Crime

Three Benton-Franklin Superior Court reporters retire after combined 98 years

Lisa Lang, 57, knew at age 16 that she wanted to be a court reporter after going to a Chicago job fair. She retired Dec. 31 after 33 years with Benton-Franklin Superior Court, the last 16 working primarily with Judge Robert Swisher.
Lisa Lang, 57, knew at age 16 that she wanted to be a court reporter after going to a Chicago job fair. She retired Dec. 31 after 33 years with Benton-Franklin Superior Court, the last 16 working primarily with Judge Robert Swisher. Tri-City Herald

Three court reporters with almost 100 years of experience combined in Benton-Franklin Superior Court have turned off their steno machines to enjoy retirement.

John McLaughlin, Pat Adams and Lisa Lang left in the past month, saying they’re ready to see where life takes them outside the confines of the courthouse.

“We’re losing a great deal of expertise from the longevity of all of them, as well as a part of our court family,” said Superior Court Administrator Pat Austin. “You work with people every day and sometimes spend more time with them than you do your own families. I think it’s going to be a huge change not having them here.”

Superior Court has six court reporters. So when the three of them walked out the door, they took 50 percent of the institutional knowledge and expertise.

McLaughlin left Dec. 7 after 31 years.

The upside of it is you learn a lot about a very diverse mass of information. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s not all burglaries and it’s not all divorces, so you’re always learning something new.

Pat Adams from Richland

Adams, with 34 years, and Lang, a 33-year veteran in the Tri-Cities, worked through the end of the year.

The court already has hired three licensed reporters to replace McLaughlin, Adams and Lang. They will go through a brief training period so they’re comfortable and know what to expect, Austin said.

Of the other three reporters, Renee Munoz was just recognized for 20 years, Joe King has been at it for 24 years and Cheryl Pelletier joined the court in January 2004.

“I really pride the court in the fact that most of our employees are long-term employees,” Austin said. “They bring so much stability to our organization.”

Court reporters are the official ears and recorders of the courtroom. They use a steno machine with its unique alphabet to write words either the way they are spelled or phonetically.

For decades, reporters were assigned to a specific judge in the bicounty system. But a year ago, the court started a pool, which means any reporter can be paired up with one of the seven Superior Court judges for a hearing or trial.

McLaughlin, 62, and Adams, 67, cited the pool system as their reason for retiring now.

“I’m not much of a swimmer, so I’m out of here,” Adams quipped.

McLaughlin added that it no longer gives reporters the opportunity to develop a relationship with their judge.

Lang, 57, said the timing was right for her because she’s leaving with Judge Robert Swisher, who retired after 16 years on the bench. The two were paired up after his election in 2000.

“I’m just ready,” said Lang. “I’ve done it long enough for me, and I want to go out while I’m healthy and am able to do all the things that I enjoy.”

McLaughlin, an avid golfer, said he learned about court reporting from a freelancer in Medford, Ore., who seemed to do very well in the business.

For decades, reporters were assigned to a specific judge in the bicounty system. But a year ago, the court started a pool, which means any reporter can be paired up with one of the seven Superior Court judges for a hearing or trial.

McLaughlin said he always liked the legal system, but was 10 hours shy of getting the credits he needed to graduate with a college degree, and he didn’t want to go back. He was married with a daughter and he needed to make money, so he became a court reporter.

He started in Benton-Franklin Superior Court in November 1985, first working for Judge Duane Taber and later for Judge Vic VanderSchoor.

“I really enjoyed maybe the first 20 to 25 years,” McLaughlin said. “If I wasn’t ready I would have kept working, because I’m physically able to work. But it’s not fun anymore.”

Plus, McLaughlin said he got tired of dealing with certain people who come through the criminal judicial system. He said a man spit on him in court during his first year on the job.

The Richland man might find a part-time job or volunteer work, but said most of his retirement will be spent at the golf course.

Adams first started reporting in 1980 for Judge Robert Day, but left seven years later after Adams became a mom. She didn’t stay away for long, though, returning in 1989 to work with Judge Carolyn Brown. She later became Judge Carrie Runge’s court reporter.

Adams said this was never her plan for life. She was going to be a lawyer but needed money for law school.

Now, after more than three decades behind her steno machine, Adams admits the job has been really good to her and she can’t complain. But she’s tired and ready to move on.

“It’s emotionally racking on some days,” said the Richland woman. “The upside of it is you learn a lot about a very diverse mass of information. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s not all burglaries and it’s not all divorces, so you’re always learning something new.”

Superior Court has six court reporters. So when the three of them retired, they took 50 percent of the institutional knowledge and expertise.

Adams was the court reporter for the Tri-Cities’ only death penalty case. Jeremy Sagastegui pleaded guilty to the 1995 killing of two women and a 3-year-old boy, and was later executed by lethal injection.

Adams plans to be busy in retirement: working to sell her crafts through her Etsy shop; getting more involved in church; playing with her dogs; taking up piano; and learning how to make tamales.

She also hopes to complete some projects on her house, and hop in her SUV when she has a chance and drive Washington with other retired friends.

Plus, she will “take naps whenever I want to, which sounds stupid when you get to this point, and then it sounds good,” she said.

Unlike her colleagues, Lang knew she wanted to be a court reporter at age 16.

She was interested in the law but had no desire to become an attorney. So, after meeting court reporter representatives at a job fair, Lang became intrigued and knew it was a great way to have a career in the legal profession.

She started court reporting school at 17 after high school graduation, and got her first job at 19 as a court reporter in Chicago near her hometown. After four years, she moved to the Tri-Cities, but had to later return to Chicago to testify before a grand jury because her former judge was accused in a ticket fixing scheme.

You work with people every day and sometimes spend more time with them than you do your own families. I think it’s going to be a huge change not having them here.

Superior Court Administrator Pat Austin

Lang worked with Judge Fred Staples for 11 years, then Judge Phil Raekes for six years, and finally Judge Swisher. She said she’s had a close relationship with every one of her judges, noting that she sees a different side of them.

“I’ve loved almost every minute of it,” Lang said.

Lang said her highs and lows in the courtroom include being proposed to by her then-attorney boyfriend, who wrote the proposal on paper in her machine, to having a table kicked toward her and being forced to “scooch backwards” so she wouldn’t be hit.

The license plate on one of Lang’s cars is written in steno — “HRAOESA.” Those seven letters are shorthand for the four letters of her first name — Lisa.

Lang immediately got her retirement started with a trip to Tucson, Ariz., for a smooth jazz fundraiser. She jokes that her husband will work for a few more years to keep up the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed, like traveling around the world.

Lang hopes to do more volunteer work now that she has free time, and plans to pour wine on occasion at Anelare’s tasting room in Benton City. She’s looking forward to that because Lang, who describes herself as a social person, said she’s been stuck in one spot and unable to say a word while in court.

“I’m just excited to start this new chapter,” said the Pasco woman, who also loves biking and hiking. “I’m hoping to be one of those people that say, ‘I don’t know how I ever had time to work.’ ”

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer

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