Translators give voice to due process
Court translators uphold the constitutional rights of defendants who otherwise wouldn’t understand their legal rights or be able to aid in their own defenses. “The job is interesting and beautiful when you see that person’s eyes light up and they know,” Carrie Lilley of Boston said. Translators are “performance artists,” Xavier Keogh of St. Petersburg, Fla., said.
“We are artists. We play the role of everyone, the judge, defendant and the attorneys,” he said, grinning with his arms open, giving a virtual thespian bow. “We wear all these hats and everyone has a different perspective.” Lilley and Keogh are federally certified court translators who were brought in by the courts to help translate for the Guatemalan and Mexican workers who appeared in federal court this week after last week’s Agriprocessors Inc. raid in Postville. Some of the translators talked with The Gazette in Waterloo during their breaks. In all, 26 freelance translators came in for the court proceedings for the 389 detainees. The court wrapped up its work last night.
Ana Caddess, a translator for 16 years from San Antonio, said the translators came from all over, including Arizona, California, Boston, Florida, Texas, New York and North Carolina. The Administration Office of Courts uses a roster of certified bilingual translators for calls when someone is needed. Being federally certified isn’t an easy process, Caddess said. There are two tests, written and oral, that must be passed. They are the level of a graduate exam and have several parts: grammar, usage, reading comprehension, legal terminology and vocabulary. “You have to be able to do it in English and Spanish,” Caddess said. “It’s a difficult test. When we (she and Keogh) took it, only 4 percent passed.”
On the oral test the translator must be able to translate simultaneously, such as while the judge is giving the defendant information, Caddess said. “We must do 230 words a minute.” Keogh, a translator for 15 years, said the other part of the test is being able to translate consecutively, when the witness is testifying, Keogh said. “You have to keep the fluidity of the statements and also watch for hidden body language and the register of their voice.” Lilley, a translator for 25 years, said she loves the phrase “lending voices to others,” which she heard or read someplace. The translator attempts to match the nuances of the voice, so the demeanor or manner of the person comes across. Sharon Spence, a translator for 31 years from Los Angeles, said that takes more than just knowing how to speak Spanish. The interpreter must be able to speak and understand Spanish and English like natives. Lilley said a translator must know many things in order to do an accurate and fair job. Many times a judge phrases something that doesn’t come out right or make sense in Spanish. The translator must then be able to put the verb in another place or use another word, without changing the meaning, to make it comprehensible for the defendant.
The golden rule is to never change the meaning of what the judge, attorney or defendant says, all the translators agreed. They also agreed they don’t favor the court or defendant. They are the neutral party that ensures nobody is “lost in translation.”