VALPARAISO — Alice Hadden was at the heart of the action during the three-week Steven Lindsey murder trial a couple months ago in Porter County.
She also was front-and-center during the high-profile Dustin McCowan murder trial in 2013 and just about every other trial and hearing held over the last seven years before Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa.
The 36-year-old Portage resident works as a court reporter, which involves creating "word-for-word transcriptions at trials, depositions, and other legal proceedings," according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hadden said she initially wanted to be an elementary school teacher. But after problems arose involving a class, court reporting was suggested by her grandfather, former Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber.
"I didn't even know what it was," she said.
She learned about the College of Court Reporting in Hobart and signed up for classes. The curriculum called for six months of work just to learn how to write the language, which was followed by a series of classes designed to get students up to the 225 words per minute needed to graduate.
"It can be anywhere from six months to five years," Hadden said.
The speed work took her three and a half years and Hadden now works in real time on her stenographer machine, which enables the judge to refresh himself on testimony nearly instantly.
"You're not thinking about what you're doing," she said of the automatic nature of the skill.
Hadden said she uses a 22-key stenographer machine, which unlike a standard keyboard, does not call for typing in each letter of words. The beginning of words are entered using the left hand, vowels are entered with the thumbs and the word endings are punched in with the right hand.
While the court provides equipment for Hadden, freelancers can expect to pay $4,000 each for a stenographer machine and the accompanying software.
Voice dictation is used in some courtrooms elsewhere, which requires less study, she said.
"Some court reporters also provide captioning for television and real-time translation for deaf or hard-of-hearing people at public events, at business meetings, or in classrooms," according to the the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hadden's dedication to the job was put to the test once during a jury trial when she realized she was going to be sick.
"I was trying to get the judge's attention," she said.
She kept up with the arguments of the attorneys until she had to stop long enough to grab a nearby garbage can.
"I threw up in court," she said. "Then one of the attorneys finally noticed."
Hadden, who is a full-time county employee, is able to earn money above and beyond her base salary when attorneys request copies of transcripts. She was paid around $13,000 to prepare the lengthy transcripts of the McCowan trial, though that was at the very high end of the typical jobs. This preparation work takes about three times as long as the original court time, she said.
How she got the job: Hadden was studying education when her grandfather, former Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber, suggested she pursue court reporting. She is now working in his former courtroom.
What the job pays: Hadden is paid a base salary of $38,000 a year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2014 median pay for a court reporter is $49,860 per year. Court reporters are able to earn additional money by preparing transcripts of court proceedings.
Job Growth: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for the profession through 2024 is 2 percent, which is slower than average.