Fastest Pen in the West' Still Taking Court Notes

By: Carrigeer Thevenot AP Email
By: Carrigeer Thevenot AP Email

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Stella Butterfield hands out business cards calling herself "fastest pen in the West."

At 83, the Las Vegas resident is considered the only court reporter in Nevada still using written stenography.

"Shorthand's archaic," Butterfield willingly acknowledgedduring a recent interview. "They don't even teach it in the schools in the States anymore."

While her workload may have slowed this year, she insists her hand speed hasn't. She attributes that to a regular exercise regimen, which includes meeting with a personal trainer twice a week.

Butterfield doesn't actively solicit business anymore, but she maintains a listing in the Yellow Pages and works an average of three days a month. Many of her regular clients have died or retired.

"I honestly thought I'd quit reporting after 50 years, and now I'm going into 58 years," she said.

These days, she focuses much of her energy on marketing The Widow Butterfield's BBQ Sauce ("Taste to die for!"). And she recently was invited to join a court reporters delegation to South Africa in conjunction with the People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs.

Butterfield said she considers the invitation an honor for both herself and Nevada, and she plans to raise the $6,000 necessary to make the trip in November.

Delegation leader Merilyn Marquardt-Sanchez of Phoenix, past president of the National Court Reporters Association, said candidates were selected based on several criteria, including membership in the national association with about 23,000 members, their geographic location, their specialty in the field, and their level of experience.

"We wanted a good cross-section of our profession," she said, who explained People to People management made the selections and invited 800 people.

Marquardt-Sanchez hasn't met Butterfield and didn't know she was
a pen writer. But she called it wonderful example for someone without funds for advanced technology to learn the ability to make a verbatim record.

And without the need for fancy equipment, Butterfield "has a lot more flexibility," said Marquardt-Sanchez, who said she knew of only a handful of pen writers in her organization.

South Africa has no formal court reporting system, but courts and schools have expressed an interest in developing a stenography training program.

Adrien Fox, spokesman for People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs, said a typical delegation consists of about 35 to 40 people.

People to People International was founded in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower as a vehicle to expand international relations beyond the structure of government agencies. The nonpolitical, private organization is dedicated to promoting international peace and understanding.

Butterfield said she can bring to South Africa "optimism, hope, a desire to learn more and give back what you learn."

As a longtime member of Soroptomist International of Greater Las Vegas, she also hopes to contact other Soroptomist members in South
Africa.

The New York City native began her court reporting career in June 1951 in the Panama Canal Zone, where she worked for six months as a civilian in a U.S. Air Force legal office.

But the seeds for her job choice had been planted nearly a decade earlier, when her oldest brother paid for her to attend business school. Butterfield's parents died when she was 12, and her brother, the oldest of five children, became head of the family.

From mid-1942 to 1948, Butterfield worked for the federal government on both coasts as a clerk-typist and a teletype operator. She then went to work as a secretary at Albrook Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone, and in June 1951 she accepted a court reporting position in the legal office on base.

Most of her work involved recording testimony during court-martial proceedings. She received only on-the-job training. While in the Panama Canal Zone, she began dating a staff sergeant named Frank Butterfield. In July 1951, he was transferred to Massachusetts. Five months later she followed, and they were married in December.

Frank Butterfield served in the Korean War until 1953. The
couple moved a few times in the following years and did a short
stay at Nellis Air Force Base. While in California in 1955, Butterfield learned about a job opening in federal court in Las Vegas. She took a train to Las Vegas and interviewed with then-U.S. District Judge Roger T. Foley.

At the time, only four court reporters were working in Las Vegas. Three weeks passed before Butterfield received a response. The call came on a Friday, and she was asked to report to work for a trial beginning Monday.

She accepted the job, with its annual salary of $5,700, and temporarily left her husband behind in Los Angeles.

The first of Butterfield's three children was born in the fall of 1957. After that, she gradually became a freelancer, working out of her home and building her clientele.

Her husband tried court reporting but didn't like it. He later operated billiard parlors in Las Vegas, mined gold and worked as a marketing representative for a cab company. When he died in February 2001 at age 71, the couple had been married 49 years.

The court reporting business still carries the Butterfield & Butterfield name.

Today's stenotype machines are computerized, providing their operators with instantaneous transcripts that need only editing

Butterfield dictates her notes into a tape recorder. A transcriber uses her tape to produce a transcript, which Butterfield proofreads.

When asked why she still works with a pen, she explained that in
the early years of her career, California had the nearest stenotype
school, and she didn't want to leave the state for training while she had three youngsters at home.

When a school opened in Las Vegas in the mid-1980s, she figured she was nearing retirement. Besides, her method worked just fine.

Through the years, Butterfield has taken the depositions of such celebrities as Johnny Carson, Buddy Hackett, Joe E. Lewis, Wayne
Newton, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra.

"I don't think anybody's had a better time as a court reporter than I have," she said.


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