7 Mar

John Stark Bar


In the interest of serving communities whose second language is English, the Stark County Bar Association Family Law committee hosted “Role of the Court Interpreter” on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at the Canton Club. John P. Shaklee, TN/OH State Certified Court Interpreter, presented the interpreter’s role through role-plays and Q & A, modes of interpretation, ethics, and certified interpreter standards and Rule 88 of the Ohio Supreme Court.


The purpose of the court interpreter is twofold: aid in the LEP’s defense (Limited English Person) and assure she hears everything if she spoke English, thus keeping her on equal footing. The LEP stands both physically and linguistically present through the interpreter. Certified interpreters are trained to carry ideas from one language to another accurately and efficiently to see justice is carried out.


Rule 88 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Court of Ohio requires courts to “use all reasonable efforts” to avoid the appointment of interpreters who may have a conflict of interest. This coincides with Canon 3 Impartiality and Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest of the Ohio Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters and Translators.  The adopted rule would require courts to hire certified foreign language or sign language interpreters when available, to ensure the “meaningful participation” of deaf and LEP individuals before the court.


Court interpreters are required to pass a written and oral test on ethics, terminology and the three modes of interpretation: simultaneous, consecutive and sight translation. Both lawyers and judges tried their hand at shadowing, whereby they listened in English to a speaker and repeated what was said in the same language. Interpreters employ this practice to become better speakers, specifically in their second language. The group realized the intense physical and mental skills needed to maintain an accurate rendering even for a short time. In addition, they learned in order to preserve an accurate record that two interpreters are required for hearing that stretch beyond two hours. This coincides with Canon 7, Assessing and Reporting Impediments to Performance. When fatigue after intense witness testimony sets in (remember the interpreter bounces in between two languages at lightning speed), a team interpreter is at hand to provide respite or a term to her colleague. No single interpreter can be expected to work a full trial alone.

In addressing ethics one lawyer questioned if this third party, that is, the interpreter, maintain the confidentiality of information obtained during an assignment. Yes, they do. According to Canon 4, “Interpreters … must maintain confidentiality…” while serving the courts. Certified interpreters regularly take an oath to accurately, completely and impartially perform their duties.

Another lawyer wondered if a single interpreter could perform her duties for both the prosecution and the defense. The short answer is yes. According to “Language and Litigation: What judges and attorneys need to know about interpreters in the legal process” by Judith Kenigson Kristy (see attached), the conflict of interest is not the same for an interpreter as for an attorney. She can work for either side or both sides. The only warning is that she cannot be a witness in the same case in which she acts as the proceedings interpreter. Interpreters do not advocate in the court’s inherent adversarial setting.

The essence of this presentation defined the interpreter’s position in the play of legal domain so judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others know not only how to deal with but also what to expect from court interpreters. Visit the links below for more information.

Rules of Superintendence

Stark County Bar Association

Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators

American Translators Association

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