04 Apr The Couch: Can You Do This One Thing For Me Real Quick?
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, even when everyone in the room has the best of intentions, role boundaries can get muddied, and then everyone suffers. A special thank you to this week’s contributor for the Couch idea.
In the state where I work, all court-interpreting assignments are issued and managed by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). That means that they issue administrative procedures and other guidelines that govern the conduct and practice of court interpreting throughout the state in courts of all levels.
One common problem is that after an interpreter has been contracted to provide services and is there in the courthouse waiting, she may often be approached by a public defender or other private attorney and asked to help “real quick” with the attorney’s client. The AOC recently issued a policy reminder that this is forbidden under most circumstances. The rationale is that if an interpreter is contracted by the AOC for the courts’ business, a private or defense attorney needs to hire their own interpreter to assist with any case preparation or other attorney-client interactions. The exception to this would be administrative tasks: for example, reading plea agreements or DUI forms, or other things of that nature that don’t involve communicating or discussing in-depth details of the case or the attorney’s legal strategy for handling the case.
With that background, I was once asked by a public defender and authorized by the judge to accompany her to a holding area to sight translate a plea agreement for a defendant in custody. So far so good.
Once we were in the holdover area and the attorney had reviewed the details of the plea agreement, the defendant vehemently refused to accept the terms. He went on to vociferously complain about the ineffectiveness of his legal counsel, the unjust nature of the U.S. legal system, and how his prior and heretofore undisclosed history of mental illness should be a mitigating factor in his case.
For the next hour, I was trapped in a holdover with the attorney going over all of this new information with her client in an effort to prepare a defense or renegotiate the plea agreement.
Understanding what the policy is regarding the use of AOC-contracted interpreters by PDs in case preparation and having in mind the circumstances in which I suddenly found myself, if it had been you in my place, what would you have done?
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