A house fire is one of the most devastating disasters that can affect a family. Imagining someone’s home, possessions and memories going up in smoke is a horrible, sobering thought. The potential damage, however, is magnified when that home belongs to a court reporter.

A news report recently shared by the NCRA revealed, in the fall of last year, the Georgia Supreme Court was forced to toss out the life sentence of a convicted murderer. Craig Johnson was serving a life sentence for stabbing his girlfriend 36 times until she died. Why was the sentence dismissed? Because the only copy of the 2009 trial transcript was lost in a fire at the court reporter’s home in 2011. The court reporter had transcribed many pages of the pretrial hearings but had not yet transcribed the transcript for the trial.

Johnson then attempted to get a new trial, citing that the lack of a transcript denied him his constitutional right to appeal his conviction. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia statutes guarantee the defendant a full transcript to fulfill this right. Because of this, although prosecutors attempted to supply a summary to replace the transcript, the Supreme Court was forced to grant Johnson—a man apparently guilty of malice murder—a new trial.

While the District Attorney feels confident that he can convict Johnson again, this is clearly a situation that should never be repeated. The unfortunate occurrence serves as an important reminder of the responsibility of a court reporter. It is critical for court reporters to secure backup copies of important documents at off-site locations.

Luckily, there are many technological solutions to this problem. Cloud storage allows you to secure copies in a remote database spanning multiple servers, rather than in one location. This ensures that your files are safe from natural disaster, inadvertent loss, damage or theft. There are also many cloudless backup alternatives available. Even if you create physical, paper copies be sure that those copies are secure and stored at separate locations.

The moral of this unfortunate story: use technology to your advantage, and backup your files to avoid disaster. For a court reporter, there’s a lot at stake.

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