“Unpredictable” and “Problem” Court Interpreters

We have outstanding full-time certified court interpreters in Orange County. Our staff interpreters are primarily Spanish and Vietnamese.

Orange County has a wonderfully diverse population. I regularly have certified on-call interpreters in my court who speak Mandarin, Persian, Arabic, Russian, Romanian, Samoan, Tongan, Tagalog, and Sign Language.

It is very difficult to become certified as a court interpreter in California. They are required to do rapid simultaneous interpretation. Most native speakers cannot qualify. 

Our county-wide interpreter supervisor is an LDS return missionary, who speaks several languages. He also has a document translation business on the side.

Speed Interpretation

I am normally a fast talker. Sometimes, when I am really bored, I intentionally speed up my talking to see if our Spanish interpreters can keep up with me. Impressively, most can. (This does not work with Asian languages because of the different sentence structure.)

Spanish Accents

Our resident Spanish interpreters come from Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, and Mexico. I enjoy listening to the different Spanish accents. For example, most interpreters pronounce “yo” like “yo” and others with a soft “jo.”

I have never had a problem with our full-time certified staff interpreters. I cannot say the same thing about our non-certified temporary on-call interpreters.

The Selective Interpreter

I had an on-call Korean interpreter. As I was talking to the prosecutor, defense attorney, and defendant, I noticed that the interpreter wasn’t interpreting what I was saying. I asked, “Madam interpreter, why aren’t you interpreting what I am saying?”  She replied, in all seriousness, “I was waiting for you to say something important.” Oops!

The Substitute Interpreter

I had a case with a Mandarin speaking criminal defendant. I noticed that the flow of communication between the defendant and myself had broken down. I asked the temporary interpreter, “Excuse me, Madam interpreter, are you a certified court interpreter.” She responded, “Oh, no. My husband is the certified interpreter, but he was too busy, and I decided to fill in for him.

Interpreter and the Bottom Line

I presided over a felony preliminary hearing. The Spanish speaking witness was asked, “Where did you go next?”  The witness rambled on for several minutes, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. When the witness finally stopped talking, the on-call interpreter simply said, “Home.”

Judge (me) Teasing the Interpreters

I like to tease people. (It is a sign of endearment.  I only tease people I like.) Our “United Nations” of interpreters are some of my favorite “victims.” 

For example, since interpreters are “forced” to repeat what I say, I occasionally say something like this to the defendant: “If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask the interpreter. Not only is she a certified court interpreter, but she is also a certified genius. She is one of the smartest people in the world. There is not a question you can ask that she cannot answer. So, go ahead and ask her about the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, or anything.” The interpreters usually blush.

Another example, our outstanding certified Spanish interpreters do simultaneously interpretation with thinking. Words flow from me in English and come out the other side of the interpreter’s brain in Spanish. Words flow from the defendant in Spanish and come out the other side of the interpreter’s brain in English.  This is automatic.  Every once in a while, I will switch to my limited Spanish and watch the interpreter’s brain explode. Occasionally, they will automatically translate my Spanish into English for the Spanish speaking defendant. A bored judge can be a dangerous thing.   

Interpreter vs. Victim: Mortal Enemies

I had a hearing with an Arabic speaking victim. We called in a temporary Arabic interpreter. Both were men. 

Suddenly, while the victim was testifying, the interpreter started screaming at the victim. The victim started shouting back.  A huge argument broke out. 

My bailiff quickly separated the two in order to prevent a fight. We later learned that the victim was a Christian and the interpreter was a Muslim, and they were from hostile rival clans in Lebanon. They were mortal enemies.

The Unsure Interpreter

I presided over a felony preliminary hearing with a Spanish speaking witness. We had an interpreter shortage, and so we called in a “temp.”  The witness was speaking, and the interpreter was interpreting.  The interpreter continued, “I was being chased, and so I decided to jump the . . . ” The interpreter stopped mid-sentence. She reached into her purse and pulled out a Spanish-English dictionary. After thumbing through the pages, she looked up and said, “fence.” It was obvious she was not certified, and so we called in a replacement.

Too Many Languages

One day I had a criminal case involving multiple languages. My court clerk called our supervising interpreter, who was Vietnamese, and said, “We need a Spanish and Romanian interpreter right after lunch.” After lunch, there were no interpreters. My clerk called our interpreter’s office to find out if there was a problem. Our supervisor was in a total panic. He explained, “I cannot find a Spanish interpreter who speaks Romanian.”

(For other articles go to: http://www.londonedition.net)

2 thoughts on ““Unpredictable” and “Problem” Court Interpreters

  1. I wonder if there is a series or blog anywhere that does what this London Edition does. I doubt there is! It is entertaining yet insightful, incisive without snark or sarcasm, truthful but merciful. And fun!


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