The Couch

The Couch: A Partner Whisked Out of Sight

The Couch is a place to exchange ideas and brainstorm, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. Sometimes, the sudden loss of a partner can be challenging, and even though the solution may be clear from an ethical perspective, it remains a difficult avenue to follow. Thanks go out to this week’s contributor for the Couch idea.


You have been interpreting on a two-person team at a rather long trial. You are an American citizen, while your partner was born outside the United States. The second day into the proceedings, your partner receives a phone call that leaves him rather distraught. His performance is visibly, but not seriously, affected, and you and he are able to handle the proceedings at an acceptable level. You’ve worked with him before, and you know him to be an upstanding individual, both on the professional and on the personal level, and a devoted family man to boot.

On the third day, immediately when the session is adjourned and you and your colleague head out to get refreshments, a group officers accosts your colleague just outside the courtroom. Their uniforms bear the markings “ICE.” The ICE officers take your colleague away. But just before they hurry him definitively out of earshot, your partner looks at you and quickly asks that you not tell the hiring agency what happened, rather that you make up a more “respectable” excuse for him.

No one in the courtroom yet realizes what has happened. You are now without a partner, but the trial must go on, and it won’t be over anytime soon. What do you do? How do you see the scene play itself out after this?


Please note: If you have a topic you’d like to see discussed at The Couch, write to the Editor. The comments section here should be used only to reply to the issue under discussion today. When you submit a question or topic for The Couch, we will make sure to remove all information that might make the parties or case identifiable.

Body picture from “Religion in the Immigration Debate” by Gregory Noble at The Family Redoubt, under CC BY 4.0

11 thoughts on “The Couch: A Partner Whisked Out of Sight”

  1. If I had a partner unfortunate enough to fall into the clutches of ICE, the least I could do is honor his request, the least I could do is honor their request: tell the court that your colleague had an emergency and that you’ll finish the day on your own but you’ll need a few more breaks, and in the evening inform the agency that you need a new partner for the next day, preferably without telling them that he left early, so that he (or his family) will not miss out on the payment.
    And then do behind the scenes whatever you can to support your colleague and their family.

  2. Keiko Morioka says:

    I would advise the court about the situation including potential concerns due to single interpreter fatigue.
    (if not providing another interpreter, request more frequent breaks or anything they can do to help)
    When appropriate, report and update the agency as well.

  3. Carlos Benemann says:

    Seems like a highly unlikely story; at least in any of the court jurisdictions I worked in over decades..
    First of in order to work for a court especially in a trial, the interpreter would have to be sworn and either be Certified or Registered. Either way, to get to that sworn status it requires a statement about being either a US Citizen or green card holder or at the very least work visa entitlement. A person subject to ICE detainment would have to lie in order to get a court interpreter assignment in probably any court jurisdiction (at least these days).
    Something fishy here… maybe the agency?.
    This kind of reminds me of the time I listened in on a “Language Line ” Agency interpreter in a Fish and Game court trial for illegally harvesting Abalone.
    Judge asks the interpreter on the phoneline: “Are you certified?”
    Interpreter: Yes, I am.
    Judge: “What is your registration number and who issued your certification”?
    Interpreter: “Language Line”
    The Judge let’s that go and tells the defendant on the record:: “You are charged with one count of fishing abalone over the limit”.
    Interpreter: :”Excuse me your honor.. what is A baloney?
    The judge: Well it is a molusc
    The interpreter: I am sorry your honor, what is a molusc?
    The judge, a bit impatient and irritated asks : “Are you in California?”
    Interpreter: ” No your honor, Sasquetchwan, Canada.
    Judge:with his hands shuffling on his desk: “Oops!! I cut the connecting line of by mistake..”

    Later I had lunch with that Judge in chambers.
    I asked: So cutting of the phone connection this morning was a mistake?
    Judge: Nope.
    Me: Right on!

    Conclusion: How does the previously described scene play out after this?
    Answer: Immediately get the court Interpreter coordinator to hire a replacement and keep on truckin…
    Defense attorney may have several moves now because that ICE’d interpreter’s work is open to questions about his work and certification qualifications. If not in a mistrial motion then at least as an appeal issue.
    Cheers; Carlos Benemann (Spanish/German Certified and Registered California and Oregon Court Interpreter)

  4. Alina Salvat says:

    Agree with both of the above comments. That said, I’m really not sure if I would inform the agency of what transpired. — even at a later, “appropriate” time.

  5. Chris Verduin says:

    I think I could honestly say that my partner had a personal emergency and had to
    leave. Some courts will consult a “lone” interpreter, asking if he/she can continue and take lots of breaks. But usually the trial will have to stop for the time being until another interpreter can be found.
    My question is, why is any agency or court hiring someone whose documents are not in order, or did I miss something here ???

  6. Sabine H Michael says:

    Should the title not read ‘whisked away’? Wisp has a different meaning.

  7. Stephen Sanford says:

    I think the expression is “whisked out of sight”.

  8. Observer Editor says:

    Good catch Sabine and Stephen. Editor’s mistake. Thank you!

  9. Vinka Valdivia says:

    I like Carlos Benemann’s comments and example. Does sound fishy. I think it might be unethical to obfuscate for the other interpreter and not let the agency or court know.

  10. John Matt says:

    I’d simply inform the judge that the other interpreter had to leave because some urgent came up and it was beyond his control. It’s plain to see that the case scenario is just that and it is a bit far fetched because ICE doesn’t go after individuals iunder those circumstances unless it is a high profile individual. Also, we don’t know whether she’s an in-house interpreter or a freelancer associated with the same agency as he was, hence she may not know how to even contact that agency, she can only inform the coordinator so he/she may replace him.

  11. Rosa M Galvan says:

    As an officer of the court I have an obligation to tell the truth and I would advice the court and my supervisor so they can provide a replacement and handle the rest properly.

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