Submitted by loneill on August 5, 2022 – 3:46pm
Five newly-trained stenographic court reporters graduated from Pearl River Community College’s inaugural program on Friday, July 29.
The graduates are Jessie “Morgan” Ponder Anglin of Mount Olive, Candace Cooley of Waynesboro, Amanda Barnes Hernandez of Eatonville, Felicia Jackson of Hattiesburg and Alicia Miller of Magee.
In a ceremony at the Forrest County Chancery Courthouse in Hattiesburg, judges and educators repeatedly emphasized the great need for the new graduates, and more like them. Fifteen students will start the next class at PRCC’s Hattiesburg campus later this month.
Mississippi Judicial College Director Randy Pierce told the graduates, “The court system will not work without you. We are at a critical point in our judicial system. There is a need that you will fill…You don’t know how much the judicial branch needs you, but you will soon find out.”
PRCC Vice President Dr. Jana Causey told the graduates, “I want to thank you all for answering the call. You are the seed that is going to start this initiative.” Dr. Causey is Vice President for the Forrest County Campus, Allied Health and Nursing Programs.
Dr. Causey told them that they will soon take on an important role. As they type every word of court proceedings, “people’s lives will always be in your fingertips.”
Tenth District Chancellor Rhea Sheldon told the graduates, “You are the leaders of the court reporting program.” Future students will look to them for advice.
Veteran court reporter Twila Jordan-Hoover, who spearheaded efforts to form the program and taught and mentored the students, told them, “Be confident that you can and will become certified.”
They completed the academic training. Now they have to get up to speed, literally. Certification requires that a court reporter type 225 words per minute for questions and answers in testimony and depositions, 200 words per minute during a jury charge and 180 words per minute transcribing literary material.
They have plenty of opportunity for live practice in courtrooms. Chancellors and other judges welcome them to sit in on proceedings. Judge Sheldon promised a workout. “I talk very fast and I talk a lot and I don’t take a lot of breaks.”
Tenth District Chancellor Deborah Gambrell Chambers said the graduates are non-traditional students. Four out of five have children and jobs that they worked around to complete their studies. She thanked their families for their support and encouragement. Parents, spouses and children gathered for the ceremony. “They could not do it without you,” she said.
Hernandez said Circuit Judge Jon Mark Weathers encouraged her to train to be a court reporter. She has worked for Forrest County as a custodian for seven years. Completing court reporter training “is an achievement. It is something that I’ve done for myself and also for my children,” she said. She has three children, ages 18, 12 and 11.
Miller started court reporter training more than 17 years ago on the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina struck, and the small class did not resume. She later worked as a sales associate for a cellular telephone service provider. She is now a stay-at-home mother raising three children, ages 12, 8 and soon to be 2.
Anglin previously earned a degree in business and marketing. She works at a pharmacy. In April, she returned from her honeymoon early to attend the Mississippi Court Reporters Spring Conference in Biloxi. “I look forward to a career that I love.”
Jackson has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology. She has worked for 20 years at a chiropractor clinic. She has three children. The oldest is 21.
Cooley is a deputy clerk in the Wayne County Tax Collector’s office. She has two children, ages 13 and 9.
Court reporters are professional stenographers who record, transcribe and create an official record of court proceedings. There is a shortage of certified court reporters, as retirements have outpaced new people coming into the profession. The average age of the court reporters in Mississippi is 55, and 25 percent of the court reporters are between 61 and 70 years old. There are currently 282 licensed court reporters, including 21 who live in surrounding states and have nonresident temporary licenses, said Tracy Graves, Administrator of the Mississippi Board of Certified Court Reporters.
There were 375 licensed court reporters more than 10 years ago. That includes official court reporters for all federal and state courts as well as freelance court reporters.
Leaders of the Mississippi Court Reporters Association set plans in motion for a training program. Jordan-Hoover and Judge Gambrell pitched the program to PRCC officials.
Dr. Causey said, “We are a community college and we react to our local economic needs.”
PRCC agreed to offer classes, becoming the only college program in the state to train court reporters. Classes began in August 2021 at the Hattiesburg campus.
Article and photographs by Chuck Abadie.