Court Reporters, Attorneys, and Interpreters – Best Practices

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Court Reporters:  When working with interpreters, court reporters have certain added responsibilities, and there are best practices that a court reporter can adopt to be more efficient.  The first duty the court reporter has is to swear in the interpreter and then use the interpreter to swear in the witness.

The oath includes the language the interpreter will be interpreting.  For example, the oath would consist of the language, “the interpretation you are about to give from English to Spanish and Spanish to English shall be true and correct.”

The interpreter is not to speak in the first person.  If the interpreter says, “He said he wasn’t at the house,” rather than, “I wasn’t at the house,” when the witness is asked where he was at the time of the incident, the reporter needs to set up the answer in colloquy rather than Q/A.  The attorney typically will remind the interpreter to speak in the first person, but if the attorney does not realize it is happening, I will ask to go off the record and inform the participants that the interpreter is speaking in the third person, and the record is not going to be clear.

Sometimes a witness will start speaking in a foreign language to the interpreter.  In that situation, I write a parenthetical as part of the answer to say the witness is speaking Spanish.  For example:  A.   I was at the house and (witness speaks in Spanish).

On occasion the witness and interpreter will both start speaking in a foreign language.  At that point I will write in the transcript as a parenthetical centered on its own line:

(Witness and interpreter speak in Spanish.)

Typically, if that happens, the interpreter will state to the attorneys what the discourse was about, for example, “The witness wanted to clarify that he was at the house the day before the incident.”

The interpreter might say, “Interpreter clarification,” and ask the attorneys for clarification of a word or phrase.  In that situation, the interpreter is set up as colloquy.

Attorneys:  It is a good practice to have a caption, word index, and perhaps a Complaint or expert report of the witness to give to the interpreter before a proceeding, particularly if the case is complex and the subject matter is technical.  The interpreter won’t be surprised when technical words and phrases come up.

Having simultaneous interpretation is a good way to go when the interpreter is comfortable doing simultaneous.  It is a good practice to remind the witness to speak in the first person and to expect the interpreter to do the same during admonitions.  Many times a witness will speak some English and want to go back and forth between English and the foreign language.  When that happens, the record is muddled up with parentheticals.  Have the witness only use the interpreter or speak in English and have the interpreter there on standby for clarification.

Using a check interpreter is common particularly for intellectual property or complex cases.  If you are defending a deposition, you might want to hire an interpreter to “check” the accuracy of the first interpreter.

A good practice when working with particularly Asian interpreters is for a court reporter to provide a realtime screen for the interpreter.  Because of the position of the verb and subject in a sentence, many times the interpreter is more efficient if he/she is able to read the whole question before starting to interpret.