The GuardianRogue court stenographer causes chaos for New York legal system
Daniel Kochanski reportedly wrote 'I hate my job, I hate my job' into one of the 30 compromised transcripts
Dominic Rushe in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 April 2014 12.49 EDT
Kochanski was fired after officials learned of issues with the transcripts for six trials and 24 other proceedings he'd worked on. Photo: Stephen Coles /Flickr
A Manhattan court stenographer caused chaos in New York’s legal system when he typed nonsense instead of recording the proceedings in the trials for which he was responsible – including, in one case, reportedly writing, “I hate my job, I hate my job” into the transcript.
Officials have been rushing to fix the mess, first reported by the New York Post, by calling back witnesses, lawyers and judges in the affected cases to try to reconstruct missing transcripts.
A source at the New York state unified court system confirmed that the stenographer, Daniel Kochanski, 43, had been fired after officials learned of issues with the transcripts for six trials and 24 other legal proceedings he had worked on.
The source said he could not confirm what Kochanski was transcribing but conceded: “He wasn’t transcribing what was happening in the courtroom.” He said Kochanski was fired for “not doing his job."
The damaged cases stretch back until at least 2010, and include the mortgage-fraud trial of Aaron Hand, who was later convicted of trying to hire a hitman to assassinate a witness against him.
Claudia Trupp, the director of the Center for Appellate Litigation, a New York not-for-profit law firm that handles appeals and post-conviction proceedings, said Kochanski had caused chaos. “I have never seen anything like this where one court reporter has disrupted so many cases,” she said.
Trupp said they had been doing reconstruction hearings for close to 18 months, and were only now coming to the end of them. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a labour intensive process getting everybody back into the courtroom who was originally there, including the judge, who might be retired by this point, to talk about what happened on the record. It’s a very poor substitute for a verbatim transcript.”
She said two of the cases she had worked on had been reversed after the reconstruction hearings, but that the people involved had spent longer in jail because of the delays caused by the fiasco.
Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at McCarter English, said he had never seen a case of a rogue stenographer as bad as this one. “It effectively destroys the record of the trial, which is an integral part of the appellate process,” he said.
Mintz said many courtrooms were now using real-time court reporting so lawyers could see drafts of the stenographers’ work as the trial proceeds. But in courts where that is not happening, the transcripts can be filed and unchecked for years before being reviewed during an appeal.
Reached by the Post, Kochanski said: “I never typed gibberish. I always did my job 100%. I was let go because of substance abuse,” he said. “I’m in recovery. July will be one year I’m clean.”