Tri-C court reporting graduate hard at work on federal Benghazi trial
October 17, 2017
On Oct. 2, 2017, the trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala began at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Abu Khattala is the suspected mastermind behind the 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
It’s a high-profile trial receiving daily media coverage. What you might not know is that amid the maelstrom of microphones and rolling cameras surrounding the trial, a Cuyahoga Community College graduate is at the center of it all, hard at work.
His name is William Zaremba, and he’s one of several court reporters assigned to the trial.
“I admit to being a bit nervous, because it’s one of the biggest cases at this court in recent memory,” Zaremba said the day the trial started. “All sorts of major trials come through here, but this one is big even by those standards.”
Even with a case of nerves, Zaremba is embracing the opportunity. His willingness to take on new challenges is the reason why he has risen from a Tri-C Captioning and Court Reporting student to one of the country’s most important courts in less than 10 years.
Zaremba’s path to Tri-C wasn’t a straight line. Raised just over the Summit County line in Macedonia, he explored different career paths as a student at Kent State University, but none of them seemed to fit. He was lost until a close friend decided to pursue a court reporting career. Zaremba became interested in the field and decided to look into it further.
“I looked into some private schools, but they were out of financial range for my parents,” he said. “Then another friend of mine, who was going to Tri-C at the time, told me they had a court reporting program. I checked it out, and from that point, there was never a question as to where I would go.”
Zaremba enrolled at Tri-C in fall 2002 and quickly discovered that the Captioning and Court Reporting program “is no joke.”
At a conversational pace, a person generally speaks at between 180 and 200 words per minute. On a standard QWERTY keyboard, the fastest professional typists can produce between 70 and 80 words per minute. The math simply doesn’t add up – even the fastest typists can’t maintain a word-for-word pace with a normal rate of speech.
A machine called a stenotype solves this problem with just 24 keys. By depressing different combinations of keys, court reporters produce groups of letters that correspond to different phonetic sounds, effectively allowing the writer (court reporters refer to their work as writing, not typing) to produce entire syllables or words at once.
It’s a course of study that requires the student to learn a new language based entirely on sounds rather than spelling, grammar and word structure. For instance, “C” is not included on the stenotype keyboard, since other key combinations can stand in for the soft-C and hard-C sounds. A writer would spell “cat” by depressing the “K,” “A” and “T” buttons at once, rendering “KAT.”
For Zaremba, it meant practice, practice and more practice.
“You have to practice constantly,” he said. “It’s like learning the piano. I was practicing 10 hours a day, because there is no way you can just do the bare minimum and expect to get through the class.”
That is where Zaremba relied heavily on the instruction and encouragement from his Tri-C teachers.
“My teachers were amazing,” he said. “They gave us real-world stories about what it is like to work in the field. They prepared us for what we would experience. But they also understood the amount of practicing and drilling that we had to go through, so they tried to make class fun and exciting.”
With the guidance of his teachers and his own sense of determination, Zaremba was able to weather the rough spots on his journey, graduating from Tri-C in 2005.
“I think there is a point of frustration that every student reaches, where you are practicing so hard and you’re still not making words as fast or as accurately as you want to,” he said. “But you have to stick with it, because if you’re committed, it will pay off for you.”
After graduating, Zaremba worked as a freelance court reporter at firms in Cleveland and Youngstown for several years. He was hired by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in 2008 – his first official, full-time court reporting job.
But Zaremba always had his sights set on working in a federal court. When he was hired by the Washington D.C. district court in 2014, he knew he had found his dream job.
“This is definitely the job I wanted,” he said. “I fought tooth and nail to get here. This, to me, is the epitome of where you’d want to be as a court reporter.”
Even though he’s now in the middle of a high-profile federal trial with international implications, Zaremba won’t forget his roots. He is extremely thankful for the foundation Tri-C helped him build and frequently recommends the Captioning and Court Reporting program to others looking to enter the field.
“I cannot thank the whole staff at Tri-C enough,” he said. “They gave me the tools to get to where I am today. I don’t know what my life would be like without court reporting. It’s been a blessing to me, and it all started at Tri-C.”