The Couch

The Couch – A Matter of Ethics

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. What do you do when you are the victim of unusual practices or an out of control situation?


I got this nice job offer, a really sweet deal: they did not argue my fee, did not mind the travel time charge, payment within a reasonable time… Then, two days prior to the assignment, I receive the notice of deposition and the deponent is someone I used to associate with – our children attended the same school.

My first reaction was to call and recuse myself. Then I thought “If I do that every time I know someone, I will never get a job.” You see, I live in a small community and those who speak my L1 language are not that many. We run into each other all the time.

My question is: Is someone you greet in a friendly manner a real acquaintance? I mean, if you have no social relationship to speak of with the person, but know him or her from around the community, should you still recuse yourself? Where is the boundary?

Thank you in advance.

– Ethically Concerned


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15 Comments
  • Liviu-Lee Roth
    Posted at 13:31h, 12 April Reply

    My opinion, after working for over 25 years in the field, covering medical, legal, federal courts, immigration, conferences and foreign delegations.

    I would not break a sweat about it. At the beginning of the deposition, let the parties know that your children went to the same school and they can decide. Disclosure is essential.

  • Siddhi Talati
    Posted at 13:51h, 12 April Reply

    I don’t think that just doing hi /hello in a small community like yours and you don’t have any relationship with the person should be considered acquaintance. I have this same situation because of my small community and I clarified that issue with my manager.

  • Dr. Michael O’Laughlin
    Posted at 14:35h, 12 April Reply

    This is a big problem for interpreters of rare languages, who interpret for the same people throughout their lives in many settings. I believe the ethical question can be resolved if you disclose the nature of the relationship before the deposition—through the attorney—and ask if anyone has any objections.

  • Linda Dunlap
    Posted at 14:52h, 12 April Reply

    I had a similar situation come up in Miami where I got to a trial setting and realized that I knew the defendant. I mentioned it to the court reporter and because she also knew the defendant we immediately went to the Judge’s chambers and informed her JA.

    When the judge came on the bench she stated for the record that the court reporter and I knew the defendant and asked us if we believed it would affect our ability to do our jobs. We said we did not. The judge then asked the parties if they believed we could continue. Neither side objected and we began the trial.

    I believe that being transparent in this sort of matter is key. If I had not spoken up, then that could have been viewed as a conflict of interest.

    • Liliana
      Posted at 20:16h, 12 April Reply

      Yes,we have to respect the cod of etics,also the Law,but we also have to be there for the ones that need us the most,and we ask ourself.WHAT WILL JESUS DO! We all do the job we are call yo do the best but let not forget we are also GOD SERVANTS,and to me ,personaly,it is the most important.At the and of our jurny in this AMAIZING UNIVERS,we personaly will be responding to the ONE WHO CREATE THE HOLE UNIVERS.SOO ,Trust in the LORD with all of your heart,lean NOT in your own undertanding,but in ALL YOUR WAY AKNOWLAGE HIM ,and HE WILL direct your way.LIVE IN THIS WOROLD,BY FAIT,but not fear or worrys,and goo and do what your heart desire and be lead by the SPIRIT. ALWAYS BE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT

      • Liviu-Lee Roth
        Posted at 00:02h, 16 April Reply

        I respect your freedom of speech, but Jesus has nothing to do with interpreting. What if I am a muslim, jew or buddhist? Who has priority?
        This is a professional forum; let’s leave out politics and religion.

        • Kathleen Shelly
          Posted at 17:53h, 18 April Reply

          Thank you, Liviu-Lee. That’s just what I was going to say, except you were more polite about it than I would have been.

  • Alfredo Vargas
    Posted at 15:30h, 12 April Reply

    I would disclose that I know the deponent, socially or otherwise, but that my role is to translate as accurately as I would anyone, the questions asked and the answers given. I have no control over the contents. Thus, my professional Code of Ethics will not affect my performance, if I disclose this circumstance and the parties agree that I am competent to do my job. It is important to disclose as soon as you know who the witness will be. Interpreters are not jurors.

  • Sonia Hart
    Posted at 19:16h, 12 April Reply

    I agree. If you think you cannot be fair and impartial, then you would have to recuse yourself from the hearing/deposition/trial.
    Informing all parties is key so if anyone does have an objection, it can be heard.

  • Nikolaj D. Widenmann
    Posted at 20:08h, 12 April Reply

    On a couple of occasions, I have likewise found myself interpreting in federal court hearings and suddenly realizing that I was acquainted with the defendant through church. In those cases, I simply notified the judge of that circumstance. The judge then asked counsel for both sides if they had any objections. They did not (the certainly were not interested in continuing the hearing), and the hearings proceeded.

  • Sylvia J. Andrade
    Posted at 03:58h, 13 April Reply

    I have run into people I know from Church or from the community many times. I draw the line when it is someone whom I know extremely well, such as a personal friend,. and the case is not a simple one. One time I was called to interpret over one hundred miles from home. I did not know until I walked into the courtroom who the witness– the victim of a serious crime– was. It turned out that he was a very close friend with whom my husband and I had lost contact some months before when he moved due to health (cancer) and employment issues. I ended up interpreting for the defendant, because I didn’t want for there to be any chance that my friend would not be believed when he took the stand for the preliminary hearing. I explained to him why I was doing this. All the other interpreters were busy and unable to come. The interpreter who originally was supposed to interpret for the defendant understood what I was doing and was glad to trade. It was very difficult for me, and my husband (also an interpreter) both talked (and cried) over our friend when I got home.

  • Beate Maier
    Posted at 12:40h, 13 April Reply

    I live and work in Germany. Under German law it is mandatory to disclose any being acquainted or previous involvement(s) with a party (e.g. translation of a certificate) or witness as soon as possible to the court or judge and/or recuse oneself. In my 25 year court history, I just had two cases in which I realized only when arriving at the courthouse that I was acquainted with the accused/the claimant . I immediately disclosed the fact(s) to the judge who then asked the parties and their lawyers about their views. In the criminal case the defendant’s lawyer moved to replace me (if he hadn’t done it I would have recused myself for personal reasons) resulting in the hearing being postponed and a new Interpreter being summoned. In the civil case all parties agreed I should stay so the hearing could be held. Disclosure in such cases is paramount in my opinion to protect onself, the fairness of a hearing and trust in legal interpreters’ impartiality and the judicial system in general.

  • Michelle J Gonzales
    Posted at 23:00h, 13 April Reply

    I would also like to bring up the LEP person’s perception of their familiarity with us. We might be confident that we can be neutral, but will the LEP person understand that? I say this because I did recuse myself from a case in which I knew one of the parties, not that well really. But I feel that she thinks we are closer than I think we are. She is an older lady and I can imagine her hugging me when I arrive and saying she’s glad I will be there for her. Now, I don’t know if I would have been interpreting for her, someone in her family that I know even less, or for the defendant. But let’s say I had to interpret for her, I can imagine her trying to ask me for my advice. Or if she feels I know the answer to a question asked, she might just say, “Tell them….” (which, of course, I would just repeat). She would have to be reminded constantly to answer the question herself. She might try to discuss the case with me out in the hallway. No matter how many times I would try to explain my neutral position I just think she would have a hard time grasping it or remembering the boundaries. So I recused myself not on my level of familiarity with her but what I anticipated would be her level of familiarity with me. And if I had to interpret for the defendant, what defendant would want their interpreter to be someone whom this other party seems to view as a friend? Others have told me they would not have turned down such a lucrative assignment. But I just knew in my gut that it would be complicated even with disclosing the connection and saying that I felt I could be neutral. I just think it would have been too problematic. I can avoid behavior that gives the impression of partiality but I cannot control the LEP person’s actions and that impression could have been compromised beyond my control.

    • Liviu-Lee Roth
      Posted at 00:11h, 16 April Reply

      You are right Michelle,
      but you speak from the perspective of a Spanish interpreter. In my pair, we are only two interpreters in the whole state of PA, 300 miles apart. An interpreter cannot control the behavior or perception of any LEP (it happens so often) but this is not a reason not to perform your job in a professional manner.

  • Kathleen Shelly
    Posted at 17:58h, 18 April Reply

    In my twenty-two years as an interpreter, I have had this happen to me a number of times. I simply advised all parties concerned and the cases went forward. The only time I actually recused myself was for the interview of a child for a sex-offense case. I had not recognized the child’s name when I received the assignment, but when I went into the interview room, I realized that the mother was a close friend. There was a real risk of my interpretation of the child’s interview being challenged in court, so I recused myself on the spot in the interests of justice.

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