One of the most important duties a court reporter performs is swearing in a witness. In Massachusetts, the notary laws state that a witness’s identity must first be verified by their presentation of a government-issued photo ID, such as a license or passport. They also require that the witness be physically present with the court reporter.
When swearing in a witness, speak slowly and clearly. Administering an oath sets the tone for the deposition. An attorney told me once that a reporter rattled off the oath so quickly that he was compelled to ask her, “Do you want me to ask the questions that fast?” Good point. An oath administered slowly and deliberately will remind the witness of the seriousness of the occasion and will hopefully help to set the pace of the proceedings.
I have never forgotten this valuable piece of advice I once received on this topic: Make sure you get an audible response from the witness. If you receive a nod or a shake of the head, ask for a verbal response. If you receive any other kind of response other than a “yes,” such as, “I’ll do my best” or “I guess so,” write those exact words on your machine. In any event, after you swear in a witness, make a note to that effect somewhere, either on your machine or on your work papers, so that you can look a judge in the eye and affirm that the oath was indeed administered.
Almost every reporter at least once in their career forgets to swear in a witness. If this happens to you during the deposition, you must alert counsel. They will then probably ask you to administer the oath retroactively. If you discover your omission after the deposition has concluded, then you must make that very awkward phone call to the attorneys to notify them of your oversight. You can only hope the matter will be resolved without contention. This is why getting in the habit of making a note that you DID swear in the witness is a good practice to follow.
I have come across several situations that gave me pause. Be prepared with an oath to administer to a child and an oath to administer to an interpreter. Some people would rather “affirm” than “swear” to tell the truth. Some do not want a reference to God in the oath. And believe it or not, before you ask someone to raise their right hand, make sure they have one! (This actually happened)
In short, don’t be one of those reporters who indifferently spews out the oath. Treat this task with the respect and deference it deserves.