In normal conversation, when someone interrupts the speaker, there is a moment of both people talking. Then one cedes the floor, and the other continues, but there is not a pause between speakers. On the contrary, there is overlap. Interpreting in court yesterday, one judge had to interrupt a newly hatched lawyer half a dozen times to order her to stop interrupting and let me do my job so her own client could hear what was said in the courtroom about his case. I would think this would be obvious, but apparently not. May I make a plea to lawyers and others to please try to play nicely and wait for your turn? Especially when you are speaking through an interpreter?
As the normal procedure goes at arraignment, the prosecutor formally tells the accused what they are being charged with. That in the City of Someplace on or about a Specific Date, the accused committed the crime of a Specific Crime. They are then asked to confirm their name and date of birth, acknowledge receipt of the complaint and waive formal reading, and then plead guilty or not guilty. Virtually everyone starts by pleading not guilty as the case is investigated and they meet with their lawyer.
The judge then invites the prosecutor to request the government’s “conditions of release” which include setting bail, and other conditions. But in this case, as soon as the prosecutor started her presentation, and before I had the chance to interpret anything, the new defense attorney burst in, “Fifteen hundred dollars on a case that is five years old? I – I don’t know why anything this City does surprises me, but this is outrageous!” The Judge then said, “Counsel!” The overlapping talk continued and whenever the judge ordered the defense attorney to stop, and allow for interpretation, I had to interpret for three people, so the only way to make it clear to the defendant was to add in who was talking, as follows:
The prosecutor stated, “Your Honor, in this case, the City is requesting a bail of $1,500 based on the facts cited in the Police Incident Report No. 123456789 – the defendant was weaving in and out of traffic including driving in the parking lane.” Then the defense attorney interrupted, “”Fifteen hundred dollars on a case that is five years old? I – I don’t know why anything this City does surprises me, but this is outrageous!” The Judge then said, “Counsel!” Then the prosecutor stated, “Your Honor, I have not yet finished my presentation of the conditions of release. May I continue without further interruption?”
I then had to add in English: “Thank you, Your Honor – the interpreter has caught up” after which I of course had to render in the defendant’s language “Thank you, Your Honor – the interpreter has caught up”.
The judge then admonished the defense attorney to stop interrupting, told them both to speak in three or four sentences at a time, and allow for interpreting each and every time, and I had to rush to squeeze in the judge’s admonishment in the defendant’s language before the prosecutor started presenting on conditions of release again. Before the prosecutor got her four sentences in, the defense attorney once again burst out, this time to exclaim, “You are seriously asking for an Ignition Interlock Device or a SCRAM Unit for a case that didn’t involve alcohol? Are you kidding me?” At that point, the judge interrupted, and we went around again. And I had to remember it all and render it as best I could for the defendant:
“The prosecutor said, “Due to our safety concerns, the City is asking for an IID, Electronic Home Monitoring with Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, no new criminal law violations…” Then the defense attorney interrupted with, “You are seriously asking for an Ignition Interlock Device or a SCRAM Unit for a case that didn’t involve alcohol? Are you kidding me?” Then the judge stated, “Counsel! You will get your turn! You should know the process by now! The City presents their WHOLE case for conditions of release. She is going to say three or four sentences at a time, to give the interpreter the chance to keep up with her. I am warning you, do not interrupt!” Then the prosecutor said, “Your Honor, The City would like to state on the record that we are NOT done presenting and when I stop it is for the interpreter, not for the defense attorney to talk. I will let the court know when I finish the City’s presentation”. Then the defense attorney said, “I’m sorry I just can’t believe you are talking about alcohol monitoring for a non-alcohol case!” Then the judge said, “Counsel! You will get your turn! It is NOT your turn now!”
After stating all of that, I went back to, “Thank you, Your Honor, this interpreter has caught up again,” and I then rendered that statement into the defendant’s language.
Having these three-layered interpretation sessions interspersed with police incident numbers, dates of birth, high emotion, and words of censure just adds to our agony, and more importantly for the record and for due process, puts the accuracy of the interpretation at risk. So can you please, just like they told you in kindergarten, wait for your turn?