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.

 

You Made a Mistake. Time to Tour the Impact Zone.

You can’t shake the uneasiness. Maybe while you were interpreting in a deposition, an attorney objected and then asked to have the question and your interpretation read back. Then nothing more was said about it. Maybe in the translation you just finished, there was one unfamiliar phrase repeated throughout, but you made the deadline and it is already in the hands of the client. The more you think about it, the more you feel that you made a mistake. You aren’t sure if anyone caught it since you haven’t received a complaint…yet. At this point, your conscience won’t leave you alone.

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That is a good thing. That means you care about your work product. Embrace your conscience with a big Thank You.  I will walk you through what goes on after you’ve left the stage. Because the more you know about the impact of your work- good or bad; the more you’ll know how to improve. Look for two upcoming posts: what you can do to resolve a mistake and what to do when the client wrongly claims you made a mistake.
When a mistake is discovered, here’s what happens on the client’s end.
If you were working for an agency, they will hear the complaint from their client. A professional agency should give you a chance to tell your side, so they will contact you and ask you about the job. Some will test your honesty by not mentioning the complaint, to see if you will reveal the mistake to them. Others will be honest and tell you exactly what the client said. This allows you to help the agency rectify the problem and thus help them keep their client. If they keep that client, you have a better chance to stay on with the agency but it is likely you won’t be sent on assignments for their specific client. If the agency has to resolve the problem on their own you could easily lose the agency as your client. Often the agency will need to discount or not charge their fee to keep the client so there is a financial burden to them.
Fact: The agency can replace you with another freelancer much easier than they can replace a paying client.

If you were working directly for a client, you may not hear about the complaint until after they themselves have decided what to do about it. If this mistake has affected their client’s case, the firm has to act quickly and follow the rules of civil or criminal procedure. If they have to tell their client what happened, then your name takes another hit. Hell hath no fury like an attorney in damage control mode.

Fact: Most interpreters don’t realize the repercussions of misinterpreted testimony.
Unless you have a long term, exclusive relationship with this client, chances are you won’t hear about the complaint at all. Lawyers don’t like adding the task of questioning you to their agendas. You will begin to notice they don’t schedule you anymore and then your overall work load drops off. It is usually because they simply mentioned the experience with you to another lawyer, which snowballs, tarnishing your reputation.
Mistakes are ethical and procedural slip-ups too. Judicial professionals hold us to the same standards they are held to. Being late and delaying a deposition costs both parties time and money. Missing a deadline on a translation can set back the client’s production schedule. A breach of confidentiality or privilege can result in a mistrial. This is why clients react so strongly to these mistakes.
Reasons for mistakes never outweigh the repercussions. This awareness will give you the additional instinct to avoid them.

Handing the Witness Something He can’t Possibly Read

Mayan HirogliphicsA deposition in a contract dispute is going smoothly. A certified court interpreter is interpreting the questions asked by the attorneys and the responses given by the witness. The questioning attorney has a document marked as an exhibit and hands it to the witness, asking him to verify what it is. The witness looks puzzled. The contract, all 15 pages, is in English. The witness states that he cannot read English and he is unable to read the exhibit. The witness’s attorney sits silent and unaccommodating.  The solution to this potential confusion and delay is sitting right there at the table.

Professional court interpreters are able to read out loud documents that are written in English into the witness’s language. This is called sight translation and it is included in our scope of practice. We are trained to know and understand legal terms, specialized industrial, commercial and discovery material terminology and the correct translations for such terminology in the written form, just as we are trained in the spoken form. We read the document out loud at a smooth uninterrupted pace. Sight translation is part of the licensed court interpreter’s job. But we can’t offer to assist one side or the other during the questioning process, whether a trial or deposition; it is up to the attorneys to know to ask us to perform this function.

While on the record, state that you are requesting that the interpreter sight translate, to the witness, the marked document, specifying the passage or section. For example state “The third paragraph on page three. Or, “The second sentence of the first paragraph starting with “In the event of “and ending with “notify your supervisor”. This allows the section or document sight translated to be correctly indicated in the record.

When the section has been sight translated, the interpreter should state in English for the record, “The specified section has been sight translated to the witness.” The attorney can then ask the witness if they understood what was read to them or simply follow up with the question.

Most short passages from legal or standard commercial documents are easily sight translated. In a courtroom setting provide the interpreter with a copy of the document to be sight translated long enough before they take the stand so they can quickly review it for needed term translation.

If the text is specialized terminology, do yourself and the interpreter a favor and advise them of the subject matter prior to the deposition. At examinations under oath, when you introduce the document to be marked, show it to the interpreter to review in case they need to look up terminology.

I have sight translated Subpoena Duces Tecums, Requests for Production, notices, contracts, agreements, applications for employment, accident reports, warning labels, safety manuals, ship’s log books, product use instructions, prescription labels, letters, bank statements, ingredient lists for natural remedies and deposition transcripts. With the exception of poetry, any document that the rules allow to be handed to the witness being questioned can be accurately sight translated. This is just another way the language barrier is removed allowing due process to continue unrestrained.