The Couch

The Couch – “The New Normal…”

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions.

The subject of this month’s Couch is the transition to “normal.”

As in-person services gradually resume (or at least are on the horizon), what do you see as your biggest challenge? How will you respond? 

Let us know, and please also comment on each others’ posts.

Note: Please send all posted responses to the Editor; do not enter them in the comments. We will thus ensure that any details that could identify parties or cases are removed.

The Couch is where you get to flesh out the discussion and give it life.

Situations will vary from place to place and from person to person. In your area, do you see that there is a desire to go entirely back to in-person events? Is a hybrid model the preferred one? Is there a push-back to reopening – are there voices calling solely for remote events? What changes do you see coming, and how do you fit into it all?




Body photo by Laura Tancredi from Pexels

8 thoughts on “The Couch – “The New Normal…””

  1. Kathleen Morris says:

    .My biggest challenge is returning to in-person hearings, since our court system does not require employee vaccination or testing. Also, we have no idea which jail inmates (the majority of our clients) are vaccinated.

    Another challenge is that courtroom SI equipment is virtually useless, due to heavy plexiglass panels installed (for our protection, ironically) that interfere with simo reception. Most of the time, all an LEP person hears thru his/her headset is static, due to panels and other Zoom and audio-visual channels installed in courtrooms which create audio interference.

    So this puts us back in the position of working in close physical proximity to LEP persons and other courtroom personnel, since SI equip is unreliable due to interference. Interpreters are the court personnel who must, thus, work in the closest physical proximity to others, and for the most sustained periods of time, running the risk of infection (even if vaccinated), due to high aerosol speech and droplets transmission, over long periods of time.

    1. Observer Editor says:

      Thank you, Kathleen – good to point out that necessary balance between protecting those who need it from the virus and the need to hear and understand everything.

  2. Observer Editor says:

    From Emily Ortiz Alfonso, Spanish SC Certified Court Interpreter:
    “I continue providing hybrid services. Although I’m vaccinated, I wear a face shield in-person. My residence is in South Carolina.”

    1. Observer Editor says:

      Thank you for your contribution! Hybrid services, then.

  3. Carlos Benemann says:

    For most of last year and ALL of this year so far I have ONLY worked by phone but mostly by ZOOM in the northern California court jurisdictions I cover. in SPANISH.
    My Zooms include the occasional US Federal Court cases, Arizona and New Mexico cases I only cover in GERMAN.

    For decades I travelled incredibly long distances over dangerous roads through snow storms, fires, and the usual worse detour roads to bypass accidents, construction and such. I WAS certainly not the only “road warrior” interpreter doing this. We were paid mileage, traveltime, perdiem for meals, the negotiated fee, lodging, out of pocket expenses. Id added up!
    The truth is that I ONLY work as an interpreter for the compensation. I am a neutral party to everything else but the money it pays. I started as an infantry Military interpreter in 1961 (Among others in lousy FRENCH for the vietnamese officers).

    I say “I WAS” because I certainly will not go back to risking life and limb for what was reasonably fair and good compensation for the risk and time. Along came Covid-19. Hallelujah!!. I wanted to retire anyway.

    But Alas, no rest for the wicked. The courts asked me to book their caseloads by Zoom. Great! However… there was an immediate problem. Defense counsel and the judges insisted that a personally present interpreter was required for Preliminary hearings and Jury Trials for example. Seems reasonable to me, But I’m not going to do that on a bet. Why? Because this disease appears to be even more dangerous than a herd of deer running across the road in early light as I red ball it for 250 miles at 6am. I will never ever go back in a Courthouse, do jail interviews, depositions or anything else except by ZOOM or phone. Period!

    So I refused to go to court in person. At the risk of being held in contempt of court I even refuse to appear under supoena as an expert witness to testify in person on my own translations.. They are welcome to call on me by ZOOM. I bill the same.

    The coordinators are going bonkers trying to find someone (or someones for multiple codefendant cases) just to cover the PX’s and Trials. No takers for love or money. So I was just called on Zoom to interpret for multiple brief continuances in such cases. Of course the Attorneys objected but the courts had no choice but to find “good reason” for endless continuances in spite of time sensitive cases. Bottomline: I make more money now just sitting at my desk with a white shirt, Jacket and tie sipping coffee. I don’t even have to wear shoes…..but I better not stand up either.
    Am I going to go back to the way it was when this plague is over? Heck no. Even my idle 12 cylinder BMW would now require more than just a jumpstart.

    So here we are now. the Delta variety. We may get to Epsylon and eventually run out of Greek letters to name them. Felonies piling up on more Felonies with nary an Interpreter available for the more remote jurisdictions for love or money. Defendants are sitting in local jails until the DA figures they did enough time to offer a reasonable resolution and make space for ever more serious felonies. No problema. I can do resolutions and pleas by Zoom.

    In the meantime, the court administrations which have always thought as interpreters as the 5th wheel on their cart, have also changed their ways. Is this good for Terps in the future? I’m not betting on that either. I may just retire. when this changes again.

    I know that retirement is contemplated among some of my older colleagues too. One new problem for the courts is that i am told because of Covid for 2 years there has been ZERO testing to certify new Terps in California.. So there is going to be an even greater shortage if and when Covid disappears.. I guess the solution will be to dummy down the tests even more. What do you think?
    Carlos Benemann

    1. Observer Editor says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Carlos.

      I sincerely hope the tests don’t get “dummied down” as they reinforce the need for highly qualified professionals. Whatever brings down the standards of the profession will bring down the quality of services for those who need it as well as the pay for the professionals.

  4. Your mileage may vary, but face shields are not face masks! They are good for theatrics, but they do little in terms of protection!

    Due to the great variety of standards in different courts and the general prevailing uncertainty about what is acceptable in terms of health risks, I feel more comfortable than ever to set my own standards, I have done several in-person assignments since the epidemic started, and I have not hesitated to say that I feel uncomfortable working when a juror or an attorney is having their mask under their nose, etc. Professional self-confidence and gentle polite insistence tend to work, as judges do not usually want to endanger people in the courtroom, and they too may feel more comfortable to go beyond symbolic minimum safety requirements when there are requests from the room to that effect.

    Also, court sound equipment tends to be inferior, and current conditions do not improve our ability to provide quality service. It is crucial that everyone in the court understands that our service is not a symbolic box to be checked, a luxury frill, but a necessary precondition for the administration of justice. I see the pandemic as an opportunity, as budgets are now made available to courts that are being used for plexiglass shields, zoom subscriptions, and in-court monitor systems, and could and should also be used for proper sound equipment, directional microphones, headsets, etc.

    Working through Zoom has made many people aware of sound issues, of the inability to understand speakers when there is cross-talk, paper rustling, background hums, etc. These are issues that we have to deal with every day, via Zoom and in-person. Say “the interpreter was unable to hear the witness due to crosstalk” on the record sufficient times, and people will start paying attention .

    One drawback of simultaneous interpreting in court is that it makes people unaware of our efforts. I generally prefer to work consecutively in court, especially when sound equipment/conditions and speaking etiquette are lousy, since that keeps us visible, and in my experience, consecutive interpreting allows out service to be visible and even admired, whereas simultaneous renders us visible only as an obstacle, when we have to ask for speakers to speak audibly and not interrupt, etc.

    I think stepping up and standing up for these things is the best thing we can do for our colleagues AND for the goal of language access in general.

    And on an entirely different note: for those of us who fly to assignments: I hate being packed at close quarters like a sardine with masses of people in a metal tube. For my last two assignments and for an upcoming one, I asked for first class tickets in order to be more safely distanced during the flight, and got it. I’ll go back to economy when the pandemic is over, but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

    1. Observer Editor says:

      It could indeed be the chance to highlight the need to be able to hear everyone very clearly. One cannot be expected to give a faithful rendition if they’ve understood only 80% of the utterance – or even 97% for that matter, if the remaining 3% is critical information that can make or break a case.

      I learned and still believe that the best interpreter is an invisible one, i.e. if the person stops noticing they’re using the services of an intepreter (or at least comes close to that), things are going very well. But this of course in a context where the interpreter’s role is already assumed and well recognized.

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