A high-profile trial is about to get underway in Lee County, but defense attorneys are worried because there is a shortage of court reporters.
Kierra Russ is one of five people accused in the 2016 Club Blu shooting that killed Stef’An Strawder, 18, and 14-year-old Sean Archilles as well as injured dozens. Tajze Battle, Derrick Church, Don Loggins and Demetrius O’Neal also were arrested for the crime.
Russ is the first to face trial for second-degree murder charges and conspiracy.
The trial is legally allowed to proceed without a court reporter, but today in court, the judge said the shortage of court reporters has been an ongoing problem.
It’s an issue locally and across the nation. In Lee County, one court reporting services owner has offered to pay for any new hires’ tuition, but there haven’t been any takers.
Court reporters type fast, up to 250 words per minute, writing precise transcripts of the entire trial.
“Their profession, the numbers are dwindling. And this is not just a Lee County problem, not just Florida problem, but a national problem. But now it’s striking home,” said Douglas Molloy, who is representing Russ.
Russ will likely go on trial without a court reporter next week.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen in terms of the record,” Molloy said.
In Lee County, only a capital trial must have a court reporter.
The courthouse does feature electronic court reporting of every criminal trial, and according to Lee County court, there has never been an issue accurately recording a court event.
“You can’t do a murder case without a court reporter. I don’t know how else to put that. It’s like breathing air to have that person there,” said Chrissy Mikulice, owner of Martina-Mikulice Reporting Services.
Mikulice said she noticed a shortage years ago that got worse when the pandemic hit. Before the pandemic, she said she had 20 court reporters. Now she has 8.
Molloy said he worries that without a court reporter, justice will not be fairly served.
“It’s for both sides, both for the state and for the defense to have somebody trained to get all important information on a record. You don’t have a person doing that. And you got trouble,” Molloy said.
Mikulice said it’s extremely serious.
“You want somebody there to be the official record,” she said. “You don’t want an audio recording.”
Unless a court reporter becomes available on Tuesday, Russ’s trial will likely proceed without one.