9 Sep



Interim CCIO Board Member Catherine Piña recently hosted a roundtable featuring Alvaro De Cola on the near west side. Mr. De Cola attained federal and state court interpreter certification and currently practices law in northeast Ohio. Over twenty participants from Tobago to Jordan posed questions, shared experiences and peppered the room with questions that ranged from immigration proceedings to ethics. Rincón Criollo on Detroit kept the dialogue humming through plates heaped with mafongo, tostones and guineos a la Boricua. CCIO workshops aim to keep interpreters in touch, provide support and celebrate other cultures.


Catherine initiated the discussion by asking participants to share how and what drew them to interpret. Boris started telephone interpreting and little by little three companies hired him. Over-the-phone interpreting doesn’t require a vehicle and offers a comfortable work environment from home. He logs in and out at will and visualizes sites where interpretations occur as in a physician’s office or social services agencies. Through consecutive interpreting he improved note-taking skills and now requires fewer scribbles than initially. Boris claims, “I get paid to study and work.” Over-the-phone interpreting helps to decide if you want to focus on medical or court interpreting. Listening skills naturally improve which can increase chances to pass the consecutive portion of a certification exam.


Marcia Loebick conquered her fear of consecutive interpreting through phone interpretation. An added convenience is this gig provides a steady income stream if no onsite assignment surfaces. She moved from the medical arena to legal and became court certified. Marcia remarked that the Buckeye State has started to further recognize our profession, especially since the Supreme Court of Ohio adopted Rule 88. This provision requires courts to hire certified foreign language or sign language interpreters to ensure linguistic presence and to aid in the defense of Limited English Proficient (LEP) defendants.


Bernadita Rojas, assistant to Attorney Ed Wade in criminal defense cases, provided the following advice: do your job, be at your best and accept challenges on your interpretation with calm and diplomacy. “Stand by your word when have the conviction that you are right” she insists. It’s the judge and not the lawyer who decides. No need to take it personally when an attorney who speaks the same language as the defendant questions a rendering. Remember, we are the language experts.


Ana Gallardo interpreted in immigration courts with LEPs who sought political asylum, among other issues. In order to get ready, Ana reads about Latin American countries and their political affairs to become better familiar with her client’s stories.


Alvaro opened with questions and emphasized that we can’t interpret what we don’t understand. It behooves interpreters to learn to understand the legal process from beginning to end. If charged with a certain crime, a defendant can go directly to a detention center. Immigration authorities check if someone is a resident, has been deported before and proceeds accordingly. Certain crimes trigger deportation, depending on the gravity of the offense. Fact: if you are charged with a crime, that does not mean you are guilty.

Álvaro encouraged the group to learn and understand the entire legal process at the local, state and federal level. When an LEP is arrested for DUI by local police, she must answer to charges at the state level first. If the authorities call immigration, the federal system starts to get involved. For example, someone is arrested in Stark County and then INS may transport him to Seneca County for proceedings. The state case is completed then he has to answer to the federal charges, if any. Immigration allows you to do prison time for the state first. Then, an LEP can admit or deny the allegation (that he entered the country illegally) in immigration court. He is no longer a defendant, but a respondent. It’s not a crime is someone is illegal under the administrative law system


One participant wondered what to do when  the LEP doesn’t understand. “How does an interpreter switch from interpreter to lawyer?” Alvaro replied “we don’t give legal advice but must conceptualize the meaning and focus on the interpreter’s role.” According to Ohio Code of Ethics, Canon 9 Scope of Practice: “… (at no time) may an interpreter give legal advice, communicate their conclusions with respect to any answer, express personal opinions to individuals for whom they are interpreting or translating, or engage in any other activity that may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translating…” Summarily don’t give advice. You may want the LEP to understand but that responsibility lies outside the interpreter’s purview. Interpret and allow the lawyer, probation officer or judge to serve as educators.

“Are you allowed to interpret a term so that someone can understand?” DeCola reminds us to maintain the speaker’s level of language (register). When a LEP says “I don’t understand what you’re saying”, ignore the urge to make him understand a concept. Non-English speakers with a lower level of education also wrestle to comprehend law. Consider this: if a person spoke English, she might not understand. Anglos don’t employ legal terms usually during breaks at the factory. Who says “We are going to quash or suppress that evidence and my lawyer will petition before the Court for me soon”? Limit comprehension to your own grey matter and not the LEP’s.


Visit for more information or write Catherine Piña at the address below. Mark your calendar for our “Building Bridges” conference with guest lecturer Holly Mikkelson October 5, 2013 Use this space to share your experiences in and out of the court setting.


Ohio Supreme Court Court Interpreter Certification Program

Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio

Catherine Piña

Superintendence Rules and Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters and Translators Reference Guide






  1. David Nist September 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Chief Justice: Supreme Court to Offer Support for Court Interpretation
    By Jenna Gant | September 12, 2013
    Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email Share on print
    Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor today announced a major new program to ensure that those who need a foreign language or sign language interpreter in court are provided with one.

    She made the announcement in her annual State of the Judiciary Address at the Ohio Judicial Conference in Columbus.

    “Ohio courts accommodate approximately 80 languages and handle more than 25,000 cases per year that require an interpreter,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “State and federal laws require that courts ensure the people in these cases can understand the proceedings.”

    The new program includes:

    A statewide language line that will enable courts to connect with live interpreters.
    A bench reference card that will be distributed to all Ohio judges to provide guidance in handling cases that require an interpreter.
    A training video for judges and court personnel that explains Ohio’s interpretation rule and how to achieve compliance.
    A public information campaign that will include a Web site, brochures, posters and other material to inform litigants and others about rights and responsibilities in the area of language proficiency in the courts.
    “I am very excited about these new tools that we have been able to bring together for Ohio to ensure equal access in our courtrooms, and I thank you for your continued help as we work together to address this important issue,” Chief Justice O’Connor told Ohio’s judges.

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