Alcoholism and Court Reporting . . . Toxic Cocktail Wreaks Havoc with 30 New York Trials

In bars across the U.S. barflies talk into their cups. They mutter words that have meaning only for themselves. It’s a repeated uncomfortable scene of what the disease – alcoholism – is all about.

But what if the scene is a courtroom in New York City?

The courtroom reporter – the stenographer accountable for the transcripts of the trial dialogue he is recording – is critical to its ongoing process. He shorthand types everything spoken – the questions and answers, the comments from the bench, the back-and-forth words of defense counsel and prosecution. It is a position of great responsibility.

If an attorney (just as might happen in a courtroom scene of TV’s “Law & Order”) asks the reporter to furnish a portion of this dialogue, what should he expect? An accurate account of what was said.

Instead . . . he reads “I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job” typed over and over, or some lengthy piece of incomprehensible gibberish.
Daniel Kochanski, an alcoholic court stenographer, did just this. The damage he caused could jeopardize as many as 30 hard-won convictions by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. This includes the 2010 mortgage-fraud trial of Aaron Hand, also convicted of trying to hire a hit man to take out a witness.

“I never had a situation where a single court reporter was responsible for so much damage,” said Claudia Trupp of the Center for Appellate Litigation.


The validity of these 30 convictions is threatened.


Mr. Kochanski’s misconduct (he was fired in March 2012) gives defense counsel the lawful opportunity to claim crucial evidence is missing. 10 of the 30 cases are in appeal for this reason alone, and are being handled by the Center for Appellate Litigation. Judges are holding reconstruction hearings (everyone involved in a case must testify as to what they remember). Meanwhile, attempts are being made (like putting together the fragments of some confused manuscript) to decipher and make sense of Mr. Kochanski’s garbled transcripts.
Everyone is scrambling.

In his own defense Mr. Kochanski has said “I never typed gibberish. I always did my job 100 percent.” He then admitted “I was let go because of substance abuse.”

On the silver screen W.C. Fields made such situations funny, but in reality . . . What did it cost Mr. Kochanski? His wife, his job. In short, his world.

As his ex-wife Heather said “The pressure of that job pushed him over the edge, leading him to lose everything.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 50% of all adult Americans are regular drinkers. That’s roughly 115 million people.

It’s a sobering thought (no pun intended) that approximately 15 million (or 13%) of this number are known to be seriously affected by alcohol abuse or dependency.

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