Top Ten Truths about Working in Court

By Jennifer de la Cruz © 2015

It’s hard to believe that some 3,000 days have passed since I stepped foot onto the justice center grounds to begin my career as a court interpreter. Today, I filled my computer wastebasket with work logs that dated back to 2006, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to open the earliest file to look at the name of the first person I interpreted for. How ironic that he didn’t even have a Latino name.

I continued to scroll down the list, and saw my notes about my very first jury trial. I remember it vividly. The DA threw me off with the word “poppycock” in her closing argument and I drove home every night irrepressibly interpreting everything I heard on the radio. I kept going down the list, seeing my first preliminary hearing, my first witness, my first victim impact statement. It’s been a long time since I asked my trainer whether I was allowed to go past the bar and she reminded me I was now an officer of the court. What a ride it’s been.

Soon, I’ll be taking on a new role that will keep me out of the courtroom for the most part, so I got to reflecting upon some of what I’ve experienced over these few thousand days. Here are my top ten truths. What other truths would you add? Comment below!

* Defendants and other parties, no matter what they are in court for, are generally pleasant to the interpreter and appreciate our help. Those few times when they’re outright rude can be pretty shocking.

 * It’s easy to become desensitized to crime and the high emotion of legal battles, but when you’re the voice of a distraught victim you’re reminded that human suffering is very real.

 * You become better at judging character, but you also begin to see the negative before the positive. This can translate into a more critical and confrontational way of thinking, sometimes limiting our ability to see the bigger picture.

 * It’s perfectly normal for lawyers from opposite sides of a case to be on very friendly terms, even after going up against each other and engaging in heated arguments to defend their positions.

 * As much as you learn about the law and procedure, there’s always some new aspect or way of looking at it that keeps you on your toes. Oh, and the more complex the legal argument, the faster it seems the lawyers talk.

 * Mothers are always mothers, and it’s not uncommon for them to beg a judge to have mercy in sentencing their convicted children, no matter what the crime was. It’s instinctual.

 * You can become very good at controlling your emotions at work, even when others are sobbing uncontrollably or lashing out in a rage, but pent up feelings can be exaggerated when you experience a highly volatile situation in your personal life.

 * Jury trials are like a story with a surprise ending. Just when you think you can predict them, something is not quite as you expected. True to what we were told in our interpreting classes, sometimes the verdict comes down to the nuances of language, so we’d better do our jobs right.

 * Interpreting on the witness stand in a jury trial will always bring on the butterflies in the stomach. With time, you learn to block out spectators and jurors, but the walk to and from the witness stand seems to take an eternity.

  * It’s better not to look directly at some evidence photos. Those images don’t go away.

Jennifer De La Cruz first became interested in learning Spanish in her college years, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish with an emphasis in linguistics from California State University at Fullerton. While interpreting and translating for the healthcare field, she earned certifications as a Court Interpreter for both the California and Federal Courts, later accepting a staff position with the California Trial Courts. Her passion for the Spanish language has become a thriving and satisfying career both in the fields of interpreting and translation, while her professional posts have allowed her to specialize in the highly challenging fields of law and medicine.

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5 thoughts on “Top Ten Truths about Working in Court”

  1. Celia Muñoz says:

    Excellent comments. I have also been interpreting in a legal setting for a long time and find that Ms. De La Cruz’s observations are true for me as well….. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Christina Potter says:

    I agree!

  3. James Ryder says:

    I truly appreciate the comments from experience and an intuitive insight. I come from a background of video and over the phone interpreting for the largest OPI company in the world and now am a recruiter and occasional trainer but am relatively inexperienced in the legal field. 8,000+ hours of OPI interpreting doesn’t prepare one for the butterflies that I feel in the courtroom.
    Like you Jennifer, Spanish was a 2nd language for me that I first began to appreciate as a missionary in Central America over 30 years ago. One day in Costa Rica I heard a pet parrot speaking better than any “Gringo” that I knew and realized that I too could do this. 🙂

    Your comments about the difficulty of not feeling the emotion when the interpreter is the voice of the distressed party is so true. I warn new interpreters about that and try to prepare them when I am hiring them. An interpreter is a unique individual who usually has a heart and desire to help others but that must try to control the empathy when interpreting. It can be a contradiction in some ways.

    I thank you for your wisdom and unselfishness in sharing and look forward to the continual learning process that is our profession.

  4. C Carrera says:

    Thank you for articulating what we go through.

  5. Leopoldo Dorantes says:

    Hi Jennifer, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Definitely agree, Vicarious Trauma is something that we are all exposed to in the field. There’s only so much you can filter through so many years of practice. Congratulations on your new role, you’re a true professional. Best of everything!!

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