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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Rhonda Menor, a court reporter for Marinette County for almost 40 years, will retire on Thursday, Dec. 12. Throughout her nearly four decades she worked primarily for two Branch 1 judges, Judge Charles Heath and Judge David Miron. Menor stated she enjoyed her career as a court reporter and said, "it was the best decision I ever made coming to Marinette County to work." Pictured is Rhonda Menor with her stenograph as she prepares to get another 260 words per minute ready and Judge David Miron. The two worked together for the past 19 years.

Menor Retiring After 40 Years As Marinette County Court Reporter

Issue Date: December 12, 2019

On Thursday, Dec. 12, Rhonda Rae Menor will shut down her stenograph machine, turn off her computer and retire from her 40-year career as a court reporter. With accrued vacation time, her official last day will be Thursday, Dec. 26.

Menor's work with the Marinette County Circuit Court system began in 1980 when Judge Charles Heath was presiding over Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 1 and will end shortly before Judge David Miron's retirement becomes effective in July of 2020. Judge Heath was on the bench for her first 20 years with the Marinette County Court system and Judge Miron has been her judge for the past 19 years.

In Wisconsin, official court reporters are personal appointees of the judge and employees of the state. If her judge was assigned a case in another county, she would go with him. "Where ever the judge goes, I go." If her judge was on vacation, then she could be assigned to work in another county within the 8th Judicial District - Marinette, Oconto, Brown, Door, Outagamie and Waupaca counties. This gave her the opportunity to work with many judges. Menor said in her four decades as a court reporter in the Wisconsin judicial system "I have been very blessed to work with two of the best judges in Wisconsin...and Marinette County has been very blessed to have judges of such high integrity and excellent legal scholars!" "My judges were not only judges, they were people. They were compassionate when compassion was needed, they were firm when firmness was required and they were brilliant legal scholars." She repeated, "I am very proud to have been court reporter for Judge Charles Heath and Judge David Miron!"

She said both Judge Heath and Judge Miron were very cognizant of the record which made her job much easier because they controlled their courtroom and would not allow people to speak at the same time or speak out of turn. The Court Reporter is responsible for writing down every single word said in the courtroom so if the Court Reporter didn't understand something or didn't hear something, it is her responsibility to stop the witness or attorney for clarification. Menor emphasizes that that is something that makes a live reporter better than a tape recorder. "I know if I didn't hear or understand something. I know if I missed it because someone coughed. And I know if I am having a mechanical malfunction and need to stop the proceedings."

She said she has loved her job and will miss it, particularly having coffee every morning with Judge Miron while they discussed issues coming up, problems they might be facing and life in general. "My judges were not only my bosses, they were also my friend." Menor says, "I still look at what I do and say wow, how do we do that? I will forever be fascinated by what court reporters are able to do!"

Court reporters are responsible for their transcripts for 10 years, so whatever she does on her last day in court will be her responsibility for 10 years. Because of that she will not be doing any part time court reporter work after she retires.

Menor, daughter of Arlene and Jerry Smith, of Appleton, was born and raised there, and graduated from Appleton East High School in 1978. While a senior in high school she went to school in the morning and worked in the District Attorney's Office in the afternoon. The Outagamie County District Attorney at that time was David Prosser. Prosser, who later became Speaker of the Assembly and then Supreme Court Justice, is the one who convinced her to go into court reporting.

After graduating from high school she attended Gateway Technical College in Kenosha for two years and graduated with an Associate Degree in Court Reporting. She first came to Marinette County as a free-lance court reporter in 1980.

Judge Heath apparently liked her and liked her work, and on at least five occasions he asked her to make Marinette County her full time assignment. Finally he asked, "What would it take to get you to take the job here?"

"Well, being a 20-year-old from Appleton," Menor chuckles, "I told him, "Find me a man.'"

He didn't exactly do that, but it happened anyway. On June 1, 1981 she officially replaced Jane Ryan as Marinette County Branch I Court Reporter. On Oct. 13 of that year David Menor, in connection with his job as an officer with the Marinette Police Department, was in court to testify at a hearing which she was reporting. He later went to the Clerk of Courts office to find out who the judge's new court reporter was, and the rest is pretty much history.

They were married in Neenah on June 11, 1983, and now live in Marinette. They have two children, daughter, Brittany, 27, who is a missionary in the Philippines, and son, Brandon, 29, who is a teacher in Kenosha. They are members of Faith Church in Peshtigo.

Jane Ryan had been the reporter for 40 years. So in almost 79 years there have been two court reporters in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch I. "Moving to Marinette to become Judge Heath's reporter was the best decision I ever made" Menor declared. She said after 40 years she still loves her job and will miss it, but feels it is time to retire. She plans to spend her new spare time doing some of the things she loves - traveling, golfing, snowshoeing, caring for her flowers, and baking. Friends say she will probably continue bringing her famous cookies to friends, meetings and other gatherings.

Menor is currently one of the longest-serving court reporters in Wisconsin. During her long career Menor has earned all three professional certifications, including the highest skill certification, that of "Certified Real Time Court Reporter." She is certified to type on the steno machine at 260 words per minute.

She has been active in several professional organizations, including the Wisconsin and National Court Reporters Associations. She served as president of the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association from 1993 to 1995. She was also Chair of the Student Committee for NCRA. Menor has always enjoyed teaching and mentoring students.

Things have changed much for court reporters in the 40 years since Menor started her career, but one thing that has not changed is the need for stenographic court reporters. Menor states "There will always be a place for a skilled stenographic reporter." Menor said she has been told there are currently 35 court reporter vacancies in Wisconsin, and only five graduates coming in to replace them. The dropout rate for students in court reporter training programs was 95 percent when Menor attended school and she estimates that is still true today because it is a very difficult skill to master. Developing speed is the most difficult part of graduating.

Technology has made life much easier for court reporters. When Menor started reporting in 1980, she transcribed her notes on a typewriter using carbon paper for each copy of the transcript needed. Today reporters are computerized and literally have a rough draft of a transcript complete when they walk out of the courtroom.

An additional advancement in technology has been the internet. "Google is my best friend" Menor states. She used to have all the area telephone books and maps in her office as resources for looking up spellings. She now turns to Google and Google Maps to find spellings. "A word that used to take me hours to find now takes seconds."

She also now e-files her transcripts, something that is now mandatory in Wisconsin. This saves time printing and saves a lot of paper. Transcripts can also be emailed in PDF format to the litigants.

Because of the pending shorting of stenographic court reporters, the State is installing Digital Audio Reporting (DAR) in every county in the state including Marinette County Circuit Court Branch II. Menor is quite vocal about the fact that the incoming DAR is a huge step backward for the court system. "We are reverting back to the way transcripts were produced 40 years ago " typing transcripts. When I walk out of the courtroom as a realtime reporter, I have 350 pages in rough draft. DAR has zero."

When Menor started her career with Judge Heath, she was not only his court reporter, she was also his secretary and scheduling clerk. Transcripts were typically done at night and on weekends. She is very thankful for the judicial assistant who now takes responsibility for those non-reporting duties.

Some things do not change, for example the need for utmost confidentiality remains paramount. Also the need to listen carefully and transcribe verbatim what everyone in the courtroom said. And court reporters still need to be available when juries are deliberating in case the jury has a question and wants testimony read back.

Menor recalls an attempted murder case tried in Door County in 1983. The defendant admitted guilt, but plead not guilty to the mental responsibility phase. The jury returned a not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect verdict after deliberating less than 15 minutes. They determined the person was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his service in the Viet Nam war and was not guilty due to mental defect. She says this case has personally given her an utmost respect for our military"and an inability to watch a war movie.

Another trial that stays in Menor's memory is that of James Nichols, who was sentenced by Judge Miron in 2007 to 69 years in prison for the shooting death of a Hmong hunter in the Peshtigo Harbor area after a squirrel hunting dispute. That trial included a high demand for technology, Menor recalls.

Today, drugs account for the majority of court cases, Menor said, adding that there seem to be fewer civil trials because of mediation.

"I loved my job. I was wowed by my job and I am incredibly thankful for the privilege of being a court reporter for Marinette County. I will truly miss the people I have had the privilege of working with and I will always say, "Wow, how do we do that?'"


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