Interpreters Must Adhere to Rules of Professional Conduct

In every profession, we have those on the cutting edge, as well as those who believe there is no school like the old school. As legal professionals hone their abilities, a monkey wrench is often hurled at them when the services of a certified court interpreter are required. For those who have never been trained, it can be daunting. 

Since 1989, I have worked as a legal secretary/assistant.  Since 2007, attorneys have retained my interpreting services.  In my experience, I have yet to cross paths with an attorney who is worried about speaking or looking the wrong way that would induce my rebuke.

On June 21, 2006, in South Carolina, Chief Justice Jean H. Toal, and Justices James E. Moore, John H. Waller, Jr. J., E. C. Burnett, III, and Costa M. Pleicones executed an Order amending the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules to add Rule 511, Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters.  In its Preamble, it states, “As officers of the court, interpreters help assure that such persons may enjoy equal access to justice and that court proceedings and court support services function efficiently and effectively. Interpreters are highly skilled professionals who fulfill an essential role in the administration of justice. Anyone serving as a court interpreter should be required to understand and abide by the precepts set out in these Rules. Judges and attorneys should also become familiar with the Rules and expect conduct from interpreters that is consistent with them.” (emphasis added)

In last month’s blog, the author mentioned that after advising counsel to speak directly to the LEP deponent once, a continual barrage “only slows down communication, creates irritability and bad will.” That may well be true. However, if the source message is “Ask Mr. Rodriguez where he was the morning of the accident,” and the interpreter renders into the target language, “where were you the morning of the accident?” then we technically have a breach of ethics.

SCACR §511, Rule 1, Accuracy and Completeness of Interpretation:  Interpreters shall render a complete and accurate interpretation, or sight translation, without altering, …  The Commentary mentions that accuracy and completeness of interpretation creates an obligation to conserve every element of information contained in a source language communication when it is rendered in the target language.

There are two solutions at the ready.  Prior to the start of the deposition, the interpreter apprises the court reporter that if the lawyer speaks in the third person, the interpretation will also be in the third person.  If this is problematic for the court reporter, she can follow up with the attorney.  Additionally, when the interpreter meets the deposing attorney before the deposition, she can state that if the lawyer formulates questions as, “ask her how…,” the rendition will also be made in the third person, resulting in a cumbersome transcript for the attorney to review. 

For instance, earlier this month in court, the attorney interrogated the witness about an incident in October of this year.  We are only a few weeks into 2019, so it’s not this year.  However, I rendered the source message without alteration into Spanish.  After mentioning October of this year a few times, counsel corrected himself and stated  2018. 

At times, court interpreters are asked to explain forms to LEP individuals.  Technically, that is not interpreting; it is practicing law without a license (an imprisonable offense).  Furthermore, it conflicts with SCACR §511, Rule 7, Scope of Practice.Sight translation of forms is within the scope of our practice. 

SCACR §511, Rule 9 Duty to Report Ethical Violations:  Interpreters shall report to the proper judicial authority any effort to impede their compliance with any law, any provision of these Rules, or any other judicial policy governing court interpreting and legal translating. The Commentary warns that because the users of interpreting services frequently misunderstand the proper role of the interpreter, they may ask or expect the interpreter to perform duties or engage in activities that conflict with the provisions of these Rules or other laws, regulations, or policies governing court interpreters. It is incumbent upon the interpreter to inform such persons of his or her professional obligations.  

Certified court interpreters are highly skilled professionals and it is their responsibility to notify others of her professional obligations and limitations.  If a lawyer or doctor were to violate his ethics or other Rules of Professional Conduct, disciplinary measures can be taking, including revocation of license to practice law or medicine.  Interpreters can also be chastised for violating ethics.  

Regardless of how great our knowledge, skills, and abilities are in our chosen profession, people enjoy working with likable and trusted fellow officers of the court.  A friendly attitude, interpersonal skills, an open mind, and a sense of humor will result in all officers of the court, attorneys, certified court interpreters (CCI), and certified verbatim reporters (CVR) and certified court reporters (CCR), to respect each other’s role in the administration of justice.

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