Janis Palma

by on Friday, June 24, 2016

A 21st Century Colony in America

I am often asked about Puerto Rico. Explaining our status has never been easy, but recent events have suddenly made everything crystal clear. Today’s blog is not about interpreting or translating per se, but it is about events taking place in Puerto Rico that could have a life-changing impact on interpreters and translators here on the Island.

Back in 1952 the powers that be in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. created a constitution for the Island that everyone thought had put an end to the colonial status derived from the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Estado Libre Asociado [Free Associated State], translated back then as Commonwealth for reasons yet to be explained, was defined by the first article of that constitution:

Section 1. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is hereby constituted. Its political power emanates from the people and shall be exercised in accordance with their will, within the terms of the compact agreed upon between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States of America.

Section 2. The government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico shall be republican in form and its legislative, judicial and executive branches as established by this Constitution shall be equally subordinate to the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico.

Notwithstanding, a Supreme Court decision from June 9 of this year tells a very different story. In the case of Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle et al, (No. 15-108), in which the Court had to consider “whether two prosecuting authorities are different sovereigns for double jeopardy purposes,” Justice Kagan delivered the majority opinion, whereby the Court ruled that “Puerto Rico cannot benefit from the dual-sovereignty doctrine” because “Congress conferred the authority to create the Puerto Rico Constitution, which in turn confers the authority to bring criminal charges. That makes Congress the original source of power for Puerto Rico’s prosecutors— as it is for the Federal Government’s.” (Slip Opinion in 579 U.S. ____ (2016).)

That very same day, June 9, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. voted to approve a bill known as PROMESA (H.R. 5278.) The acronym stands for Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. PROMESA intends to establish a Financial Oversight and Management Board under Congress’s “power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations for territories,” and

Neither the Governor nor the Legislature may—
(1) exercise any control, supervision, oversight, or review over the Oversight Board or its activities; or
(2) enact, implement, or enforce any statute, resolution, policy, or rule that would impair or defeat the purposes of this Act, as determined by the Oversight Board. (Sec. 108)

Just the day before, on June 8, President Obama had told Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner—a representative of the People of Puerto Rico in Congress with no voting powers—, “there is no Plan B” for H.R. 5278. So, all three branches of government seem to have come to a unified understanding: the Commonwealth is a work of fiction. Whatever happened in 1952 under the name of Estado Libre Asociado is a big mystery today. We, the people of Puerto Rico, are left to wonder what will happen now that we can no longer live in suspended disbelief.

Here are some other ugly truths. Over the course of these 64 years as a commonwealth, Puerto Rico—or rather, the citizens elected to govern the Island—somehow managed to amass a $70-billion debt that the Island’s government cannot pay. At this point, the current administration has already defaulted on its debt and is having to choose which public services to provide and which ones to cut back or cancel altogether. In desperate moves to raise funds by imposing more taxes, the government has managed to make the cost of living untenable, forcing 84,000 Puerto Ricans to leave for the mainland in 2014 alone. On May 2 of this year CNN reported that 230 people on the average leave the island every day. Those of us who cannot leave are being dragged into a downward spiraling economy where the cost of living is 11.6% higher than any other city in the U.S., the unemployment rate is 11.7%, and the murder rate is upwards of 24.4 murders for every 100,000 people.

It is not a pretty picture. I look around and I see a breathtaking tropical paradise and think to myself, “I am so privileged to live here. I should be truly happy.” At the same time I realize that I am living a crucial moment in history that will forever change the social, economic, and political fabric of this island.

The truth is there are only two choices left: statehood or independence. If Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation, there will be no more federal court and no more jobs for interpreters and translators in federal government agencies here on the Island. Conversely, if it becomes a state, work for us will grow exponentially, as the local courts—which conduct their official business in Spanish—will surely have to adopt the English language for everything they do, as will all state government agencies.

I hope with all my heart the future brings something better than what we have right now.

Gio Lester

by on Friday, June 17, 2016

Staying in Touch with One’s Native Language

- by Gio Lester

Week before last, I had the pleasure of going back to my country to attend and present at the seventh international conference of our national professional organization for translators and interpreters, ABRATES. The pleasure of being back home was underscored by the honor (and fear) of presenting in Brazil, in Portuguese, to native speakers after a long absence.

Being a language teacher, I am very sensitive to the musicality of different languages, so my main concern was vocabulary. I am one of those travelers who take a little notepad with them wherever they go. Old friends change meaning, some are retired, others are born. Technology makes it easier for us to keep up with those changes more readily. Yet, the fear was palpable for me: my world’s soundtrack is heavily English.

My strategy for staying abreast with language developments in my country is to listen to Brazilian television, radio (internet radio is great!), participate actively in language groups, read at least one novel in Portuguese a year, and speak it every opportunity I get, which isn’t often. I haven’t succumbed to the novelas yet. Soap operas are a staple of Brazilian evenings. Dinner is served before or after their novelas. Conversations, dates, life are scheduled that way too. Or so it feels when I talk to my family down there: Fale logo que a novela já vai começar! (Be quick, the soap opera is about to start). But I digress.

An example I like to use regarding the evolution of words in these 31 years I have lived in the US is the word perua (//peh-ROO-uh//). When I lived in Brazil it meant a turkey hen and also a station wagon. Forward a few years, I go back to Brazil and the station wagon is off the market, the bird is still there, and now a nosy woman is also a perua. A few years after that, the nosy woman has lost her place to an excessively adorned person who now shares the word with the bird.

Turkey hen

Courtesy of Rue Wild Life Photos

A single word to designate an animal, a style of automobile, and two types of human beings across time. Language. What a puzzle!

Jennifer De La Cruz

by on Friday, June 3, 2016

How we handled a complex hearing

This article was originally posted on December 6, 2013. Juggling languages is only part of our job. There are other dimensions most other humans are not aware of. Jennifer is our guide as we explore some of them. Enjoy.

Recently, a colleague and I were asked to interpret in a logistically complex hearing that ended up working out pretty well in the end. I’d like to share it with the readership, and point out some things we learned from this particular experience.

It was the family law domestic violence calendar, and we were to interpret for not one, not two, but six matters—all at the same time! All parties were in pro per, and we knew that at least a few of them were expected to need interpreter assistance.

The six-matter scenario was essentially a family in which some issues had arisen causing two members to each file for restraining orders against various combinations of another four family members. Because the facts of the case stemmed from the same event, the judge was interested in holding a single hearing.

We were aware that the hearing was coming, but nobody involved knew for sure how it would work out until the morning of. Many factors were unknown:  How many witnesses would be called and need an interpreter? Were all of the parties going to go forward with the hearing? What kind of time would they need from the judge? Despite knowing about the case in advance, these logistically-important issues were still a mystery.

Everybody in the courtroom got involved in the informal planning discussions held with the parties on the morning of the hearing. There would be no additional witnesses, so we only had to deal with the six parties, and we had plenty of space. The deputy chimed in about seating given the purported history of tension among the parties. The court reporter had a few words to say about ensuring that each party was identified when speaking. The clerk clarified how the interpreters would be sharing the duties. We interpreters offered ideas that would support our need to hear and concentrate. All of us brainstormed with the judge.

Simultaneous equipment was decision one because it turned out that all six parties needed interpreter assistance. Each party would hear the proceedings in Spanish through wireless receivers. Only one interpreter was needed for that task. The second interpreter would be used to go into English for any testimony given by the parties. Because the judge would be keeping all of the parties at the spacious counsel table—nobody would be separated from the group to take the witness stand—we soon realized that we could divide the tasks even more.

The petitioner side (two individuals) sat at one end of the table, near the interpreter using the transmitter to interpret the proceedings into Spanish for everybody. The respondent side (four individuals) sat at the other end of the table, near the second interpreter. If the proceedings got too extensive, our plan was to switch back and forth every so often on the simultaneous task. For testimony, each interpreter was to be the voice into English for each of the individuals seated near us, that is, one interpreter for all petitioners, and one for all respondents. Logistically, it seemed to make sense.

One thing we tried to predict was how much testimony each side would be giving. Because the respondents had not yet filed their responses, we suspected that they would be the ones with more to explain during the hearing. The petitioners had already explained their story in their petitions, so we guessed that they could have less information to tell the judge. By predicting this, we thought that the interpreter with the extra task of simultaneous duty should be the one with the petitioners, since maybe they would be talking less. In the end, our prediction was wrong; the petitioners spoke quite a lot more than the respondents. However, because we took the time to plan and felt in control, being wrong about that made no difference to how we performed.

The key factor in making this hearing work came right from the bench. The judge gave clear instructions to all parties about how to conduct themselves so that everybody could be heard. Throughout the entire process he stayed in control, addressing the parties by name and allowing each to speak in turn. The parties themselves were cooperative even through moments of emotional testimony.

In retrospect, coordination and control were crucial to a smooth experience. When we’re thrust into situations of chaos, it’s not only difficult to do our jobs well; it’s also frustrating and exhausting for all involved. The fact that the interpreters were taken into account in the planning was both beneficial and gratifying. After the hearing was over, we stayed behind and debriefed with all involved, and everybody agreed that it was a complete success.

Other circumstances could have changed how we did things for this case, such as the number of individuals needing interpreters, any lack of self-control by the parties, attorney involvement, non-party witnesses, no equipment, and lengthy proceedings. As with so many professional experiences, what we did was one of many ways we could have done things.

I’m curious as to whether our colleagues out there have experienced a similar setup and how they handled it. Leave us your comments, and let’s share some experiences!

Janis Palma

by on Friday, May 27, 2016

The NAJIT Renaissance

Yes, I heard someone use that word during the NAJIT conference this past May 14 & 15 in San Antonio, Texas: Renaissance. And it was so fitting! The energy in the air was electrifying. The conference attendants were excited about the conference topics, and very happy to see friends and colleagues from every corner of the nation and then some. The pre-conference workshops on Friday, May 13, just like the conference program, had record-breaking registration numbers. Needless to say, there were also great parties, one hosted by the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT), one by the “federales”—the lively group of federally-certified interpreters who don’t need much of an excuse to get together and have a good time—plus the miscellaneous forays to a local salsa club by just about anyone who still had the energy to go dancing after a full day of conference presentations.

Sessions on vocabulary and terminology, video remote interpreting, memory, interpreting and legal translation techniques, just to name a few, reflected the high level of sophistication our profession has reached. Conference attendees included judiciary, medical, and community interpreters, legal translators, and interpreting/translation students. The atmosphere was always one of congeniality, including the management staff who always kept a smile on their faces no matter how many people gathered in front of the registration table at once to ask for one thing or another. Kudos to Rob and Susan Cruz, and their assistant during the conference, Frankie, for their excellent planning and execution! And I must add that it was great to have Freek Lankhof, from InTrans Book Service, come out of his retirement to delight us once more with his spot-on selection of book titles.

The keynote speaker during the annual meeting and luncheon, Michael Mulé, from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, gave a powerful presentation with a unique perspective on the critical role interpreters play in providing access to justice for every limited- and non-English speaker. The session on immigration interpreter trends was equally forceful on the issue of access to justice, with the peculiar twist of an exchange between the panelists and the audience that turned out to be very enlightening for the attorney on the panel, Juan González, who practices immigration law in South Texas. These and many other sessions brought to the forefront a clear call to action for every NAJIT member: all language services stakeholders need to be continuously educated, and it is up to each one of us to do it. In fact, NAJIT already has materials available on its website that any member can download and use.

Several ideas were bounced around on this topic during a very lively and productive Town Hall meeting Sunday morning. One was to create local chapters, and holding regional conference. Both of these would boost our national association’s capacity to provide more direct and concrete assistance to members in their local advocacy and educational initiatives. Another idea was to work in coordination with state organizations to reach more language service users in a cohesive educational initiative. Having state bar associations award Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits to attorneys who attend these sessions could certainly be a strong incentive for them to attend, helping us reach that highly-elusive audience.

Also during the Sunday morning Town Hall meeting, fellow NAJIT member Agustín de la Mora challenged all of us to bring in at least two new members to NAJIT by next year’s conference. And I can add: let’s bring at least one new NAJIT member to next year’s conference. All in all, this seems to be a great time to take NAJIT to the next level, building on the experience and enthusiasm of our current Board and every one of our members. Growing our numbers is key, however, because the higher the numbers in our membership rolls the greater our association’s “clout” to reach and influence decision- and policy-makers.

In response to a concern raised by another long-time NAJIT member, Daniel Sherr, about those professionals who always ask “why should I join NAJIT? What’s in it for me?” I like to respond by borrowing John F. Kennedy’s words, with a twist: it’s not what NAJIT can do for you, it’s what YOU can do for NAJIT! And the one thing you can do right now is join your professional association, join NAJIT, and help our collective voice grow stronger and reach farther. Be part of this NAJIT Renaissance!

Gio Lester

by on Friday, May 20, 2016

What Would You Have Done?

This is the second installment of our new feature What Would You Have Done? in which we bring real situations for our readers to comment on. The idea is for us to help each other overcome or prepare for unexpected situations. Drop us a line.

And if you have an experience to share, please write to the Editor. Our work is confidential and all identifiable details are removed from the stories shared with us to maintain our compliance with our Code of Ethics.

The story below is one that takes place in almost every deposition, and many of you are familiar with the feeling we interpreters get and how uncomfortable we feel.

Depositions, being less formal than court hearings, afford us more opportunities to address attorneys, ask questions and clarify doubts. We also get to feel more personally targeted. It seems that opposing attorneys try to object and disrupt interpreters just to unsettle them and then blame the loss of the case on bad interpreting.

The colleague in our story certainly felt that way after a long, drawn out deposition in which opposing counsel was bilingual. Objections were not only a matter of form or language used by the deposing attorney. They were also directed to the interpreter, disrupting the rhythm of the proceedings, as well as the conciseness and clarity of the records, not to mention the interpreter’s concentration and mental agility.

In the case used for this article, the interpreter confronted the attorney, and explained that in one specific challenged rendition the word choices made were based on the case being criminal rather than civil, and that the choice had been informed by the interpreter’s personal experience practicing law for over a decade in the country of the deponent’s origin. There was no more criticism or critique of the interpreter’s rendition as the deposition resumed.

What would you have done?
1-   Acted exactly as the interpreter in the case
2-   Relied on the tried and true “The interpreter stands by his/her rendition.”
3-   Informed the attorney who hired you to tell opposing counsel to stop interrupting.
4-   Removed yourself from the case, asking the agency to send someone else.
5-   …


by on Friday, May 13, 2016

NAJIT’s Professional Conference—What Makes It Different

- This post  was originally published on June 8, 2012. It seems a very fitting post to welcome NAJIT’s 2016 Conference and its attendees.

I really enjoyed the NAJIT conference this past May in Boston—my first ever. I had the opportunity to get to know people I had previously met only through emails, through the listserv, or by phone. By chance, I met some people that I thank my lucky stars I ran into, and with whom I anticipate a long and fruitful correspondence. I found that the classes I took were, in the main, informative and thought-provoking. The food was good, organization was top-notch, the city was beautiful, the conversation was stimulating and there were opportunities galore for networking and schmoozing.

But do you know what struck me the most, something I did not expect? There was an enormous feeling of camaraderie, an unselfish interchange of ideas, a feeling of professional solidarity that, as a person who has attended her share of conferences, I found greatly encouraging.

I have indeed attended many other professional conferences in the course of my varied careers. As a college professor in the 1980’s, I went to quite a few Modern Language Association conventions. Since more than one-fourth of the 30,000 members of the MLA attend their annual convention, the number of attendees is staggering—anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people. It’s difficult to locate people you do know, let along meet new ones. There are numerous divisions, each concentrated mainly on the study of the literature of a given country or countries, along with others dedicated to interdisciplinary and educational fields. Careful planning is of the essence to get into the sessions you want to attend. Although I was a professional among professionals, there was no feeling of “we’re all in this together,” but rather one of disparity. For the general member, each division presents its own mini-conference and, given the magnitude of the event, there is little opportunity for contact with the myriad others occurring in the same space.

The annual American Translators Association conference is not quite as overwhelming, but still, trying to find your way around among some 2,000 people speaking dozens of different languages can be daunting. It takes extensive planning to find the people you want to get together with and also meet the people with whom you would like to begin a professional relationship. Here too, once you find your group, you are in a warm cocoon you never need to leave. My experience is that most people feel a certain disconnect with the larger group around them and make little attempt to reach out, let alone share feelings of solidarity with fellow conference-goers.

The MLA, founded in 1883, and the ATA, founded in 1959, have both been around for a long time. NAJIT, on the other hand, which began in 1978, is a relative newcomer to the world of professional associations. The membership of the MLA and the ATA consists of professionals whose fields are well-established and well-respected. In contrast, we interpreters have had to fight every step of the way to become recognized as professionals and to establish our work as important, indeed essential for there to be equal access to the legal system in this country on every level. In addition, we strive constantly to extend our mission ever further to include the fields of medical, community and signed language interpreting. We seek inclusion, not division.

So we interpreters tend to be a feisty bunch. Our struggle has made us strong as individuals and as a group. We are supportive of each other and vociferously communicative when we get together. There may be cavilers—those who say “well I didn’t like this” or “it was better last year.” I don’t know about that–for one thing, I wasn’t there last year. But I have been to conferences sponsored by other organizations, and there is one thing I am very sure of: NAJIT is a young and vigorous organization. We truly seek to make changes for the better in this world, and there are not that many organizations that can say that. What I felt at the NAJIT conference was overwhelmingly positive. Amidst all our differences of language, of location, of interpreting venues, we stand united. We are NAJIT!

“Tips for Attending Professional Conferences”  Sociologists for Women in Society, Prepared by: Tamara L. Smith, Career Development Committee Chair http://www.socwomen.org/web/images/stories/resources/career_dev/sws_tipsforconferences.pdf

“6 Musts When Attending Professional Conferences” Career Management: Keepin’ It Real by Cindy Billington   http://maysblogs.tamu.edu/careermanagement/2011/05/27/6-musts-when-attending-professional-conferences/

“Making the Most of Professional Conferences”  The Chronicle of Higher Education   http://chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/making-the-most-of-professional-conferences/29611


Gio Lester

by on Friday, May 6, 2016

Thoughts on Interpreting

- By Gio Lester © 2016

Living in Miami, Florida, a bilingual city for sure, one thing we notice is that every other attorney speak another language. Most of them have studied Spanish or their family is from one of the myriad Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, or they themselves were educated in one of them. The fact that I work with Brazilian Portuguese does not deter them; after all Brazilian Portuguese is just Spanish with a funny accent (yes, I have heard that).

Even when it is not one of the active languages in a case, Spanish is still present. During an arbitration I interpreted at, the lead judge acknowledged the ghost in the room, the third language we were not using, but yet was in everyone’s mind. The proceedings were in English, and a few witnesses spoke only Portuguese. However, the Spanish speaking lawyers were always checking the interpretation and the deponents’ statements back into Spanish.

TrustWhenever I enter a deposition room, I tell the court reporters I am on their team, that I am there to make sure their job is done as easily as and accurately as possible. And it has resulted in great alliances. They will defend me before I even open my mouth, “Will the attorneys please take turns?” Or my favorite, “Sir, if you don’t wait for the interpreter to finish I can’t do my job.” You get the picture: the lawyer speaks enough Spanish to make out key words in Brazilian Portuguese in the deponent’s utterance and jumps to the next question.

Lawyers also have a predilection for negative questions during deposition. But that will work best in a direct interaction. It has the potential of becoming a problem when interpreters are present as the questions may become convoluted because of the sentence structure in the foreign language or the cultural logic. And instructions to deponents – I have to say Brazilian are notorious for not following them – should also focus on explaining the purpose of the procedure to allay cultural bias and fears.

Since I rarely do court work, my most extensive experience with judges is restricted to immigration and I have witnessed a lot of understanding, grace and compassion. But I hear my colleagues’ complaints, and I see that it is not only a dislike for our professional class that leads to the problems we encounter, it is also a cultural void that almost paralyses the system.

I really would love to see NAJIT put together workshops or videos targeting lawyers and judges. “Make it easier on yourself – the secrets of working with interpreters!” or “Cultural awareness can help you get through a deposition faster” – these are two of the workshops I have in mind. Any takers?

Gio Lester

by on Friday, April 29, 2016

What Would You Have Done?

Dear Readers,

This is a new feature of The NAJIT Observer. And it is written by YOU. Yes, you. We will submit a situation – real life on the trenches – and ask you to come up with solutions, suggestions, opinions or simply comments.The idea is to enrich each other’s repertoire of experiences and grow together. We already know we will not have enough time to commit every error or right move in the Book of Life. So, let’s learn together from one another.

This took place sometime ago, in a courtroom somewhere. It was a custody case involving a minor and her parents. The following characters were present at the hearing: Judge, Father’s lawyer, Father, Mother’s lawyer, Mother, Minor Child (four years old), Guardian ad Litem, Interpreter.

The Interpreter was told he would only be helping the Mother who would not be deposing, but needed to be aware of what was going on. Fine. The hearing was going as planned; they were arriving at the desired outcome when the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) was called to present his observations of the supervised visitations. That is when things got a bit frustrating for the interpreter.

Fact 1: The GAL did not speak the parents’ language, was not familiar with the parents’ culture, had a very strong bias towards one of the parents, and was really concerned with the child’s well-being.

Fact 2: The minor child had been living with the residential parent (father) and the visit subject of the GAL’s comments was the third visit with the child after a five-month hiatus.

The GAL commented that during the visit the Mother would not stop making physical contact with the child (touching the child’s hair, holding the child’s hand, smoothing the child’s clothing) and she found it disturbing. The GAL did not give any information regarding how the child reacted to the physical contact.

It so happens that in that family’s culture physical contact is a strong non-verbal form of communication and the parent’s behavior was more than acceptable in their culture, it was expected. However, the Mother’s lawyer, who happened to share the same cultural background as the parents, did not say a word and the negative observation remained in the Mother’s file with the court.

The interpreter spoke with the Mother’s lawyer after the fact, but the lawyer did not do anything and did not plan to do anything about that lack of cultural understanding on the part of the Guardian ad Litem and the resulting blemish in the Mother’s record.

1- Asked to speak as a Cultural Broker and enlightened the court and all present as to the cultural significance of the physical contact;
2- Spoken with the lawyer after the fact and left it alone, just as the interpreter in the case did;
3- Told the mother to speak up and ask her lawyer to allow her to defend herself;
4- Just interpreted and done nothing else;
5- [Fill in the blank]

Please use the comments field below and let us know your solutions and why.

Do you have an interesting situation you’d like us to publish in the next installment? Share it with us.


Janis Palma

by on Friday, April 22, 2016

Business and Fun: mixing it up in San Antonio

It’s the last week of April and NAJIT’s Annual Conference is just around the corner. Before we know it, we will be in San Antonio, polishing skills, learning what’s new in the field, catching up with old friends and making new ones. And although I know that keeping my skills honed and knowledge updated are critical components of my professional development, the best part of that weekend for me is spending time with my very extended NAJIT family.

All work and no play is never good, believe me! But the good news is that in our world, no play time is ever a waste. Whenever NAJIT members get together, we know very well how to mix it up, and even when we are singing or dancing, someone will find a way to turn it into a discussion on some obscure term and what would be the best way to translate it.

The challenges we face day in and day out are never far from our minds, and being with colleagues from all over the country—sometimes from other countries as well—is a great opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and find creative solutions to common problems we would not have thought of on our own.

NAJIT’s Annual Conference has been the petri dish for many innovative ideas that have contributed to the professionalization of judiciary interpreters and translators, such as the Code of Ethics developed in our organization’s very early stages, or the position papers developed later on, all of which have brought with them greater respect from those other professionals with whom we interact on a daily basis. NAJIT has also nurtured ground-breaking projects that have contributed to our collective growth as we transitioned from the “Dark Ages” of judiciary interpreting and translating to our current status as a widely recognized profession.

Of course, if we did not need to do any more work to improve the relative status of some members of our profession in certain geographic pockets where the “Age of Enlightenment” has yet to arrive, we could spend the whole weekend partying and forget about all the other educational sessions included in the conference. But the truth is we still have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it together. So if you have not yet registered for the conference in San Antonio, there’s still time. We all need to be there. We all have a responsibility to keep our profession vital and current, to uphold and promote the highest competency and ethical standards, and to forge bonds of professional solidarity that will further strengthen the standing of our organization and our chosen professions in the United States and beyond.

And, of course, we all need to have a little fun every once in a while, too. So I hope to meet all of you there, in San Antonio, by the River Walk, maybe with some mariachi music in the background and a heart full of joy because I will be hugging old friends and embracing new ones that will last me a lifetime.


by on Friday, April 15, 2016

Old Reliable: Your Car and You

This articles was first published in February, 2012. It is just as timely now as it was then. Hope you find some information to help you with your taxes this year. After all, we are supposed to be filing our taxes today!

The following does not pretend to be a compilation of dos and don’ts about either car maintenance or tax deductions. I am hoping to provide some pointers and the means to find more information, especially about taxes. 

  I have a shameful confession to make. I never owned a car until I was almost 40 years old. I just never needed one.  Not that I didn’t know how to drive; I did—I just didn’t have a car of my own. When I was a kid, I could use my parents’ cars. Then when I went away to college I neither wanted nor needed one. The same went for graduate school. Later, as a college professor, I lived right next to the school in a downtown area. Who needed a car? If absolutely necessary, I could always borrow somebody else’s. It wasn’t until much later in life that I saw that I would need some kind of reliable way to transport self and stuff from place to place, with all the responsibilities and consequent headaches attached.

How I envy free-lancers who work in an urban environment! The subways, the buses, the quick, cheap taxi ride to get from one court to another or from home to that early morning assignment…  How wonderful it must be!  No parking problems, no GPS foul-ups, no tiny Mapquest printouts!  But no, I chose to go live in the boonies, where the nearest courthouse is at least a half-hour drive away.

So now I am the proud owner of a car. It’s not new by any means, but it takes me where I need to go. Why? Because I take very good care of it. With the help of a supportive husband, I have learned when to take the darn thing in for maintenance, when to change the oil, when to rotate the tires, why pay attention when that pesky engine light goes on. Yes, some day, I’d like to get a brand new car, but meanwhile, I am happy to say that I can get to my assignments in a timely manner, and quite confidently too, thank you.

That is not to say that anything could happen at any time, in spite of all your care and attention to Old Reliable. Just a few weeks ago, a colleague called in a panic because his car was having transmission problems. Could I cover the case? Fortunately, I could and did. Now, I know that Frank takes meticulous care of his vehicle. You just never know. But your best bet is to do everything you can to forestall any problems. You ignore you car’s needs at your peril.

Now let’s talk about your car and your taxes. I noticed in Gio Lester’s piece last week (Basic Acconting II) that she touched briefly on this subject, and I’d like to make some clarifications. If you are a free-lancer, not only is your gas deductible, but also the cost of your car’s maintenance, any mileage not paid for by your client, parking and tolls, among quite a number of other possible deductions (See http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p463.pdf Section 4, pp. 15-26)

Keeping a record of your maintenance is easy. Just keep the receipts in a file you can locate and consult later and/or make an accounting as you go along. This includes things like new windshield wipers and fluid, oil, etc.  I usually keep a log because I am too lazy to go back through the receipts and add it all up. So much quicker!

Mileage is a little trickier. When I work in a neighboring state, all of my mileage is reimbursed. In my own state, I am paid a certain amount for anything over 25 miles. Any mileage not paid for is deductible. Since I keep a daily log of my assignments, I enter in the mileage amounts the same time that I enter the assignment. This way I can just add things up at the end and voila, it’s off to the accountant!


Car maintenance