anything as bodacious as this. I don’t know how to put it delicately, so I will only tell you it takes a pair of them, if you get my meaning.

I had done some legal typing for a court reporter in Watertown, New York. She mentioned to me she had so much actual trial work she was swamped. I had typed some testimony for the grand jury stenographer in Nashville. I told her I felt confident I could handle some easy court reporting. I didn’t tell her how I planned to go about it, but I don’t think it would have mattered. She was eager to unload it.

In a few days, she called me and asked if I could go down to the jail and take testimony on a parole violation hearing. Sure. No Problem. I would be glad to help her out.

On the appointed day, I found my way to the jail and told the policeman on duty I was there to take testimony for a parole hearing. I was a half hour early, but I was hoping I would have time to scope out the landscape and set up my equipment well ahead of schedule. The cop led me down a hallway and unlocked a door for me. I went in and he locked the door behind me. There was a long table at one end of the room. At the other end was a closed metal door with a barred window in the top. On the other side of the door there were sounds the like of which I had never heard. I’m no babe in the woods, mind you, but I heard some phrases the definition of which was and still is a mystery to me.

I set up my equipment and before long a man came in. On his hip was a holster and a large pistol.

“Damn, I forgot,” he said, as he smiled at me. “Take this for me,” he said to the cop who had let him in, as he drew the gun and handed it to him. “I’m not supposed to be armed for the hearings,” he said to me, apologetically. He introduced himself to me and asked where the usual court reporter was. I told him I was standing in for her. I said she was not feeling well. I didn’t see any reason to tell him she was eager to unload this particular job, because her actual court work paid more money, and she didn’t want to give any more of it up in order to run down to the jail to preside over parole hearings.

He insisted I call him by his first name, which was fine with me. We talked a bit, and he asked about all the microphones. I told him about my system, and asked about where everyone was to be seated. I wanted to place my microphones to best pick up the various voices. He gave me the information I sought, and said he had never seen a system such as mine, but it looked okay to him.

So far so good.

In a few minutes, another man came into the room. He was very tall, quite distinguished, and impeccably dressed. Tom, the parole officer, introduced me and told Mr. Tolino, who turned out to be a representative of the New York State Board of Parole in Albany about my recording system. It was okay with Mr. Tolino as well. Great!

“Well, let’s get started,” said Mr. Tolino. “Let’s have the first parolee.” Tom went to the door through which all the noise had been heard and yelled a name. In a few minutes, a young man came in accompanied by an older guy whom I knew to be a Watertown attorney.

I swore in Tom, the parolee, and the attorney. It seemed the young man had violated his parolee by fighting in a bar after drinking copious amounts of vodka. Tom told the story, and the attorney asked for leniency, given the fact that it was the youngster’s first parole violation. Mr. Tolino asked the parolee if the story Tom told was true, and the young man said yes, but he didn’t start the fight, and this other guy pissed him off, and…”

Mr. Tolino interrupted him. “I asked you if what your parole officer said is true.”

“Yes, sir, but…” he started.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Tolino. I will present the evidence in the form of this young lady’s transcript (with a nod toward me – making him my hero forever and ever) to the parole board, and you will receive their decision by mail. Next, please.”

The scene was repeated almost word-for-word with the next parolee, who had been involved in a drunken brawl, but he didn’t start it, and so on.

This time when Mr. Tolino said, “Next, please,” Tom told him that was it. There were no more parole violators.

“Do you mean I drove all the way up here from Albany for only two cases,” asked Mr. Tolino, incredulously.

“Well, yes,” said Tom. I thought there would be more by now, but if I had delayed these two hearings, those guys could have walked. The deadline for their hearings was this week.”

Mr. Tolino packed up his belongings and left, with the long trek back to Albany ahead of him. Tom explained to me that when a parolee is arrested for violating the terms of his parole, his hearing before a rep from the board has to take place within six weeks. If it happen in that time period, the parolee must be released. As I came to know Tom better in the four years I took testimony for the Board of Parole, I found he preferred to have his parolees in jail or better yet, prison. They were a lot less trouble to him. If he caught one of his guys so much as spitting on the sidewalk, out came the cuff links, and Tom fetched the nearest cop to accompany the miscreant to jail.

I had one or two interesting cases, but they were mostly arrested for drunk and disorderly, neither one of which was the guy’s fault, of course. I remember on one occasion after we had heard four or five of the same tired old stories, Mr. Tolino said, “I swear if one of them walked in here and said, ‘Yes, I did it myself with no help or instigation from anybody. It was all my fault,’ I’d let him go right then and there.” But no one ever said anything even close to it. It was never their fault.

Ant that’s how I became the official stenographer for the New York State Board of Parole. John always got such a kick when my check came in the mail. He loved it when one of the neighbors was nearby. He’d take the envelope plainly marked with our address and the Parole Board’s return address out of the mailbox and say, “Oh, oh, Millie has another letter from her parole board. I hope they’re not going to send her back to jail.”

There were big yuks all around. Everybody in town knew what I was doing, but they laughed anyway. It was a very small town.

I suppose if you’ve stuck with me this long, I should give you a story. The story I shall tell you has another part, which I’ll leave for another time, or maybe it will just be in the book.

After I had worked for the Parole Board for about a year, Tom called and asked if I might be available for a certain date. I was, and as I wrote it down on my calendar, he said, “This one is not your garden variety parole violation. The guy is nuts, and has violated his parole three times before. He’s violent, and, as you know, we’re not allowed to have a guard or a weapon in the hearing room.” I noticed an evil chuckle in Tom’s voice. “You’re likely to have an experience you won’t forget.”

“All right, Tom, if you’re trying to scare me, it’s not working,” I told him, with a chuckle of my own.”

“Fine,” he answered. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” and he rang off.

On the appointed day, I arrived at the jail, just as Tom was disarming himself. As I spoke to the cop on duty at the dispatcher’s desk, I saw Tom take out his gun and put it in a locker.

“You sure you won’t need that this time?” asked the dispatcher with a laugh. Tom turned to respond and saw me.

“Hey, don’t scare Millie like that,” he said, still chuckling. “Let her draw her own conclusions.” I hadn’t the slightest notion what they were talking about.

The dispatcher took me to the hearing room as usual and unlocked the door. I thanked him and entered the room. There, much to my surprise, was a state trooper with the biggest German Shepherd dog I ever saw. Now, I don’t like everybody to know this, but I’m scared of big dogs. It goes back to my childhood and is explained fully elsewhere in the book.  Mr. Tolino was also already there and we were soon joined by an unarmed Tom and yet another policeman.

Tom explained to the hearing officer that the parolee we were to hear today was Greg Compland. He went on to say the guy was a wild man. The prison psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. He was violent and spent long hours misreading the law books in the prison library. Always serving as his own attorney, he had violated his parole numerous times and after each violation hearing he sued most everyone present. Compland had already told Tom if things didn’t go well for him, he was going to sue everyone this time, including the dog.

I didn’t know what to expect, but when he was finally led in I realized the dog was a mere pussycat next to this guy. He was huge. Not fat huge but tall, powerful huge. His eyes were wild, and he was gritting his teeth. In the past, the parole violators simply entered the room from the cellblock door and sat down at the table. Compland, however, was handcuffed and escorted by a guard. The guard uncuffed him and Compland sat down at the conference table. Because the rules stated that no guard could remain in the hearing room, this one went back into the cellblock. Tom walked back to the door with him and I heard him whisper, “Stay close.”

“Before we get started,” Compland said suddenly, “I want a copy of this transcript.” He glared at me.

“Well, I don’t know,” I mumbled. “The parole board pays for one transcript.”

His fist crashed down on the table. “And they’ll pay for mine, too,” he yelled at me. The hearing officer held up a calming hand. “We’ll pay for your copy, Mr. Compland, and it will be delivered to you at the jail.” And then turning to me, “Bill us for two transcripts, Mrs. Entrekin, and deliver Mr. Compland’s copy to him at the jail.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, thinking to myself if Compland waited for the transcript to be delivered personally to his cell, he’d better learn a little patience. I’d take it as far as the dispatcher, but that was it.

Mr. Tolino, the hearing officer told Compland he was entitled to an attorney, and if he could not afford. . .

“I’m my own attorney,” Compland thundered.

“Fine,” said Mr. Tolino. How do you plead?

“Not guilty,” the furious Mr. Compland answered.

“Proceed,” said Mr. Tolino.

“I call to the stand this K-9 officer here and his dog,” said Compland.

“We really can’t put the dog on the stand, Mr. Compland,” said the hearing officer.

“It’s necessary for my defense,” said Compland, glaring at all of us around the table.

“Very well,” was the answer, “but I’m sure you know I can’t swear it in.”

Tom muffled a giggle and I kept my eyes glued to my notebook, writing frantically as I did so. As soon as the K-9 officer was sworn in, Compland suddenly stood up and leapt at him. The dog sprang into action and threw a flying wedge between his master and Compland.

It took awhile to settle things down again. The dog responded immediately to an order from Norton (the K-9 officer) to cease and desist. The rest of us were considerably more ruffled.

“I rest my case,” said Compland, smugly. And then to Tom, “your witness.”

“Uh, what just happened here?” asked Tom to no one in particular.

“The dog is trained to defend me if I am threatened,” said Norton in an official-sounding voice. “It requires no voice command from me. All K-9 dogs are schooled in this manner.”

“Aha!” shouted Compland. “See, he admits it. That’s what he did that night!”

“What did he do that night”? asked Mr. Tolino. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Well, take a look at this, and then you’ll understand,” said Compland, taking from his lap a scuffed and beat-up leather jacket he had brought into the room with him. One sleeve was ripped at the elbow. And then to me, “This is Defendant’s Exhibit A.”

I dutifully took a sticker from my notebook, marked it “Exhibit A,” and handed it to Mr. Tolino. The court reporter is supposed to personally mark the exhibits, but I was reluctant to get close enough to Compland to stick anything on his precious jacket.

“That (expletive deleted) dog tore my new jacket,” continued the wild man, “because he thought I was going to attack this guy.” He indicated Norton.

“If I could explain, sir,” said Tom. “Mr Compland caused a disturbance outside a bar in Watertown. The bartender called the police. Two officers tried to subdue Mr. Compland. They called for backup and two more officers arrived on the scene. They were unable to reason with the parolee. The K-9 officer was on routine patrol. He saw the disturbance and stopped. The other policemen had succeeded in wrestling Mr. Compland to the ground.

“When he saw the dog and the K-9 officer, he freed himself from the officers’ grasp and went for Officer Norton. The dog intervened.”

“Do you have other witnesses?” Mr. Tolino asked Tom.

“Yes, sir,” said Tom. “Shall I bring them in?”

“Yes, one at a time, pl. . .”

“Oh, sure, you’re going to gang up on me with all these lies,” said Compland, jumping from his seat at the table. “Maybe you don’t know it, but I’m a paranoid schizophrenic, and there’s no telling what I’ll do!” He clenched one fist and grabbed Tom by his shirt front with the other hand. The dog pricked up his ears, but since it wasn’t Norton who was being menaced, he didn’t seem to care.

“Sit down, Mr. Compland,” ordered the hearing officer. In the meantime Tom reached for his gun and then remembered he took it off before he entered the hearing room. Compland continued to rant and rave and bounce off the walls.

I was frozen with fright. Suddenly, I heard myself asking quietly, “Is all this on the record?” Mr. Tolino looked at me with what I can only describe as a desperate expression.

“No, I don’t think so,” he whispered. I turned the machine off and put my hands in my lap.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” screamed Compland. “I want every single word of this in the transcript.” He was suddenly all over me, fumbling with the recorder trying to find the on/off switch. All reason having left me by this time, I tried to protect the recorder. It did, after all, cost me an arm and a leg. And now it seemed there was a clear and present danger I would lose an arm and/or a leg and the machine.

I leaned forward and covered it with my body. Compland continued to fight me. By now, everyone in the room was shouting and pulling at Compland. He was so strong he had no trouble fending them off. I was stiff as a board. If he managed to get the machine away from me, he would have to pick me up bodily and then pry it loose. I’ve never been so scared.

Over the melee, I heard Mr. Tolino shout, “The dog!” I guess Officer Norton gave the dog a command, but I didn’t hear it. The next thing I knew, Compland was on the floor and the dog was on top of him. Tom ran to the cellblock door and yelled for the guards. A dozen or so of them came and carried Compland, kicking and screaming, back into the jail.

It was over. We all sat and stared at each other for a long time. Mr. Tolino asked me if I was hurt and did I want to see the doctor. I told him I was ok. He then said to me, “Let’s go back on the record.” I turned on the machine and the hearing officer said a few well-chosen words about Mr. Compland indeed being guilty of violating his parole by his actions in the hearing room, and he would be sent back to prison forthwith. I was shaking so badly, one of the guards helped me gather up my equipment, and he carried it to my car. I assured him I was recovered enough to drive myself home, although I didn’t believe a word of it.

About a year later, Tom called and asked if I were available to serve as stenographer for a parole violation.

“Sure,” I said and began to write “parole hearing” in my daybook. “It’s an old friend of yours,” said Tom, with a wicked laugh. “His name is Greg Compland.”

“Oh, no, what must I be thinking,” I said, erasing the words from my book, “Here’s an entry I overlooked. I have a deposition that day. Rats!”

“Too bad,” said Tom. “I guess we’ll have to get somebody else.”

“Looks that way,” I said. “Sorry.”

By the way, Greg Compland is not this guy’s real name, and you can quote me. The next time I was at the jail taking testimony, Tom told me that I had missed a high ol’ time in the hearing room. Compland was even more violent and threatening. After that hearing, which also included the same K-9 unit, Compland sued the hearing officer, Tom, the county jail, the New York Board of Parole, and, best of all, Norton as the K-9 Officer and–wait for it–the DOG!