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HORLYK: After 33 years, Woodbury County court reporter hangs up keyboard

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Court reporter Maria Schultz retires

Maria Schultz is shown at the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City on Monday. She plans to retire after 33 years as a court reporter. 

SIOUX CITY | While studying to become a court reporter, Maria Schultz's only frame of reference for the profession came from watching "The Carol Burnett Show."

"They'd do these courtroom sketches and show this little lady typing furious into a little typewriter," she said. "Let me tell you, court reporting is nothing like what you see on TV."

Schultz, 55, ought to know. A court reporter for Iowa's 3rd Judicial District for 33 years, she's worked with Judges William Adams, Phillip Dandos and, for the past 11 years, Edward Jacobson. She will retire Monday.

"Time has flown by," Schultz said a few days away from retirement. "And I've enjoyed every minute of it."

A court reporter transcribes spoken or recorded speech into written words, producing the official transcript of court hearings, trials and depositions. Court reporters use a stenotype machine, a tiny typewriter with 22 keys. By tapping one or more keys, a reporter can capture the sounds of words in a special phonetic code.

A skilled shorthand reporter like Schultz can easily type more than 225 words a minute, a rate actually faster than most people speak.

When she began her career in 1979, Schultz would have to type the same transcript at least a few times. The process involved the original transcript plus two or three copies made using carbon and onion-skin paper.

"If you typed a mistake, you would have to stop and erase every copy," Schultz said. "It was very time consuming."

Later, computer-aided transcription allowed her to write on electric steno machines and save notes. Machines today translate Schultz's text directly to the laptops of attorneys and judges in a court case.

"When I talk about how nice it was getting electric typewriters back in the 1980s, younger people will invariably ask, 'What's a typewriter?'" she said with a laugh. "Yeah, things have really changed."

Although electronics have made court reporting less arduous, Schultz's work requirements have steadily increased.

"Due to budget constraints, a court reporter is now often a judge's sole support person," she said. "We're the judge's scheduler, bailiff and administrative assistant in addition to being their court reporter."

Yet Schultz said she's always been up to a challenge.

"A court reporter needs to be organized and can't be afraid of hard work," she said. "When my parents learned that (Des Moines') AIB School of Business offered a court reporting major, they knew it would be right up my alley."

In fact, there have been times when Schultz has had difficulty separating work life from home life.

"I drive my husband, Roger, crazy when I refer to Judge Jacobson as 'my judge,'" she said. "That's simply how court reporters talk. We say 'my judge' said this or 'my judge' did that. It's a hard habit to break."

Still, Schultz acknowledges she's had the opportunity to see a side of judges most people will never see.

"Judges can be intimidating in their black robes," she allowed. "But they're also people with kids and grandkids, like everyone else."

As she gets ready to leave her front row seat inside the Woodbury County Courthouse for the last time, Schultz said she looks forward to spending more time with her husband and children, Zachary, 25, and Jordan, 18.

"The last 33 years have gone by in a blur," she said, glancing back at her steno machine. "That can happen when you're doing something that you love."

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