DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Paulette Martin, an official reporter for Detroit’s 36th District Court, has gone from writer’s block to cell block.
Martin is serving a 30-day contempt sentence in the Wayne County Jail for repeatedly missing deadlines to produce an overdue court proceeding transcript — the first court reporter to receive such a stiff sentence for failing to complete her duties.
The jail term also covers her allegedly absconding from an earlier sentence by fleeing the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, where she had been given five days to transcribe the record of a lengthy preliminary examination.
“We just can’t tolerate this,” said Presiding Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, who locked up Martin.
“And this isn’t the first time” Martin has stalled cases, he said.
There are at least three other instances of her being unable to find records of cases, he said.
Defense attorney Leland McRae said his representation of Darious Morris on arson and other charges is hamstrung by a compromised official record: “This breeches the integrity of the process.”
What really galled Kenny was his thwarted attempt to get the transcript produced by setting up a workstation for Martin in the courthouse.
“We even bought her lunch, and then she takes off — she just left,” he said.
Judge: Busy court needs transcripts on time
The preliminary examination covered three days in June and took 13 witnesses to come up with enough evidence to have Darious Morris stand trial in a complicated arson and real estate case.
You could look it up, but defense attorney Leland McRae says don’t bother.
“There are 300 pages of transcript, except maybe 61 pages are missing,” McRae said Wednesday.
Paulette Martin, the official court reporter from that hearing in Detroit’s 36th District Court, is now lodged in the Wayne County Jail serving a 30-day contempt sentence because she missed deadline to type up the transcript of Morris’ hearing.
Martin even took it on the lam — leaving the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, said Presiding Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, after he told her she could swap a five-day sentence for a completed transcript.
“She just left,” he said.
Judge David Allen, scheduled to hear the Morris trial, said he is frustrated as McRae and assistant prosecutor Rebecca Camargo try to sort out the situation.
“From time to time, we get a tardy transcript; these are busy courts,” Allen said. “I’ve never had anything like this.”
But Martin — who uses a masked microphone to whisper a running verbatim taped account of the proceeding — has had three cases where she could not produce transcripts because she said she couldn’t find the tape.
“And all of these are since November 2009,” Kenny said.
Martin’s court-appointed lawyer Mack Carpenter was not available for comment.
Court rules say a transcript is due 28 days after a defendant is bound over for trial in circuit court. The record is crucial in assessing witnesses and evidence and helping determine trial strategy or plea negotiations.
The Morris transcript was due July 12, but when another five weeks passed, Kenny ordered Martin into court on Aug. 20 and set a new deadline of Aug. 25. When she called Kenny to say family matters had arisen, he gave her an extension until Sept. 1.
Kenny said Martin told him she helped care for an ailing parent. He said he sympathized, but added that the work could have been passed to someone else.
“We can’t have a case dead in the water,” he said.
With no transcript done, Kenny ordered Martin to serve five days in jail for contempt. But, he said, she could free herself with a finished product.
The judge had a work area set up in the courthouse for her, but she said she wanted her personal equipment from home. Kenny said she instead went out and bought herself a new laptop computer.
On Sept. 3, Martin was taken from the jail to work in the courthouse. Court officials bought her lunch, after which Kenny said she absconded.
A bench warrant was issued and she returned to court on Sept. 7 — without a finished transcript.
“I gave her the maximum, 30 days for contempt, and there she is,” Kenny said.
He jailed another court reporter, but that was seven years ago and it took only a day to get that transcript.
McRae said there was a flash drive supposedly containing the transcript, but there were 61 pages missing when the file was opened.
He said there is no way to re-create an accurate record: “Evidence has been destroyed through no fault of the defense.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the court system needs all hands on deck.
“If one person in the system is irresponsible or incompetent, it has the potential to affect an entire case,” Worthy said. “We don’t need this when resources are already scarce.”
Kenny said he is referring the matter to the state board of review that certifies court reporters.
“I’ll let that committee sort it out,” he said.
Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot chairs the review board and said errant reporters can be counseled, placed on probation or even have their certification revoked.
If referred, “we will look at it very seriously,” he said.