On the record
By ANDREW MCGINN
With no plans to retire even after 40 years as a court reporter, Nancy Timmons remains at the ready to transcribe the trial of the century.
Of course, the avocado-colored stenotype machine she’s used all this time suggests something a little more last century.
“Everyone else has gone electric,” Timmons, 62, explained recently. “I still have my manual.”
“It’s kind of like Willie Nelson’s guitar,” added William Ostlund, the district court judge from Jefferson who’s worked closely with Timmons since being appointed to the bench in 1994.
Like Willie’s guitar, Timmons’ Stenograph has accompanied more than its share of sad songs.
“Having done it this long,” Ostlund puts it, “you realize you can’t make up the truth.”
Timmons, a Grand Junction resident, is the longest-serving court reporter in District 2, the state’s largest court district at 22 counties.
Ostlund has reason to believe she’s the longest-serving court reporter in all of Iowa.
Timmons recently was honored for her longevity during a surprise ceremony in Fort Dodge in which Mark Cady, chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, helped present a certificate of thanks from the high court.
The former Nancy Dittert originally found her calling when a representative from AIB College of Business in Des Moines paid a visit to Jefferson High School.
Upon graduation in 1969, Timmons attended AIB.
AIB, she said, no longer even offers a court reporting program with the advent of electronic recorders.
Recorders, however, can’t ask someone to speak up or slow down.
“She has the authority to just say, ‘Slow down,’ ” Ostlund said.
“I don’t know how she does it,” he added. “If it was me, I’d be jumping in all the time.”
She captures everything that’s said — be it a criminal case, civil case or dissolution — in shorthand, as paper spools out of the machine like it’s 1972 all over again.
“It’s something different every day,” Timmons said.
Initially assigned to District Judge Keith Richardson in the summer of 1973, there have been eye-opening moments along the way.
Her first murder trial was in Story County in 1974 with Richardson presiding.
“A man had smothered his 4-year-old son,” Timmons recalled. “I remember the jury coming in. It was like 10 o’clock. It was dark. Some of the jurors were crying.”
The man was sentenced to life in prison.
Timmons is now assigned to Ostlund, and they travel together throughout the district.
“I couldn’t have got a better partner,” he said.
It’s difficult, he said, to measure her importance.
“The judge can show up. The lawyers show up. The plaintiffs show up,” Ostlund explained. “The court reporter doesn’t show up and we do nothing.”