The Role of the Court Interpreter in the Legal System
In a legal system where not everybody speaks English, court interpreters are crucial to overcome language barriers. This one-hour presentation is designed to provide attorneys with valuable information that will benefit their work with court interpreters during legal proceedings.
Kara Wenzel - Hello. My name is Kara Wenzel and I am a program attorney here at Quimbee. Today, we are gonna be talking about court interpreters and the role of court interpreter in the legal system with Mariana Bension-Larkin. Welcome, Mariana.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Hi, good morning.
Kara Wenzel - Good morning. So, Mariana is a Spanish California State and Federally Certified Court Interpreter in Los Angeles. She specializes in interpretation proceedings in criminal and civil matters. She's also an ATA Certified Translator of English to Spanish and the current President of the Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California. Mariana taught the Spanish Court Interpretation Program at the L.A. Institute of Translation and Interpretation in Los Angeles, from 2010 to 2013. She also volunteered at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law as an interpreter, from 2009 to 2011. Her articles on court interpretation have been published by the Los Angeles Lawyer of Magazine. We're so excited to have you today. Thank you, Mariana.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Thank you for having me.
Kara Wenzel - You're so welcome. So to get us started, I think, it might seem obvious but hard to explain for some people. Can you tell us what exactly is a court interpreter?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Sure. When we say court interpreter, many people assume that we are always in court. And the term court interpreter really refers to a court proceeding most of the time, which can include a deposition, for example, And obviously, court proceedings like trials, hearings, and everything that goes on in court. But we court interpreters also interpret for attorney-client meetings as well, especially for criminal matters. And in California, for example, by law, you need to be a certified court interpreter in order to interpret at a court proceeding. And in federal court as well, you do need to have federal certification from the Administrative Office of the US Courts to interpret in federal court as well.
Kara Wenzel - Oops.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Hopefully, that explains it a little.
Kara Wenzel - Yes, yes. So you mentioned a few of these, but can you go back and tell us some other instances where outside of the courthouse, you might need a court interpreter.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Well, many people want a court interpreter for things that are not court proceedings as well. The ones that I already mentioned are, obviously, the everyday court proceedings that we court interpreters interpret for, trial, hearings, depositions, arbitrations, mediations. We do a lot of workers' comp too, which is not judicial, it's administrative law. But we also do administrative... We interpret for administrative workers' comp proceedings, depositions, and trials at the Workers' Comp Appeals, appeals born in California. And other states have their own name. What else? Well, I'm trying to think like those would be the court proceedings.
But also, like I said, attorney-client meetings which are not technically a court proceeding, but the attorney wants to make sure that they have a court interpreter, especially when they need, when documents need to be submitted in court. For example, in a criminal proceeding, if the trial needs to be postponed for whatever reason or continued, a bunch of paperwork needs to be read to the defendant from English into whatever language the defendant speaks. And then, he has to sign it. And the interpreter has to sign a form saying that we interpreted every single thing from English into Spanish or whatever the language is. In that case, the term is site translation. It's not interpretation actually. Reading what one document from one language into the other is site translation. Or just talking to someone, the attorney wants some reassurance that it's a court interpreter.
So, that would be a court proceeding. But sometimes we're also used for other things that are not court proceedings, like conference, for example. Whatever different kind of conference, whatever the the matter is, sometimes we're also hired for that. Community meetings. I used to interpret too for the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles, which is a public legal, a public or entity, I would say, or agency. And that is not, obviously, nothing to do with court. Entertainment matters as well. Sometimes, we're also hired for that. So, there are other things that we do as well. But in my case, I do mostly legal proceedings and attorney-client meetings.
Kara Wenzel - Yes, yes. So, talk to us a little bit about the types of credentials that are required of court interpreters.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Well, obviously, that's going to vary from state to state, right? Like I said, in California, there are, in order to be a court interpreter, you have to be certified by the Judicial Council of California per state law in order to interpret at a court proceeding, including depositions. Because we all know that depositions are also considered court proceedings, at least in California. I don't know other states, but in California they are. And so, there are several languages that have a certification exam in California. The certification, again, is offered by the Judicial Council of California. So if you want to get certified in that specific language, you have to pass a state test. And then if you pass the test, you get certified by the Judicial Council. If the language has no certification, then in California, you are registered by the Judicial Council, which means that I believe that they do take some bilingual test to make sure that you're bilingual, fluent in the other language. But it's not the same certification exam as the other languages that the Judicial Council certifies. That would be for state court in California. For federal court, like I said, that's a separate exam. It's a national exam. And if you pass that exam, you are allowed to interpret in federal court as well. The federal exam is currently only offered in Spanish, English/Spanish. There were other two language that were, that had certification. Haitian Creole, and that's one. And then, Navajo. Don't ask me why, I have no idea, but they're no longer being offered. So, the only one that is being offered right now is English/Spanish and Spanish/English, obviously.
Kara Wenzel - But that doesn't necessarily mean that you couldn't have an interpreter for another language in federal court. It's just that the exam is only required for Spanish interpreters.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - For Spanish, you do need certification, federal certification, if you're going to interpret in court. The court wouldn't hire you. The federal court would not hire someone who doesn't have federal certification, unless, of course, it's under extraordinary circumstances, I guess. Maybe if they can't find anybody. And of course, for the other, all the other languages, other than Spanish, they would have to hire someone who has either state certification or if they can't find anybody, I guess they would have to hire someone who doesn't even have state certification. And I'm sure that it has happened. And I use the word certification, again, because in California that's what we use. But I know that other states, like Texas for example, I believe that interpreters in Texas are licensed. So, it may vary from state to state. And obviously, that would be up to the attorney who wants to work with an interpreter to find out exactly what the requirements are in their state.
Kara Wenzel - But it seems like different states will have some sort of accrediting governing licensing body that would either administer a test or have some other way of verifying your abilities, right?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Yes.
Kara Wenzel - And then, what about for medical cases? Is there a different type of certification that is typically required?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Yes. Well, first of all, in at least in California, once you are a court certified interpreter, you are qualified to interpret for administrative settings and for medical settings as well. So, that allows you to interpret for those other settings. But there is also a medical certification credential for interpreters from two entities. One is the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, CCHI, and the other one is the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. So there are interpreters who don't have court certification, but having these medical credentials allows them to interpret at medical settings. And that would include anything from a medical evaluation to a med legal evaluation for a personal injury case, or workers' comp case, or anything like that.
Kara Wenzel - And earlier you had mentioned that there are different ways that you might interpret. I think one of them was site translation. Tell us about those different modes and what each one would entail.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Sure. There are three interpretation modes. Well, I already talked about site translation, which is reading one document from one language into another. And then, we also have simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation is speaking at the same time as the speaker. So, obviously, there will always be like a one or two second delay, because obviously we have to listen first in order to interpret. But basically the interpreter interprets at the same time as the speaker. So, that's simultaneous interpretation. And then we also have consecutive interpretation, which is we speak after the speaker is done speaking. Simultaneous interpretation is usually used for when there's no back and forth. For example, in a court proceeding, it would be like, for example, when the judge is reading the jury instructions or it would be when the attorneys are doing the opening arguments or the closing arguments. Then, that would be simultaneous. But if there's testimony, meaning if there are questions and answers and there's back and forth, then in that case, we use the the consecutive mode.
Kara Wenzel - Great, great. That's fascinating. And does the interpreter typically choose which mode or is he or she directed by the court or one of the parties about which one to use?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - No. Usually, the interpreter picks the mode. Sometimes attorneys tell us, "Well, can you do it in the simultaneous mode?" Meaning a deposition, for example, because it's faster. But it's not practical to do it in the simultaneous mode because many times the person who is, we call them LEP, limited English proficient, many times it confuses them to hear us speaking at the same time as the attorney, who's asking the questions. So, in that case, it's totally counterproductive because they're listening to them and they're listening to us at the same time, us interpreters. So, it really doesn't work. And many times the attorneys are also bilingual and they also get confused to hear us speaking at the same time. So in my experience, the simultaneous mode is not recommended for testimony. So yeah, I mean, basically, we should be the ones to decide which mode applies or works better for each specific case.
Kara Wenzel - That makes sense. Can we get into now a little bit about the rules that court interpreters are bound by? I mean an obvious one would be what, that court local rules or particular jurisdictions rules, right? But what are some of the other rules that court interpreters would need to follow?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - It's very important for the parties and everybody who interacts with court interpreters to understand that we interpreters are basically like machines and we have to follow certain rules. That it's not up to the interpreter to do whatever they want. So one of the rules is accuracy and completeness, which means that we're not allowed to embellish, omit, or edit. And basically, not basically, we have to interpret everything that is being said during the entire proceeding. So if a question is, let me ask you this in March of 2013, no, excuse me, March of 2019, were you living in California? So, we have to interpret the whole thing. March 2013, no, March 2019. And the same with when somebody gives an answer.
If the question is very convoluted and uses a lot of complex terminology, we have to interpret that into the other language, regardless of whether, even if we know that the other person, that the person we're interpreting for will not understand. Because again, we're not allowed to embellish, omit, or edit. We're not allowed to simplify. And vice versa, when somebody gets a very poorly articulated answer, we also have to interpret that. We can't polish. We can't interpret what we believe the person wanted to say. We have to interpret exactly what we hear. Which is frustrating sometimes but that's our role. So that is one of our, that is one of the rules that we follow. And these are rules of the court.
The other rule is representation of qualifications. We have to accurately and completely represent our credentials and if asked, our training and experience. But usually just the credential is enough. Then, we have ethical obligations. Impartiality, conflicts of interest. Obviously, if there should be any conflicts of interest, the interpreter is required to disclose it. Let's say we come across a witness that we know or maybe we know one of the attorneys, maybe we're friends with someone in the room, we are required to disclose that because it has a lot to do with impartiality. And gifts, remuneration and gifts. Obviously, we're not allowed to accept any of that if somebody offers us any present or whatever it is. Another rule is our professional demeanor. We have to conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court and shall, and we have to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Confidentiality. This is very, very, very important. And sometimes, attorneys don't know that we are bound by attorney-client privilege. We are not allowed to disclose anything of that is being said between an attorney and his client. What I'm saying that that not every attorney knows is because sometimes I've been told in the past, I was asked to help the other attorney interpret like a private conversation. And the other attorney, the opposing opposing counsel said, "Don't worry, I won't ask you what they discussed." Obviously, he did not know that even if he had asked me, I wouldn't have been able to disclose it because this is another requirement that we have to follow. Then, we have restriction of public comment. Obviously, if there is a high profile case and we interpreters are asked by the media about our opinion. We're not allowed to publicly discuss or offer our opinion, even if it's not privileged information, yeah, privileged information, or even if it's not required by the law to be confidential. And then, scope of practice. That's another rule of a court. We are not allowed to offer legal advice. We're not allowed to offer personal opinions. And we can't engage in activities which may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreter, interpreting.
Impediments to performance is also something that is also a rule of the court. We have to assess, at all times, our ability to deliver interpretation services. And if there is a reservation about our ability to interpret competently, we have to immediately convey to the court this reservation. Duty to report ethical violations, that's also another rule. We have to report to the proper judicial authority any effort to impede our compliance with any law, or standards, or provisions, or any other official policy governing court interpreting and legal translating. So, those are basically rules of the court that we have to follow. And I'm pretty sure that they're very, very similar in every state because it is very, very important for us to follow something that is the same for everybody. And that it's not up to the interpreter to handle any way that he or she believes a specific situation should be handled.
Kara Wenzel - Right, right. So the rules though that you just kind of ran through for us were based on the federal rules, right? Federal court rules.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Right.
Kara Wenzel - Which most states seem to have adopted.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Most states have adopted those rules. California is one of them.
Kara Wenzel - Okay. Yeah. We have a link to all of them in your supplemental materials for this course. Thank you so much for that.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Sure.
Kara Wenzel - I'd like to ask you a few questions just off the top of my head. So-
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Of course.
Kara Wenzel - The first one, we hear these terms and I think a lot of people use them interchangeably. But my guess is you would say that they're not interchangeable. So, what's the difference between interpretation and translation?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Interpretation is orally translating something from one language into another, verbally. And translation is translating from one language into another in writing. So, that's basically the difference. Although, in the US, many people use the word translator also when they're referring to us interpreters. But technically, they're two different disciplines.
Kara Wenzel - So, is it common that an interpreter is automatically qualified to translate and a translator is qualified to interpret, or not necessarily?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - No, not at all. They're different disciplines. And the certification exams are completely different. An interpreter can be great at interpreting verbally, orally, from one language into another, but she may not be qualified to translate in writing. Translating in writing means that you need to have writing skills and flawless spelling. An interpreter can sound great, but you really don't know if her spelling is great. And vice versa, translator may be great when he or she translates something in writing. But then, if you ask that person to interpret orally, they may not be able to do it. And they probably won't be able to do it if they don't have some training as an interpreter. And even if they don't have certification, if they have no training, they would probably not be able to do it word for word. We interpret word for word, everything that is being said.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah, that makes sense. I would hope so.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Yes.
Kara Wenzel - Would you say being bilingual, just being fluent in two languages, would be enough qualification to be able to interpret?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - No. Being bilingual is the starting point for someone who wants to become an interpreter, to go to school and trained to be an interpreter. Becoming an interpreter involves training in the three interpretations mode that I mentioned, simultaneous, consecutive, and site translation. And it also involves learning a lot of specialized terminology. Legal is one of them. So if you're bilingual, you would not be able to interpret word for word. I mean, maybe you would be able to say something like very short from one language to another. Hi, how are you? Where are you from? What's your name? How old are you? Yeah, you would be able to interpret that, but there's no way you would be able to interpret in a court setting with all the long questions that an attorney may ask involving legal terminology, or the things that a judge may say, or a long answer given by a witness or a party to a case. There's no way. You need to be trained in order to be able to do that.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah. I'm bilingual but I would be terrified to attempt this. I get what you're saying. It's enough pressure when you're at a restaurant with someone in another country or where another language is being spoken. And they're like, "What does this mean? What did the waiter say? What should I do?" So, I hear you.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Usually I tell people, just to give you an idea, when an attorney asks a question, even if you don't speak another language, you know one of those long questions that sometimes an attorney may ask, try to repeat it in English. And many people can't even do that.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. You must have a really great memory or way to retain what is spoken and be able to remember. That's gotta be hard.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - For consecutive, we always take notes. We have to take notes. Because-
Kara Wenzel - Yeah.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - The other way, I mean, it would be impossible for us to remember what is being, everything thing that is being said if we don't take notes. So yeah, for consecutive, we take notes. And it's not shorthand like court reporters. It's just different notes that we use that help us remember all the concepts that were, that came up during a question or during answer. So, yeah. But that memory has a lot to do with it too, of course.
Kara Wenzel - Well, I'm sure over the course of doing this, if you get to practice a lot, you get a little more brave.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - You get better with practice, yes.
Kara Wenzel - Well, say that I am bilingual or at least know enough of a different language to think that the court interpreter made a mistake. So, what should I do in that situation?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - If you think that the court interpreter made a mistake, of course, it's your right to bring it up. In my experience, most of the time that that happened, the interpreter does not make a mistake. The problem sometimes is that some attorneys may believe that their client meant to say something and did not, or they may think that their Spanish or their Farsi, or their Russian or whatever language is, is good enough, better than the interpreters. So, my advice would be if you think that the interpreter made a mistake, of course, you're entitled to bring it up. But also be prepared to accept that the interpreter may be correct. And if the interpreter is not correct, then of course, that we are required to acknowledge that and correct ourselves on the record, of course. But it has to be an open conversation. Of course, yeah. Do bring it up, but also be prepared to accept it what if the interpreter is right.
Kara Wenzel - Have you had situations though where they have to bring in a second interpreter to review something that is in dispute?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Not that I know of in my case. Sometimes, attorneys bring, especially for depositions, sometimes they bring a bilingual assistant, which is a very bad idea. Because a bilingual assistant is not qualified to monitor the interpretation. Most of the terminology, most of the things that come up, they're probably not familiar with it. They're probably not familiar with the rules of the court that interpreters have to follow. So, sometimes the attorneys bring another certified interpreter to monitor the interpretation, and it's the right to do so. So my advice would be that if you want, if that makes you feel better, yes, of course. But make sure that it's another certified interpreter monitoring the interpretation. And to go back to your question, I do know that there was a high profile trial not long ago, a criminal trial in federal court. And there were some concerns that the interpreter, this was Vietnamese, there were concerns that the interpreter had not interpreted accurately because there was a conflict of interest. Apparently, it turned out that she had been romantically involved with one of the investigators in the case. And yeah, and they didn't disclose it, which was, again, it's one of the rules of the court. They should have. She should have recused herself. And there was concern that she had not interpreted some stuff correctly. So, the court did bring in another interpreter to review the interpretation. So, I know that was done. And maybe other, it's happened in other situations, especially when the proceeding is being video recorded. That's also an option. Yes.
Kara Wenzel - A somewhat related question, but I'm curious if this has come up for you. So, I have some friends who live in, or originally are from Venezuela and Argentina and Costa Rica. And even among those countries in Central and Southern America, of course, there are vast differences in the dialects and the language used. So, say that you have a client from a particular country. We'll just say, Mexico, since it's closest to California. Would you want to make sure or you need to have an interpreter who's from the same country to make sure that there aren't any communication issues?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - We interpreters are familiar with... But first of all, all these different languages that you mentioned in Latin America, Venezuela, Argentina, Costa Rica, they're all the same language. They're all Spanish. It would be like US English and UK English. It's the same language. There will just be, the accents are different. And there may be words that are different, especially slang words maybe. Or other words that are not slang. So, the same thing happens with a different dialects in Latin America. There are the same language, Spanish. Some words are different and some, and the accents may be different. So, we court interpreters are trained to use or be familiar. We are familiar with the different words. For example, let me, car, the word car. There are different words for car in different parts of Latin America. So, we are familiar with all those different words, or the word sidewalk, or the word tennis shoes. So, some attorneys believe that it's better if the interpreter is from the same country as their client, but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, I would say that is, that should not be the concern. The concern should be that the interpreter has certification, the credentials mandated by law and that they are good interpreters. And if those two things are in place, the interpreter will be able to navigate the conversation. And of course, there are some times that words come up that the interpreters are not familiar with, but that will happen to every, in every single situation, most likely. Not all the time. But very often, a word will come up that maybe the interpreter is not familiar with. And then in that case, we either look it up and it's perfectly acceptable because nobody knows everything. We look it up or we may ask the witness for clarification and then they clarify. And that is fine. So, that's basically the answer to your question. That should not be a concern.
Kara Wenzel - Got it. Got it. Yeah, that makes sense. If you're trained for this. On that same note, you touched on this earlier, but say I just happen to have a bilingual assistant, a paralegal, law clerk. What if I just bring them to a deposition that is going to be interpreted, just for my I comfort so I can talk to them and see if they think they're doing a good job. Is that a good idea?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - I do not recommend that. Of course, you may want to bring your bilingual assistant if you want to talk to your client outside, like during breaks in private. Because in that case, the interpreter hired for the deposition is not required to interpret private conversations, unless it's workers' comp in California. I don't know about the other states. So in that case, yes. You can bring your bilingual assistant to communicate in private, during breaks. I do not recommend bringing a bilingual assistant to monitor the interpreter's interpretation on the record, because like I said, a bilingual assistant is not qualified to correct or monitor because many words will come up. And I can assure you that many bilingual assistants will not know how to interpret many of the words that the attorneys use. Or they may not understand why we are not interpreting, why we are, why the answer is so poorly articulated. Because they know, the bilingual assistant most likely knows the story from the witness. And then when the witness says, gives an answer that has been, that is poorly articulated and we interpreters interpret that very, very poorly articulated too, the bilingual assistant may not understand why we're, why the answer is so poorly articulated. They may think, "Why is she not saying this in a way that we can understand?" Because we can't do that. And so that's why I would say be careful with that. Again, if you want someone to monitor the interpretation, bring another certified interpreter.
Kara Wenzel - Okay. Say though, again, on a similar note, you happen to have this bilingual assistant and you want to bring them into a deposition or another proceeding to read to a client into a different language, a legal document, such as say answers to interrogatories. Would you recommend that? Is that a good idea?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - It's a horrible idea because I see it all the time. The answers to interrogatories, they have to be read to the clients before the deposition, right? And in my experience, most of the time, they're not read to them. So, maybe they're just, the clients are just told, "This is what it says. We just summarized everything that happened, and this and that. So, all you have to do is just sign the verification page." And then during the deposition, the attorney starts reading "Well, in answer 5.3, you said this," and they start reading the answer, which is a completely convoluted way of saying something simple. And we interpret that to the witness and he has no idea what we're talking about. And then, the attorney goes, "But did you read this?" And they say, "Well, no. But the secretary told me what it was about." But they didn't read it to you. So, that's the difference. We interpreters have to interpret every single thing that a document says. And if there's something that the client does not understand, then that's when his attorney comes in and has to explain to him what his answers mean or if something needs to be changed. So, a bilingual assistant does not do that. I mean, maybe, some assistant somewhere did it, if she's qualified. But most of the time, they just summarize. And then, these problems come up during depositions.
Kara Wenzel - That makes sense, yeah. Of course, they'd be tempted to summarize and editorialize maybe.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - So we interpreter sometimes we're told by, I was told by an attorney once, it was, what was it, compromise and release, I believe, worker's comp, after they settle the case, "You don't have to read the whole thing to my client." And I go, "No, yes I do. Because I have to sign a piece of paper saying that I read everything to him." Or what was it at another criminal case, another attorney, I had to read to him the advisement of rights. And the attorney was in a hurry and he wanted to leave. And he goes, "Well, you don't have to read the whole thing to him, right? Because the judge already told him." I said, "Yeah, but I'm required to read it to him. And I'm required to sign a piece of paper saying that I read it to him. So, I have to read it to him." Because if we summarize, then how do we know later on that we actually read everything. How do we know that we didn't leave something out? And that's another thing. Last year, I was working with an attorney and we read the plea agreement to his client. It was a criminal case. And I read every single word to him. And then, like a few weeks later, he said that we hadn't read the whole thing to him, that we had left some segments out. And if I had summarized it to him, I would've probably wondered well, maybe he's right. Maybe I didn't. But since I know that I read every single word to him, I know that I didn't leave anything out and that it was not true. And the attorney also had that reassurance. That-
Kara Wenzel - Yeah.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - I had read everything to him. So, that's why it's so important.
Kara Wenzel - If you always have that practice, then you won't have to question yourself like oh did I, was I comprehensive-
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Of course.
Kara Wenzel - In the way that I explain that.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - And it's required. We are required. We are required to sign a of paper that says the entire agreement or the entire document, The word entire is not minor.
Kara Wenzel - Yes. Yes, very important word. So, we were talking about attorneys always being in a hurry. Why is everyone's always in hurry?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Well, we're in a hurry too.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah. But I'm sure that attorneys are like to talk about that. So, wouldn't it be a little bit faster, in some ways, if everything is just interpreted simultaneously? Why wouldn't that mode be used all the time?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Well because, like I said, simultaneous is used when there's no back and forth. It's usually when someone talks and talks and talks, and then that's when we interpret simultaneously. Like during instructions, opening arguments, closing arguments, that's when we use the simultaneous mode. Some interpreters do use the simultaneous mode for depositions. They used to do this before the pandemic, like when we had in person depositions all the time. Now, most of the depositions are being done on Zoom or other remote platform. But before, or even now if we have an in-person deposition, some interpreters like to interpret simultaneously. They use a headset. Like I said, in my experience, it's not a good practice because it confuses people because they can't focus on two people speaking at the same time, whether it's the witness, or whether it's the attorney asking the questions, or someone else in the room who understands the other language. It's very hard to focus when in that kind of case. So, I don't recommend it. And I personally always interpret consecutive when it's testimony.
Kara Wenzel - So, back to the bilingual assistant. I'm sure a lot of people rely heavily on their bilingual assistants in prepping their-
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Of course.
Kara Wenzel - Their clients for any number of things. So, what happens if I think that might client is really struggling to understand the interpreted proceedings and the questions that they're asked. But I know it went really well when we were preparing them in our office with the bilingual assistant. What's going on here? Why would that occur?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - So, it's very important to understand that having a meeting with your client and your bilingual assistant in your office is very different to actually being in a court proceeding. Court proceedings, we already know that they're very structured, that process needs to be followed, certain rules need to be followed. It's not like a normal conversation. So when that situation, when that kind of situation happens which you just mentioned, obviously, the attorney and the bilingual assistant and the client were in a completely different setting. They were just having a conversation. And the bilingual assistant in that case, most of the time, participates in the conversation, which we interpreters are not allowed to do in a court proceeding. So if the bilingual assistant may say things that the attorney didn't, like she may help the client answer a question. Like he's trying to say, "Oh, I went to this place. What is it this place where they give you the whatever, assistance for you to get food stamps? What is it? The one here on this street." So in a court proceeding, that's what we interpret. In the conversation, the bilingual assistant may be able to say, "Oh, I know. Yeah, you're talking about the one on Main Street, right?" And then she turns to the attorney and says, "Yeah, he's talking about this place where they give you assistance for food stamps. You know, this place. But they're no longer there."
So in that case, the bilingual assistant is not interpreting. She's participating in the conversation. She's helping the client answer the questions, which we are not allowed to do. So, that's one thing. And the other thing is that many times clients go to a deposition or court proceeding, a hearing, and they don't know what to expect. Maybe the attorney is not aware of how unprepared or how little they know about the legal proceeding, about a legal proceeding. Like saying something, for example, remember that we're on the record, the court reporter will write everything down. Maybe the witness doesn't even know what on the record means. Maybe he doesn't even know what a court reporter is.
So, all those things, explaining all those things beforehand, makes such a huge difference. Objections. Many times I've been in depositions where it's so clear that the witness has no idea what an objection, why his attorney or her attorney are saying something. And of course, we interpreters have to interpret the objections too, because we have to interpret everything that is being said on the record. And it totally confuses the witness. They don't know what's going on. They don't know what an objection means. They don't know that they're not talking to them. They don't know that the objection is just supposed to be on the record. So, that's why many clients don't understand why it went so well in a meeting with a bilingual assistant and why it's not going well during the court proceeding itself, because they're completely, completely different situations. And the role of the interpreter is completely different to the role that the bilingual assistant plays during the meeting.
Kara Wenzel - So, my guess is if you see that your client is getting confused by objections or the ways that opposing counsel or even a judge might intervene, you can't really ask the interpreter to stop doing that, to stop interpreting the confusing portions?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - No. In court, you can't. In a deposition, especially now that we're doing most on Zoom, and sometimes the attorney start, the attorney object, one attorney objects and the other one answers and they start talking and we can't interpret simultaneously on Zoom for a deposition. So sometimes the attorneys just tell the interpreter, "Don't interpret that." I mean, I always say I'm required to interpret what you want me to do. If you want me to interpret, I need to ask the court reporter to read back what you said because I can't interpret simultaneously what you just said. And sometimes they say, "No, it's okay. Don't worry.
This was only legal arguments that we were exchanging. So, don't do it." But the problem is that you can't just tell an interpreter don't interpret the objections because sometimes the attorney will say, "Objection, invades attorney-client privilege. I instruct my client not to answer." So in that case, you have to interpret, right? Because if an attorney tells that to his client, then that's why just saying don't interpret the objections is really not the solution. We are required to interpret the objections. So the best way to avoid a witness or a client from being confused is prepare that person ahead of time. Make sure that that person knows what to expect. And sometimes that takes a lot of work. But bear in mind, that many people from other countries just come from very poor rural communities. They don't know what are the legal, how the legal system here works. They don't even, probably don't even know, how the legal system works in their own countries. So, there're many, many technical terms discovery, like I said on the record, court reporter. Many, many things that they have no idea what it means.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah, and why would they?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Exactly. So yeah, preparation is very, very important.
Kara Wenzel - So, kind of in the same note there. Say you're in a situation where an interpreter is hired by a defense for a deposition. Can they then interpret private conversations that are held off to the side between a plaintiffs council and the client, or vice versa if it were reversed?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - So in California, if it's workers' comp, the insurance company is required to provide an interpreter both for the deposition and for the prep. And if the applicant's council wants to talk to their client in private, then the interpreter has to interpret those conversations. That's workers' comp and that's the way it is in California. I don't know other states what the regulations say. For civil cases, for example, if an interpreter is hired by an attorney to interpret at a deposition, she's not required to interpret private conversations between opposing counsel and their client. In fact, I've been in situations where, when I was first starting out, and I had once I was hired for a deposition for a civil case by the defense attorney. And plaintiff's attorney wanted me to interpret his conversations with his client in private. And I was going to do it and the defense attorney got very upset. He said, "Why I hired her for the deposition. Why does she have to interpret private conversations between you and your client? She's not required. I don't have to pay for the interpreter for you to do that." I mean, I don't have a problem with doing it if the attorney who hired me doesn't have a problem. But I make sure to ask because I don't want to be in that kind of situation where... Or vice versa, plaintiff's counsel hires me for a deposition and defense counsel wants me to interpret for private conversations. I don't want that to be a problem. But it's important for attorneys to know that the interpreter is not acquired to do it.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah, well you think if it was privilege, the conversation would not be held in the same room, but I'm sure there are little things that come up that they just need to say in the moment that still kind of makes it awkward for the interpreter.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Yes, we are sometimes and we are... Our situation is not easy sometimes because we're in the middle of everything.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - And I have to say that most of the attorneys that we work with are a pleasure to work with and understand what the role of the interpreter is. The same with judges. But sometimes, some are not and that's when it makes things difficult.
Kara Wenzel - Okay. So, going back to another thing you had touched on earlier about documents. You basically are required to read everything in a legal document or into that other, excuse me, into the signatory's language, right? An attorney can't say, "Oh, you don't need to read this." Are there instances where that might be allowed?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - It may be allowed if, for example, first, if we don't, if we interpreters don't have to sign a document saying that we read the entire agreement or the entire document. Yes, it could be allowed that an attorney tells someone, "Okay, I want to show you this letter from March 2nd, 2020." And then he tells the attorney... I mean, I'm sorry, he tells the interpreter, "I just want you to read the second paragraph. Don't worry about the rest." So yeah, in that case, of course. It could be an exhibit during a deposition or a trial. Of course, in that case, we don't have to read the whole thing. But the moment that we're asked to sign a document saying that we read the entire thing, then yes, we are required to read the entire thing.
Kara Wenzel - Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. especially if it's something that involves the signatory's rights, something they're signing away, or giving up, or deciding to do or not do.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Or settlements or plea agreements. I mean, someone who's pleading guilty, it's extra extreme important for them to know exactly everything that the agreement says.
Kara Wenzel - Yes, of course. Of course. Going back to another scenario about when an interpreter possibly had made a mistake. What if you're in a jury trial and you find out that a juror sends a note to the judge claiming that the interpreter for this proceeding has made a mistake. Should you be concerned about that?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Well, that's one of the things that California allows. Not every state allows jurors to send notes to the bailiff saying that the interpreter made a mistake. For some reason, California allows it. It's the same situation as the bilingual assistant. I mean, I'm not saying that an interpreter may not make a mistake. It is possible. Of course, it's possible that an interpreter makes a mistake. If that's the case, if somebody brings it up, of course, an interpreter would correct herself on the record. But many times we are, we see these situations where people believe that an interpreter made a mistake when it wasn't the case. I remember I had a situation in a trial. I was interpreting in a trial once and the man testifying was an old guy. He was claiming that he had been wrongfully terminated for medical reasons because he was sick. And he kept using a word in Spanish.
I can't remember what it was. I think that he used the word lupus, but he really meant something else. I can't remember what the word was. And it was obvious that's not what he meant, right? So, that's what I interpreted, lupus. And then one of the jurors sent a note to the judge saying that I really misinterpreted. That what I should have interpreted was the other word, which I knew that that was what he meant, but he didn't say. And so when, obviously outside of the presence of the jury, the judge said, "Oh, madam interpreter. I got a note from a juror saying that you did this." And I explained to him, "Your honor, I interpret what the witness said. I know that he didn't mean lupus, but that's what he said." And the juror doesn't really know because of course, he was thinking that I should have interpreted the word that the witness meant. So, again, most of the time... And I know other stories which are even worse, interpreters who got in trouble because a juror challenged the interpretation, which was completely mistaken. So, it's the same situation. Just yes, if the interpreter is wrong, she will admit it. She will correct it on the record. But everybody has to be prepared to also accept that the interpreter may not be wrong and accept that. And it's like, in California, jurors sending a note to the judge because they believe the interpreter made a mistake, what about if they believe that the attorney made a mistake? It's like opening the door to a very problematic situation. What if the attorney made a mistake with a date? Are we going to allow the jurors to also send notes to the judge because the attorney made a mistake with a date or a name? It's a very, very delicate situation. And it's not really an easy situation to deal with, but yeah. That's why other states-
Kara Wenzel - It might be-
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Don't allow that.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah, yeah. Do you ever feel frustrated that you know that they're not saying the right word or they're struggling, and you wish you could kind of help them along, but you can't. You can't.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - I can't. I can't.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - You know what, in those cases, my thought is it would've been great if they would've spent more time preparing this person.
Kara Wenzel - Yeah.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - And I remember once, I had a deposition once, where the witness was giving such poor testimony, so, so bad. And his attorney was getting very frustrated. But obviously, he had not been prepared. And during one of the breaks, the attorney shows me a video so that I better understand what his client is trying to say. And that's the thing I said, "But counsel, I can only interpret what he says, not what I know or what I think he means to say." And so, that is the key. That is the key, good preparation.
Kara Wenzel - Would you say, I'm guessing that might be a flavor of what is your number one piece of advice to an attorney who is working with an interpreter or a, excuse me, a case that requires an interpreter for the first time?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - I would say, watch this. Watch this recording. But to make it short, just be aware of what the interpreter's role is and the things that we are allowed to do and the things that we are not allowed to do. We just interpret. That's all that we do. We interpret what we hear and that's all we can do.
Kara Wenzel - Yes. Yes, so important though. Thank you so much, Mariana. We are running out of time, but I wanna give you a chance. We will have your contact information linked to on this page, but do you wanna tell people how they might be able to find you?
Mariana Bension-Larkin - You can find me on the court's website in California and also the federal roster for the Central District in California.
Kara Wenzel - Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Mariana. We really appreciate you-
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Of course. Of course.
Kara Wenzel - Taking the time to explain all this to us. Very helpful.
Mariana Bension-Larkin - Of course, a pleasure. Very nice talking to you. And thanks to everybody for watching and listening.
Kara Wenzel - Wonderful. All right.