CADILLAC — After 35 years, Jan Kelly has called it a career.
As the court reporter for the 28th Circuit Court, Kelly's job was of the utmost importance. It was her job to make sure an accurate record of the proceedings was taken. She performed that job for 35 years as a county employee and a few more as a contracted employee.
Today is her first day she is not at the helm of the keyboard on her stenotype machine.
"My first day was Jan. 1, 1993, but it most likely was (Jan. 2) or somewhere around there. I was hired as the court reporter, but I'm a stenographer," she said.
SEEMED LIKE A GOOD FIT
Kelly went to Ferris State University in the late 1970s and graduated in 1980 with the skills to become a court reporter.
She said looking back, there wasn't a real driving force as to why she decided to pursue becoming a stenographer, but it seemed like a good fit for her. Her father, Burton Hines Sr., was a lawyer and he told her she should look into becoming a court reporter, she said.
Although she had never been a receptionist, Kelly said she was good at typing so she looked into the program. It seemed like it could be interesting so she decided to enroll.
The rest, as they say, is history, and Kelly said after graduation it took her 13 years before she became the court reporter for Wexford County.
"They hired me to fill in, but I wasn't a county employee," she said.
IT'S REALLY SIMPLE
The job of a court reporter is simple, according to Kelly.
She said every court reporter is charged with taking down the record verbatim whenever court is in session in case there is an appeal. When that happens, Kelly said the court reporter's job is to produce the transcript of the proceedings to give to the appeals court or supreme court so it can determine if there is merit to the appeal.
How she and other stenographers accomplish that is anything but simple due to the training needed to use a stenotype machine.
"It is not a keyboard, it is a piece of machinery. It has been around a long time. You don't use it as a typewriter or computer. it is done phonetically," she said. "The letters for the beginning of the word are on the lefthand, end of the words are on the righthand and the vowels are in middle for the thumbs."
While it is a simple theory, Kelly said there are lots to learn and for that reason, she was in class a lot. While a typical college course might meet two or three times a week, Kelly said for her court reporter classes met for three hours a day, Monday-Friday because it is a different way of doing things.
"It can be quite tiring and taxing. It is hard to sit there all day long so every couple hours have to take a break," she said of being on the job. "It is a long day. It is hard to sit there. You can get stiff. If I'm wearing a bracelet, watch, or even rings they can get heavy. I have to take them off."
Since the 1990s, Kelly said the State of Michigan has started to move away from using stenographers and has since moved strictly to video recording.
The transition also has occurred slowly throughout the state as court reporters with the skill set have retired or left the profession. With Kelly retiring, she said the Wexford County also will be moving away from using a stenographer, but will still have a court reporter.
"What I do is I take the record on my machine. The new court reporter is a recorder. They will take the recording to produce a transcript," Kelly said. "They will be in the courtroom making sure they get a good recording and if needed, they will make it into a transcript."
Kelly said while the state is moving away from stenographers, the federal court system still uses them. She said that is because federal courts do immediate transcripts of proceedings and a stenographer's quickness to produce a transcript can't be matched.
OBSERVATIONS FROM A JUDGE
Since Judge William Fagerman took the bench in May 2007, Kelly has been his court reporter.
Not to take anything away from the job court reporters do, Fagerman said when you have a good one you really don't notice them.
"It is kind of unkind to say, but court reporters doing a good job you don't notice," he said. "(Jan) also will speak up if she can't get the information or (people) are talking over each other. Her transcripts are very clear. We have never had a hearing where we had to correct a transcript."
Typically, the county would hold a gathering to celebrate Kelly's retirement so employees could socialize with her one last time, but that is not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fagerman said they may try to do something once restrictions have been loosened, but for now, employees are just thanking her privately.
As for what the future holds, Fagerman said stenographers "really don't exist" anymore and almost all courts have transitioned to audio and video recordings. He said roughly 10 years ago he asked the county to install the audio equipment needed in the courtroom to record because they needed it in case Kelly was gone.
He said there are very few people who do that type of work anymore and it is hard to find someone to fill in if she was sick or took a vacation. While he does have some concerns with moving away from a stenographer, Fagerman also said those concerns are not anything that he would deem crucial to the running of the court or its record.
HER NEW NORM
Kelly said she has retired at a good time.
Summer is about to start and even amid the current global pandemic, there are lots of things to do. The reason she picked the date for her retirement, however, is bittersweet.
She picked May 29 as her first day of retirement because that was her husband Charles' birthday. Today would have been his 65th birthday, but he didn't get to see it. He got ill and passed away in March. Although her world was changed significantly, Kelly said she decided to move forward with retirement.
Now, however, she doesn't have plans with what she wants to do with her new norm, but she plans to figure it out. What she does know is she will spend more time with her children and grandchildren.
"I'm already taking the grandkids on Saturday," she said.