Tag Archives: defendant

Fog lines and my dad

25 Nov



It was the day before Thanksgiving in Ohio and a short day in court awaited. The phone rings and a bailiff, desperate to help a fellow get out of jail, calls. “Can you help with an arraignment? This man’s been in jail since the sixteenth. I know I called you before but we can’t find a certified interpreter.” Luckily I could squeeze in another assignment before the holiday weekend.


There is no easy way to drive from North Canton to East Liverpool, Ohio … not even a four-lane roadway. Plugged in the GPS and ventured down country roads with expansive fields peppered with a cluster of slow-moving cows. My Hyundai tilted deep into a towering tree-strewn valley and emerged in downtown East Liverpool. The joy of this errant interpreter is to meet new folks again and again. I chatted up the court clerk who bemoaned the Ohio winters. She hails from Texas and reported that “you don’t have to shovel sunshine there.” We laughed and complained once again about the cold.


I wandered into the courtroom to find several people in faded jail jumpsuits and spotted the Spanish LEP. Fortunately, a uniformed police officer stood by who listened as I provided the pre-session “Good morning, I am an interpreter and not an attorney blah-blah-blah …” When Lady Judge took the bench, she rattled off charges that included a DUI/Driving Under the Influence and “crossing the fog line*.” What??? Confidence shattered. Brain shut down. My neurons rushed to come up with a sensible rendering. I thought “Ohio? Fog lines? There were no heaths on the trek to town today.” Something luckily rolled off the tongue that made sense in the moment.


During the break, I approached the officer and inquired what “fog line” meant in this part of the state. “Oh, that’s the white fog line on the right and yellow’s on the left.” Seems Mr. Defendant, soaked with God-knows-what brew, veered all over State Route 11 and drifted over the “fog line.” Now that makes sense – he committed a marked lanes violation/no manejar dentro de los carriles marcadas. I thanked Mr. Officer and immediately felt my deceased father’s presence. Dad always said if you couldn’t see on a dark and foggy road, just follow the white lines on the right. Thanks, Dad.


A public defender appeared and negotiated a plea for the fellow. He’d spend Thanksgiving with his family and the court released him later that afternoon. I thanked the nice ladies behind the counter, then climbed back into my Elantra to wend the way down Route 39 to New Philadelphia. More arraignments before Thanksgiving vacation begins. I took note of the “fog lines” on serpentine hills that almost turned back on themselves. In Ohio fog lines means marked lanes.

*Fog lines: (also in Ohio called “marked lanes” where a driver doesn’t keep within the lines.)




28 Mar



CCIO Southwest Region presents “Staring Down the Barrel of a Gun” on Saturday, March 29, 2014 from 10:00 am – 1:00pm in Hamilton. Mr. Jerry Hazlett will provide training on guns and their working parts. Court and medical interpreters who work with gun-shot victims or defendants in hospitals or courts can build their weapon’s terminology database. The Supreme Court of Ohio’s roster interpreters receive two (2) CEU credits for attending. Registration $5.00 for CCIO members/ $15.00 for non-CCIO members. Please pay at the door. RSVP by March 25th with Bill Hargis hargisbc@gmail.com. Meet at Iglesia Bautista Hispana, 320 Edison Avenue, Hamilton, OH 45011.




The Central Region of Community and Court Interpreters of Ohio http://www.ccio.org meets the last Thursday monthly in Columbus. Our group assembles at a different restaurant or cafe to address topics from interpreting conundrums, triumphs and questionable situations to victories and errors. Regular informal gatherings offer an opportunity to share experiences and strategies. We want to foment more solidarity and networks in a relaxed atmosphere.

Please send an email to cgoodburn@columbus.rr.com to reserve a spot. Share this invitation with your interpreter colleagues and friends. We hope to see you at any or all of these events. More information at WWW.CCIO.ORG. Questions? Contact Catherine Arrieta at pinac@cmcoh.org. Thanks!

April 24, 2014
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

La Patrona 2977 N. High St. Columbus, OH 43202



23 Oct


Rarely do I have the chance to watch other interpreters in court. Ours can be a profession of solitude. How do I know when I’m doing something wrong or right? The following situation invites comment on how to approach a colleague when perhaps another approach would work better.


Last month a court called me to give testimony and a LEP defendant appeared. The judge took great pains to voir dire the interpreter and asked for her credentials in open court. The interpreter clearly qualified and rattled off her experience. She did not turn to the defendant and interpret what she said. Madame Your Honor gently asked if she would interpret the same for the non-English speaker beside her. I don’t remember how the interpreter responded, but she did not interpret her last rendering before the judge to the defendant. From the bench another remark: “Would you please interpret that for Mrs. XXX?”. The interpreter complied and continued to interpret everything.


Here’s my question. Was the interpreter obligated to interpret when the judge queried her experience and qualifications? Instinctively I interpret the moment the record begins that includes “This is case no. XXX … and present in the courtroom is Interpretress Olga Nazdrova … and now I’ll take the interpreter’s oath.” Overkill or simply fulfill my role? I’d like to know how to approach the interpreter diplomatically. Thanks for your insight.


4 Aug



Recently a colleague asked “when you are doing preparation for a trial and gathering case information, do you also ask the prosecuting attorney for anything or do you just rely on the defense attorney to provide you with the materials?” Two women sprang to mind immediately: my Aunt Chickie and Isabel Framer. My dear tía says “Ask nice, honey” and Isabel let me know that I had the right to ask for what I need to interpret successfully.

The question splits in two. What do I need and whom do I ask?  The other interpreter’s bible “Fundamentals of Court Interpretation”[i] stresses “it is helpful for interpreters to familiarize themselves with the facts involved in the case at hand before beginning to interpret.” We prepare ahead of time in order to perform unobtrusively. This partial list answers the first question:

  • Complaint
  • Affidavit of the arresting officer
  • Indictments and motions
  • Witness and appearing party lists
  • Medical reports

Okay, list ready so now whom do I approach? In this case start with the defense attorney. Ask, “What’s the best way to communicate with you? Email? Fax?” Does his secretary send out the information, if he has one? If so, I learn her name and contact her, introduce myself and rattle off the same request.

Remember, the stack of files in the defense lawyer’s hand serves as a reminder that interpreters are a wee part of her day. Develop an amicable relationship with that person from the get go. Follow up with a thank you card or phone call. Sure, Email works but why not deliver kind words away from the confines of a 4½” by 2” Android screen?

All well and good but what if the defense attorney refuses? Unfortunately this happened to me in spite of NAJIT position papers and an explanation that “the more information interpreters have, the better he or she can interpret”[ii]. On to the prosecutor.

“Miss Prosecutor, do you have a second?” Explain the request and ask for materials. If she asks “Did you talk to XXX?” I respond with “I need the materials and can you help to aid in Mrs. Defendant’s defense so that she is linguistically present.”

Here I follow the same steps: “Do you have a minute?” Stick to that minute. Now is not the time for idle chatter on last night’s episode of Modern Family. I go to the source and request help. Politely. I avoid “I asked XXX for information but she turned me down and I don’t know why.” Leave the snark for others.

Sometimes defense attorneys stubbornly cling to files in spite of requests. No problem. I approached the person who contacted me first. Again, be aware of the hierarchy and the purpose of your request.

“Hi, this is John Shaklee and I’m interpreting before Judge XXX on XXX case with XXX attorney. Do you have a minute to talk?” If she answers no, then I ask may I follow up with an Email. Then, I explain that I need case materials in order to provide a seamless interpretation and that I keep information confidential. Can she help me out? If she responds with a puzzled look or suspicious tone, say “I keep all information confidential and comply with a professional code of ethics, too.” Bam! I hand over a code of ethics – my dear friend Sandra Bravo taught me that strategy years ago. I follow up with a thank-you phone call or a brief handwritten note.

If refused, it’s time to ask for five minutes of the judge’s time. Again, another contact and chance to develop a relationship with her bailiff, secretary or whomever stands in the legal hierarchy. Come prepared with the request and reinforce that as an officer of the court, the interpreter aids in the defendant’s defense and to assure Mr. Velasco hears proceedings in his native language. My experience has been that court secretaries move mountains. Let them know they made my job easier and I appreciate it. I may send the NAJIT position paper for Court Administrators. Madame Secretary operates as part of a multi-layered system and I hope to initiate a friendly, not adversarial relationship.

Brevity and preparation result with answers. Court folks attend to hundreds of tasks in a day and there’s no need to be pesky. Let me know how your efforts turn out.

[i] Dueñas González, Roseann, Victoria E. Vásquez and Holly Mikkelson. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy, and Practice. Durham: Carolina Academic Press. 1991. 507.

[ii] Kenigson Kristy, Judith. “Language and Litigation: What judges and attorneys need to know about interpreters in the legal process.” Proteus Winter 2009-2010. Volume XVIII, No. 4.: 3-4.


4 Jun

John and Mr


I’ve heard it said that the wheels of justice turn slowly. What can we interpreters do to take advantage of down time before an appearance begins? Just today my trusty MacBook Pro and Microsoft Word solved the puzzle.


Tomorrow starts a lengthy assignment with extensive vocabulary. A Word file perched atop my screen divided in two columns, one English and the other Spanish. I selected “Edit, Clear, Contents” to erase the English translations and filled in my guesses for the Spanish. Then, I positioned the master copy below to check the results. 90% or more correct. Rather than worry ahead of time I quietly tapped away while one defendant after another appeared before the Honorable Herman J. Feckalewski. Time well spent, eh? Good luck with words today.