And Now for the Musical Portion of my Closing Argument.

As  court interpreters, we have to be ready for all kinds of terminology. Speaking styles too. A register that rises to the level of Shakespearean sonnets , or drops to a Mafioso style threat.  We have to render it duplicating the tone, style and meaning. So, we study and prepare. I enjoy sitting in on trials and study how the lawyers speak especially during opening and closing.singer-on-stage

But none of that prepared me for the lawyer who sang during his closing argument.

I was interpreting the trial for the defendant. It was a car accident and my client was the insurance company. It was all so standard that I don’t remember the details or most of the testimony.  The opposing counsel was well prepared and consistently …normal sounding during litigation. Nothing stood out during  voir dire or cross or even  the deliberations over the charge to the jury. A bit of drama during that would have tipped me off.

I wasn’t even distracted by the Plaintiff’s father who wore in a full Marine dress uniform throughout the trial. He sat behind his daughter, a high school senior.

I was interpreting the full trial for the defendant, a middle aged man from Honduras. He was calm, polite and…normal.

I remember being aware that since we were at closing arguments, all that was left, time wise, was jury deliberations and then I’d be released.  Frankly I was probably thinking about dinner plans.

For closing, both lawyers restated the high points of the case that reflected well on their client. And the lawyer for the plaintiff, as usual, proceeded to follow the defense with a second closing.  In this one he reminded the jury of the testimony presented showing how his client was very close to her father and that her father had been very worried  about her ever since  this accident.  And that her father was an honorable member of the military.

The lawyer stopped right in front of the jury, looked right into their eyes and asked them,

“Who today isn’t aware of the contributions of the military to our country?  It just makes me think of the song,  Some Gave All by Billie Ray Cyrus

Then in a pretty nice baritone voice he sang these words:

“All gave some and some gave all / And some stood through for the red, white and blue / And some had to fall / And if you ever think of me / Think of all your liberties / And recall, some gave all.”

He caught me off guard for a second.  I may have shown surprise on my face. But I got right to work interpreting ….not singing…. the lyrics. I avoided eye contact with the defendant and I focused on the wood grain of the table while interpreting simultaneously. But out of the corner of my eye I caught my client’s jaw drop.  There was no reaction from the Judge and the jury didn’t applaud.

I have been surprised by literary testimony that included poetry and recitations from religious texts. I guess I can add interpretation of live singing to my own repertoire, so to speak.

I’m just glad he didn’t choose Achy Breaky Heart.

(Some Gave All. (C) 1993 Mercury Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc)

Beyond The Job. Discovering then Rewarding the Preservation of Workplace Treasures.

I remember the first time my eyes locked with his. It was in his courtroom the 11th District Civil Court of Harris County, Texas. I stood before him at the bench, with my right hand raised while he gave me the Court Interpreter’s Oath. This is how our professions were first intertwined, both pivoting on the same respect and dedication to the U.S. Judiciary. 

Many people don’t realize that every U.S. court maintains original documents and  records from all cases and business filed with the court – back to the date the court was founded. This translates into hundreds of years of evidence in the form of testimony, maps, affidavits, personal identifications, tintype photographs,  earliest of business records that date back to the 1700s. Try and picture a land grant request  ( in Spanish) by Stephen F. Austin before Texas’s independence from Mexico,  petitions by slaves suing for their freedom and winning (the plaintiff signed with an X ) all the way to  the present generation when John Lennon’s doodles made  while attending Yoko Ono’s child custody case were included in the records of that trial.  Since evidence then, as now, is admitted after inspection for veracity, you have history being told of every aspect of life, from personal, to commercial to national events.

But  if not preserved, all of that will be shredded or disintegrate.Gloved hand

 The time constraints on a Judge are extensive.  Judge Mark Davidson has had an outstanding judicial career, serving as judge of the 11th District Court for twenty years  before his retirement in 2009 and on into his appointment as Judge of the MDL court for the Asbestos litigation.  But in the 1990s when Judge Davidson sought out a century-old court document and was handed an envelope filled with yellow colored confetti , the result of the ancient document  never having been preserved, he made the time to take action. Judge Davidson, William Kroger, a partner in Baker Botts law firm, and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson  headed the effort to preserve documents within Harris County leading up to the creation of the Harris County District Clerk’s Historic Documents Room, which opened to the public in 2006. The room holds documents from the late 1700s-1951, and is used today by  authors, filmmakers historians, judges, lawyers and the public  research.  Seeing the result of this project, the Texas Supreme Court mandated that the Historical Document Reading Room and the Historical Document Preservation Project were the model for all state courts across Texas should follow. A spring 2009 meeting with Justice Jefferson, Judge Davidson and Galveston County Clerk Latonia Wilson led to the creation of the Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force by the Texas Supreme Court. Then Judge Davidson worked with State Representative Sarah Davis to create HB 1559 and carry it to passage in 2011. The bill provided that court records, stored in courthouses across Texas, would receive temporary protection from destruction. So in his spare time, he identified the risk of the destruction of history, developed a solution and acted on it.

In 2013, I was named Chair of the Historical Preservation Committee of my chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and that’s how I learned about  the existence of the Historic Document Room in our Harris County Courthouse and that the court greatly needed help to protect them.    

After meeting with Judge Davidson, I assembled a team of DAR members, all experienced preservationists, genealogists and history lovers to volunteer in the room all day twice a month to build a searchable database of every case filed since the early 1800s. We also transcribe the documents hand written ( with quill pen!), we raise funds for the preservation process and we give private tours of the room. I am now invited to speak to groups on the rich history we find and how they can help with this project.  My skills as an interpreter benefit because I also learn terminology and can analyze  the similarities of testimony given over 150 years ago. For the last three years I have been blissfully volunteering in Judge Davidson’s shadow.

Judge Davidson,medalFast forward from the day he gave me the Interpreter’s Oath to March 2016 and the photograph you see. Judge Mark Davidson is being awarded the National Medal for Historic Preservation before a packed room of dignitaries including his colleagues named above and yours truly.  I proudly nominated him because he obviously earned it.  But I was also personally motivated because he showed me how to make time for a good cause while maintaining respect and dedication to our profession.

Look for more posts on my discoveries among these treasures.

For information on the Historical Document Room at the courthouse please go to  http://www.hcdistrictclerk.com/Common/Default.aspx and click on Historical Documents.

 

Road Wise

MG countryroadScanOne of the most common proceedings I interpret is the vehicular accident deposition. The line of questioning is pretty standard.  The responses are a bit more varied. But here is one response that I have heard three times now. And every time I hear it, I smile quietly to myself.

Question: What street were you driving on when the impact occurred?

Response:   XYZ Street.

Question: How many lanes are there on XYZ Street?

Response:  Two. One in each direction.

Question:   What lane were you driving in?

Response: The middle one.

Uncontested Flashback

UnhappyrockScanIt was supposed to be a quick uncontested divorce proceeding.  The 72 year old woman was the petitioner.  She hadn’t seen or heard from her husband since he walked out the front door in 1994, a full twenty one years ago.  The petitioner was calm, collected and very polite as I interpreted her attorney’s explanation of how to speak through an interpreter during the court proceeding.  She very sweetly thanked me for my service, something that always melts my heart a little.

The court had appointed an ad litem to search for the missing husband and this attorney was there to report on his failed efforts to find the husband.

Once on the record we smoothly flowed through the preliminary verification of the petitioner’s request that the court grant her a divorce and a name change to her maiden name.

I was interpreting simultaneously as the Ad Litem attorney gave his account of all the procedures he followed to locate the husband, whose name he kept repeating.  Suddenly the petitioner started to speak, more like grumble, and it grew louder and louder.

“Que hombre tan desgraciado” (What a wretched man), she proclaimed forcefully. 

I was afraid she was referring to the Ad Litem who glanced at her with a quizzical look on his face.  He continued and so did she, with single word edicts every time she heard her husband’s name. 

“Unbearable!  Unbelievable!  Liar!  Low life!” 

And there I was interpreting the Ad Litem’s testimony as well as the petitioner’s running commentary; each word in the same tone and volume as the speaker.

The judge who was listening intently to the Ad Litem, did not interrupt him.  She appeared oblivious of the outbursts.  The attorney for the petitioner never objected, despite the bemused expression on her face.  In the back of my mind I imagined a record transcript worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit.

The Ad Litem finished and the divorce was granted and no one spoke of the remarks.  Once off the record, the petitioner was thanking the Judge when her attorney started to apologize.  The Judge cut her off with a wave of her hand, stating, “I know just how she feels.”