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- June 12, 1995
- Vol. 43
- No. 23
Even More Than Lawyers in the O.j. Trial, Two Veteran Court Reporters Know Words Are Money
Basically it's a lot of hard work. "This job is my life," says Moxham, 40, who gets by on 4 hours of sleep a night, plus catnaps. She and Olson, 45, take turns capturing every syllable spoken in the courtroom on small keyboards—no mean feat, considering that lawyers Johnnie Cochran and Marcia Clark, in high gear, can hit 300 words a minute and that Salvadoran witness Rosa Lopez mixed English and Spanish in the same sentence. Within seconds a state-of-the-art computer system translates the reporter's notations into English that flashes on screens mounted throughout the courtroom. Real-time transcription means that sometimes names or phrases come out garbled in the first draft: defense lawyer Howard Weitzman has been "Mr. Whites Man," and you can pretty much guess what happened to criminologist and defense witness Dennis Fung. Hunched over home computers late into the night, Moxham and Olson then edit the 300 pages of court records generated each day.
If this sounds like grim employment, there is one rather bright spot. According to L.A. county estimates, Moxham and Olson may split more than $500,000 in salaries and fees during the course of the Simpson trial—considerably more than the annual salaries of fellow county employees Clark ($96,828) and Judge Ito ($107,390). Moxham and Olson say that figure is inflated by 50 percent. Even so, they are making good money, the result of arduous hours, a once-in-a-life-time case and the fact that, because court reporters receive no overtime and must pay for their own equipment, they are allowed to supplement their $60,000-a-year salaries by selling copies of transcripts for up to a dollar a page. Although it's all on the up-and-up, the reporters' profits from this trial, says county supervisor Michael Antonovich, are "unreasonable. They are not private-sector employees." Says Olson: "I realize we generate income off it, but [this case] is unprecedented."
The TV cameras and occasional fan mail are also unusual in the line of work Olson first heard about on Career Day as a 1967 high school senior in Whittier, Calif. "I could type 100 words a minute on a manual typewriter," she says. "I studied piano as a kid, [so] I always had a dexterity for that." Before a stint as a reserve L.A. policewoman, she mastered court reporting, in only 18 months, by 1971—about a year faster than most candidates. Since then she has worked on plum trials, including the 1983 Hillside Strangler convictions and the Rodney King beating case in 1992.
During the trial of murderer Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez in 1989, the defendant took an unhealthy interest in Olson's feet, she recalls. "When the judge would call for bench conferences, I would pad up in my stocking feet," she says. "Ramirez used to leer at my toes and lick his lips." Fortunately, there was a brawny bailiff on duty, Dan Sanzone, now 44; he and Olson married in 1992.
Moxham and Olson met in 1990, just after Moxham started with Judge Ito. "He works long hours," says Moxham, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and dates longtime boyfriend Phil Little, 53, a sheriffs sergeant. "I said, 'I'll go try him.' I like working hard." In fact, Moxham, a court reporter for 15 years, admits she "doesn't have a life." The two women soon became inseparable pals. They ride the same commuter train, have vacationed together in Jamaica and Arizona and have their hair cut by the same stylist. They also share a deep respect for Ito, who keeps a protective eye on them. "When people say negative things about him, it bothers me," says Moxham.
The fuss over pay makes the Simpson job tougher than usual, say the two reporters. According to Olson, someone has been spreading a rumor that she will soon retire to write a book about the Simpson case. Not so, she says. "We like our work. If we didn't, we wouldn't be doing a trial like this." Nonetheless, just about everyone in the courtroom seems to have an opinion on the matter. A couple of weeks ago, as she was delivering transcripts to the defense table, O.J. himself leaned over and said, "Well, now I know how you make your money," reports Olson. "I said, 'Shh, I don't need that from you too."
LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles
- Lyndon Stambler.
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