By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN While most of the population tries to avoid courtroom appearances, Maria Weinbeck, a 1981 Holy Trinity graduate, and her brother, Henry Weinbeck, a 1985 Holy Trinity graduate, consider it a normal part of their job as court reporters.
Maria was the first to choose court reporting as a career, while she was still in high school.
“I always was interested in the law and used to watch an old television show called “Perry Mason” when I was growing up. There was this woman who sat in the courtroom writing on this machine and listening so intently to the major drama that was playing out in the courtroom,” Maria said. “I thought I would like to try her job someday, or maybe even become a lawyer like Perry Mason.”
After graduating from the Minnesota School of Business in March 1985, Maria got her first job as a freelance court reporter taking depositions at various law firms in Sun Valley, ID.
For Henry, it was later, on a family trip to Idaho to visit Maria, that he was first able to see the flexibility and financial stability a career as a court reporter would give him.
“I thought it was a pretty cool job that could give you many opportunities to travel, so that kind of started the wheels turning for me,” Henry said.
However, Henry’s first career choice was to become a professional musician, so he enrolled at the University of Minnesota studying music in its jazz program.
After a year, he switched his career choice to court reporting, not giving up his music entirely, but as a way to make a living while he pursued other interests. He enrolled at Rasmussen School of Business, which at the time was Northern Technical School of Court Reporting.
Just like Maria, Henry’s first job after graduation was as a freelance reporter, working for a firm in Bloomington, but he had an advantage Maria didn’t have. He had an older sister with experience in his career field.
Maria had moved back from Idaho to Minnesota by the time Henry had started his court reporting career and she was able to help him with terminology and all the administrative things that go with being an official court reporter, according to Henry.
The Weinbecks are both nationally-certified machine shorthand writers. Using a stenotype machine they are able to write more than 225 words per minute.
“Keep in mind that most people speak conversationally at around 80 to 100 words per minute, so those speeds are pretty amazing,” Henry said.
Maria is also a certified realtime reporter and a registered merit reporter. She is able to write dictation at the speed of 260 words per minute.
Using his musical background, Henry compares the use of the stenograph machine to playing the piano.
“When you think of using a typewriter, you are only hitting one button at a time,” Henry said. “In stenography, we are hitting multiple keys at one time, very similar to playing chords on a piano.”
What many people don’t know, according to Maria, is when they see closed-captioning on television, the words moving across the screen, generally used for the hearing-impaired person, that service is made possible by court reporters.
Court reporters all over the country provide closed captioning for sporting events, cooking shows, CNN, and many other television programs.
They are also hired by colleges and universities to work with students who are hard-of-hearing by translating instructor’s lectures in real time at each class for the student.
Maria Weinbeck is a federal court reporter
Today, Maria has chosen her career-setting in federal court, where she was hired by the Honorable Joan N. Ericksen, United States District Court judge.
When Judge Ericksen doesn’t have court scheduled, Maria fills in with the other federal judges in the District of Minnesota, with courthouses in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, and Fergus Falls. This includes the seven magistrate judges and the 10 federal district court judges.
“My court schedule varies every day. If we are in trial, I arrive to work at 8 a.m. and get set up for court, which usually starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.,” Maria said.
“Generally, I put in 50 hours a week with court time and working on transcripts, either at the office or at home,” Maria said.
Some of the major federal cases Maria has worked on include the criminal trial of Tom Petters, where she was court reporter for three days; Dennis Hecker’s plea of guilty and sentencing, the NFL lockout telephone conference where the attorneys were in New York and the judge was in his chambers in Minneapolis; and there was a civil lawsuit involving the owners of Christal Champagne, one of the most expensive champagnes in the world, according to Maria, which had the owners come from France to Minnesota to testify at the trial.
Two of her most recent cases involved a three-week jury trial on a triple homicide that took place in St. Paul in 2007. The crime was violent and included the murder of a teenage girl. Also, a criminal jury trial on a felon in possession of a weapon who was later found guilty of drive-by shootings in St. Cloud.
In order to work in federal court, it’s required the reporter pass additional certification exams. The exams test the reporter on knowledge of court procedures, as well as legal and medical terminology that is encountered in many court proceedings. The court reporter must also have at least five years of experience.
Maria has been a court reporter for 25 years and still enjoys her job.
“I love being in the courtroom with Judge Ericksen who is a learned and respected judge with a great sense of humor,” Maria said. “I enjoy the variety that comes with court reporting and watching how the various lawsuits play out. Whether it’s a criminal or civil lawsuit, they come out of every area of our society the corporate world, high society, street gangs, and white collar criminals. Court reporting drops me in the middle of all of these slices of life.”
Maria has been married to Robert Owen, a criminal defense attorney, for 25 years, and they have a 14-year-old son, Nick. They live in St. Louis Park.
Henry Weinbeck is a freelance reporter
Henry is currently working as a freelance court reporter in Portland, OR.
In the middle of January 1996, Henry was offered his first real freelance job. It came from a man by the name of Ralph Rosenberg who was looking for court reporters to move to Honolulu, Hawaii to work for his very busy reporting firm.
“I think it took me all of five seconds to say, yes, I would accept a job there,” Henry said. “But first, I had to pass the National Court Reporters Association test in order to work basically anywhere in the country. So I took the test in March, got married to my wife in April, and we moved to Honolulu in August. That was kind of a crazy year,” Henry said.
“I would do jobs in Kona, HI, one day, which is a 20-minute flight from Honolulu; and then the next day, I would be in Kauai for a job. So I would take a four-hour deposition and then go hiking in the mountains for a couple of hours and then take a flight back to Honolulu. It was awesome.”
Freelancing in Hawaii was a great job, according to Henry, but it was also an expensive place to live. Another disadvantage for him was waiting to be paid. First, the attorneys were paid by their clients, then the attorneys would pay him. Sometimes, it would be a couple of months before he would see any money from a deposition that he had worked on.
From Hawaii, Henry and his wife moved to Albuquerque, NM, then to Santa Fe, NM.
“We were in New Mexico for six years and it’s still one of my favorite places on Earth,” Henry said. “The people there are the nicest.”
From New Mexico, the couple moved back to Minneapolis for about five years, and then moved to Oregon.
“We have always loved the Pacific Northwest and decided to go for it. We’ve been here now a little over three years. It’s a beautiful place and reminds me a lot of Minnesota,” he said.
The longest court case Henry has ever worked on was a four-month-long case involving a well-known oncologist in Minneapolis.
It was also the most interesting one for Henry.
“The State Board of Medical Examiners was trying to revoke a doctor’s license for using what I feel was cutting-edge technology in treating cancer patients. It was very fascinating and they had world-renowned doctors come to Minnesota from all over the world to testify on his behalf,” Henry said.
“It was a difficult case for me, personally, as I was working on that case at the same time my sister, Beverly, was going through breast cancer treatments. She passed away shortly after that case was finished,” Henry said.
“But interestingly, the testing and treatment being used by that physician, which was under scrutiny back then, is now continuing to evolve and is aiding the treatment and diagnosis of cancer.”
Summing up the pros of being a court reporter, Henry lists the ability to work in any state with the exception of California, which has enabled him to experience his love to travel.
Another advantage of his job is that he can be as busy as he wants to be. “If I am bogged down with tons of work, I can just take a week off to get caught up,” he said.
The downside of freelancing, according to Henry, is there are no fringe benefits, for example health insurance, dental, and paid vacation.
Just like most people, Henry feels his job has it moments, but adds:
“I love the flexibility it offers, the pay is excellent and it’s constantly changing. I also like the fact that I can do this job anywhere in the world. I recently saw a job posting for work in Tanzania, which sounded really cool. But I think I’ll stick with Oregon for now.”
Henry has been married to his wife Kristen for 15 years and they live in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Maria and Henry Weinbeck are children of Irene and the late Ben Weinbeck, and grew up in downtown Winsted.