Public Service Proud: Creating official records

Sotonye Otunba-Payne works as a court recording monitor in New Haven Superior Court. She’s the person you see sitting in front of the judge typing every word spoken while court is in session, creating the official record. People anywhere in the world can, and do, request these transcripts, so it’s a responsibility Otunba-Payne always has taken seriously since she started nearly 25 years ago.

“We provide an important service,” Otunba-Payne said. As you could imagine, especially in criminal cases where somebody's freedom is at stake, it’s important to have these transcripts be accurate.”

Otunba-Payne is a member of AFSCME Local 749, which represents state judicial employees. She’s been the Local 749 executive board recording secretary for about two years.

Local 749 represents about 1,550 members, including approximately 150 court recording monitors and position trainees.

Other members who are a part of Local 749 include clerks, secretaries, office assistants, court interpreters, investigators, juvenile detention officers, bail commissioners, public defenders and court planners.

Born in England the youngest of her parents’ 11 children, Otunba-Payne moved to Lagos, Nigeria — the country’s largest city and former capital — when she was 6 years old. She and her family returned to England when she was 17, where she pursued higher education. She moved to the United States in 1979.

Sotonye Otunba-Payne, New Haven court recording monitor, AFSCME Local 749

Sotonye Otunba-Payne, a court recording monitor in New Haven Superior Court and AFSCME Local 749 member, poses at her workstation, Nov. 17, 2022. Photo by Lauren Takores

After relocating to the United States, Otunba-Payne studied economics at the University of Pittsburgh, where her brother attended — he eventually became a physician. She came to New Haven to pursue a master’s degree at University of New Haven, and then attended court reporting school to learn stenography. She’s been married 32 years to Oluyemi Otunba-Payne. They have two adult children.

Otunba-Payne said she chose public service as a career after seeing commitment to the public modeled by her parents.

“My father was a lawyer in private work and I grew up knowing that he never turned anybody away,” she said. “He felt it was his duty to open his doors to those who are marginalized and underrepresented in our society, and there were many.”

Her mother, a businesswoman in the male-dominated field of construction, also was “very philanthropic,” she said.

“She did very well in her construction business, and she never turned anybody [away] who was hungry,” she said. “We had people staying with us because they didn't have places to stay. If somebody needed tuition for school — because you have to pay for high school [in Nigeria] — she always gave what she could.”

As a union member who works in the public sector, Otunba-Payne knows that privatization is an ongoing threat to her job.

“The union has  played an integral part in getting us to where we are now,” Otunba-Payne said, “and continues to, because there are still some aspects of the job we still have to negotiate.”

Sotonye Otunba-Payne, New Haven court recording monitor, AFSCME Local 749

Sotonye Otunba-Payne, a court recording monitor in New Haven Superior Court and AFSCME Local 749 member, stands in a courtroom, Nov. 17, 2022. Photo by Lauren Takores

Employees in the state Department of Criminal Justice are not part of the judicial branch of government and bargain with the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney.

In 2015, there was a move from the state to privatize some of their jobs. Council 4 rallied support from members like Otunba-Payne, who contacted their legislators, and the union was able to sit down and talk with the judicial branch.

“This is one of the things that it didn't make it easy for them to get rid of us,” Otunba-Payne said, “because they have to go to the legislature to do what it is that they want to do.”

Otunba-Payne’s journey exemplifies Council 4’s Public Service Proud campaign, which highlights how our members make a difference on the job and in their communities.

Be a #PublicServicePround member! Do you have a member story you want featured? Get in touch with us at [email protected]

Public Service Proud logo