I just couldn’t resist inviting Tony Rosado onto the blog again (see below for more), with this fantastic post he has written about judges working with court interpreters. It’s also great advice for all those lawyers and judges reading who might not realize what they’re doing wrong! Tony blogs over at The Professional Interpreter in English and Spanish, and as well as being a qualified attorney, has been a freelance interpreter for almost 30 years. He runs Rosado Professional Solutions in Chicago.
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I know that just the title of this article made you think of a myriad of things that go on in a courthouse that seem to be designed to make the life of the interpreter miserable. Believe me, you are not alone. For this reason, I decided to compile some of the most infamous ones and share them with all of you. I am writing this with a therapeutic perspective, trying to add some possible solutions to these problems while at the same time creating empathy and inviting a good healthy laugh when relating to these horror stories.
Here we go:
1. “Please ask him his date of birth.”
Those judges who insist to address the parties on the third person despite what they have been told over and over again. A quick solution would be to ‘ignore’ the judge and simply interpret on the first person even if “Your Honor” doesn’t. Long-term solution: Talk to the judge over and over again. Organize a presentation for all judges and hope these judges show.
2. “Why do we need two interpreters? We only have one court reporter.”
Those judges who think that a bilingual individual should be able to effortlessly interpret a difficult proceeding on their own, since we are “just talking after all,” a good short-term solution is to have the chief interpreter or his equivalent go to the judge (ideally with the two working interpreters) and explain the reasons why this is needed, assuring the judge that there is a budget for this ‘inconvenience’. For a long-term solution you can provide some team interpreting literature to the court, and maybe ‘arrange’ a meeting with other judges who understand the team interpreting concept.
3. “Just have a seat. I will take care of the private attorney cases first because they are busy.”
For those state judges who need votes to keep their jobs and want the private bar on their side, a good short-term solution could be to talk to the clerk and explain that you are needed somewhere else. Many “nice” clerks will help the interpreter. A more durable solution would be to meet with the administration and point out the waste of resources caused by an interpreter sitting in a courtroom for hours doing nothing.
4. When you cannot hear the judge.
When the judge whispers or speaks away from the microphone making it impossible to hear what she said. We all know that drama in the court is part of the “showmanship” influence of the media, but we simply cannot interpret what we can’t hear. For a quick fix interrupt the hearing and politely ask the judge to speak louder and into the microphone. Of course, we all know that this request will only be honored for a few seconds, so the lasting solution has to be smarter; maybe getting the court reporter on board as she is probably having the same difficulties, or maybe drafting the IT people as your allies in those courthouses where the hearings are recorded.
5. “Sorry Mr. Interpreter but we already did the case because the defendant’s spouse speaks English.”
It is getting better, but not everywhere. You may want to establish a system with the clerk where she does not give the file to the judge unless the interpreter is in the courtroom. Another solution could be to involve the attorneys and explain to them the risk of an appeal for lack of a certified interpreter. Be creative, sometimes it works.
6. “Would the interpreter stay still and speak lower? You are distracting my jury.”
I was asked once to “speak as little as possible.” You should ask for a sidebar with all parties involved and explain how in order to interpret you need to talk. Maybe suggest the “distracted” juror moves to another seat, and maybe point out to the defense the fact that a “distracted” juror may not be who the parties want to have deciding the faith of their client. Just a mere thought.
7. “Why do we need you to interpret? He’s been in the country for 20 years.”
Sometimes I ask myself that same question, however, the fact is that when the person does not speak English, he has the right to an interpreter. Maybe you can answer the judges question by saying, very politely though, that it is because he does not speak English. The long-term solution to this problem is non-existent with this particular judge. For the rest, an orientation by the Bar, the court administration, or the local interpreters’ association may prove to be valuable.
8. “Do not interpret consecutively. We need to get going and you just got new equipment.”
This usually happens during testimony. A way to overcome this obstacle is to explain how the jury needs to hear and understand the answers, and it will be quite difficult for them to hear an answer if both interpreter and witness are speaking at the same time from the stand. Of course, despite what some colleagues think, some simultaneous interpretation equipment for the members of the jury would cure this problem.
9. “What do you need the file and jury instructions for? It is a waste of paper”.
I know the second part of the quote is unthinkable in some states, but trust me, it happened to me some years ago. To overcome the ruling of this “ecologist” judge, you should ask the court administration or chief interpreter to get you those materials in advance. As a back-up plan, try to get the prosecution and/or defense to understand the need for these documents. However, no matter how difficult or scary, never give up. Do not settle for a trial without a file and jury instructions. You would be setting the profession back!
10. “I think you can settle parts of this claim, so use the interpreters during lunch.”
This awful judge just put you on a tough spot. You are an officer of the court so you need to perform, however, nobody can work without a break, even if we are “just talking”. Solve this situation by asking for the chief interpreter’s help. He or she should be the one solving this problem. Maybe a second team can work the conference room while you rest, have lunch and get ready to come back for the formal hearing in the afternoon.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Please review these “ten worst” and if you are up to it, I would love to read your top ten, top five, or even top one. This should be good…
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You might also be interested in Tony’s other guest posts: about the Taniguchi Supreme Court case on translation and interpretation costs, or his post on When we are asked to translate useless materials. By the way, Tony has intentionally left the attorney’s worst 10, clerk’s worst 10, witness worst 10, and so forth for future articles. Watch this space!