I was a court reporter - stenographer - and covered every type of proceeding imaginable for over 35 years. Every day was fascinating, like watching reality TV, except, you know, real. Here’s a few lessons I learned hanging out with heroes, villains, victims, and lawyers.
- When a prison door clangs shut, it sounds exactly like in a Jimmy Cagney movie - loud, echoey, heavy metal, and filled with doom. Even when you’re getting out in two hours and the witness is sleeping over.
- Criminals are people, too. They look normal. If they actually did lurk down the street accompanied by a creepy sound track, we'd all make detective. Here’s one tip: In court, he's the guy in the handcuffs.
- I once heard a mobster make a threat on the witness stand, and later heard Big Pussy make the same threat on "The Sopranos" word-for-word. Whether the writers researched the mob or the mob researched "The Sopranos," you can learn the lingo from your living room. No need to hang out with those people. And, yes, they all “tawk like dis.”
- FBI agents really wear plain blue suits and black wingtips, but only to court. Undercover, the way they dress is criminal - just criminal.
- Amateurs make terrible arsonists. Once they’re in criminal court, bankruptcy court doesn’t look that bad after all.
- The only thing between a lunatic murderer testifying and the court reporter sitting three feet away is a computerized steno machine - or what I liked to call my personal $3,000 disposable protection bat.
- Some people believe it's your fault for leaving your money where it can be stolen.
- Not everyone who lies is a liar. Some just need to believe their own stories.
It was fascinating to witness the search for truth and an honor to play my part in the system. And if you see someone in a mask, don’t assume the worst. The good guys wear them now, too.