Top Ten Truths about Working in Court


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.


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

  1. Eliza Chavez-Fraga says:

    I would add: no matter how many charges are leveled against the defendant or how guilty or how uneducated, inarticulate, or ill mannered the defendant is I will do my best to not prejudge him/her as I was not at the scene of the crime and can’t swear to the “truth of the matter.” That’s someone else’s job.

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      That’s a really good one, Eliza! I became so neutral over time that I could listen to closing argument by one side and be convinced, then the other side and be convinced, and on and on… I learned to just leave it to the jury and be done with it. 🙂

  2. James Pixley says:

    Jennifer – I am continually proud and continually amazed at you!!! Thank you for all you have done for others and thank you for not abandoning me.

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      I had a good teacher, pop!

  3. José A Navarrete says:

    12 year veteran in California, here.
    My truth: 98% of the times when “bilingual” attorneys think they can explain legal concepts in Spanish, they actually can’t….if you can help it, don’t ever let them interpret in a courtroom, as 100% of them think they can.

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      Good one, Jose!
      I’ve found that if you give them your support and are gracious enough to stand by as they struggle through the concept, they will eventually turn to you and defer to your expertise. Letting them decide when they’re sinking goes a long way toward supporting their ego and building mutual respect. Attorneys you see every day can make (or break!) your work life! 🙂

  4. This morning, a judge in Westminster asked the defendant how proficient this interpreter after I announced my name, status, badge # and oath on file.

    I heard the good news about your new job from another coordinator up north. Good luck! Hope to see you around when I go on XA. Thanks for all the smile, greetings, welcomings everytime I showed up at HOJ Riverside.

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      Interesting! I wonder if he got some advice from federal judges, who commonly ask the defendant if they understand us. That’s always a good time to interpret nice and loud so everybody can hear how you rock the house!
      Thanks for the good wishes! It’s easy to be friendly when you love people and love what you do! See you in San Berdoo! 🙂

  5. Carlos Benemann says:

    Nothing wrong with a Judge making sure that the Interpreter is understood by the defendant or witness. On the contrary. It is the right thing to do.
    I also interpret in German, and there are probably greater differences than in say Spanish between unschooled people from Pinotepa Nacional to Chiloé having a Spanish Speaking catalán terp. In German there is Austrian, Bavarian, Swiss German, not to mention Platt Deutsch from the area near Hamburg. (My home town) In fact, Platt is so different from High German that it has it’s own literature. Of course, german schooled or TV watchers “understand” standard high German. But depending on their age, education, etc., they may not speak it at all.
    Therefore, It is appropriate to clarify that the witness understands the Terp.

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      Excellent point. Yes, we should definitely support this. 🙂

  6. Athena Matilsky says:

    Jennifer, I couldn’t have said it better, and I enjoyed reading the comments your post generated. Good luck at your new spot!

    1. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

      Thanks, Athena!

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