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How Do I Get a Transcript of a Surrogate’s Court Proceeding?

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{Read in 4 Minutes}  As a Trusts and Estates attorney, I frequently appear in the Surrogate’s Court, whether it’s for a probate proceeding, a kinship matter, a contested accounting, or bringing a turnover proceeding. Anything that is done in the courtroom is recorded.

Unlike in other courts where a live stenographer types what everyone says, in most Surrogate Court proceedings, there are microphones spread throughout the courtroom to record what is said by all parties, counsel, and the judge.

Sometimes a proceeding may be brief, like the return date of a Citation, or sometimes, there might be a hearing that lasts several hours or even several days. After the proceeding, one or more parties may want to get a transcript of everything said at the hearing. Sometimes, the Court will request that the parties furnish the Court with the transcript, so the judge may review it before rendering their decision.

Other times, clients will want copies of transcripts to keep a record of what was said. Or perhaps one of the parties is not pleased with the outcome of the case, and they wish to appeal. The Appellate Court will often require a full copy of the transcript(s).

Here are the steps to order a transcript in the Surrogate’s Court:

1. Contact the Office of the Chief Clerk or the Deputy Chief Clerk. 

This is always the first step. The Court needs to identify the portion of the daily audio recordings that contain the proceeding in question. When contacting the Chief Clerk, or the Deputy Chief Clerk, it’s helpful to have the name of the deceased, the file number for the Estate(s), and the date on which the proceeding occurred. The Clerk can then use this information to pinpoint the exact start and stop times of the recording. 

2. Select a transcription company

When speaking to the Chief Clerk or Deputy Chief Clerk, ask for a copy of the Court’s approved list of transcription companies. These are transcription companies that the Court has worked with before, who routinely produce transcripts of the Surrogate’s Court proceedings. Usually, there are several dozen on the list from which an attorney may choose. Sometimes attorneys tend to choose the transcription companies they use privately for depositions, provided they are also on the Court list. The transcription company can provide a cost estimate for transcribing the recording. Most transcription companies have a minimum charge, so you may wind up paying a couple of hundred dollars, even if the whole proceeding lasted less than 10 minutes. If you’re talking about multiple days, ordering a transcript can be quite expensive.

3. Review the Transcripts.

When getting the transcript, always review it for accuracy. Because this is a transcription of an audio recording, the transcription company may not always attribute the correct words to the correct speaker. Another problem arises if several people are attempting to speak over each other simultaneously — it is hard to distinguish which words came from which speaker. It’s not as if they can look and see whose mouth is moving during the transcription! 

If you find errors, you should call this to the transcription company’s attention and ask them to correct it. Also, something that can save you time in advance is if you provide the transcription company with a list of the names — properly spelled — for all the parties and attorneys. This will prevent errors in the transcription the first time around.

So, as you can see, ordering a transcript, which can be helpful for a variety of reasons, is a relatively straightforward process. So long as you follow the above steps, you can ensure that you will quickly receive a fully accurate transcript. For more information on this topic, please contact me.