Make the Court Reporter’s Day!

By Diane E. Teichman
Issue 1 of the Pump Up Your Service series ©2004

Whether you are a freelance judiciary interpreter or a staff court interpreter, you will find yourself working side by side with court reporters. Interpreters work with the court reporter in the courtroom, as well as in any sworn statement. Based on our shared responsibility for the record, reporters are often a source of evaluation of our performance for judges and lawyers. Court reporting firms are frequently relied upon to contract with freelance interpreters, and your reputation with them can enhance or reduce your business. So, here’s an additional piece of support that can easily add value to your service and make you stand out with court reporters.

Provide the reporter with the spelling of foreign language names and places on a Spellings Page. It’s easy and quick to do, and it means so much to the reporter that you will be remembered for this courtesy. I have been providing these pages for over 18 years, but I still hear about interpreters who won’t offer to provide spellings for the reporter. Often I am called by reporters to help with spellings from another interpreter’s job.

A full understanding of the reporter’s job is important to appreciate the value of this service. What an interpreter sees on the job is just the tip of the iceberg. For every hour of actual reporting for any statement under oath, the reporter faces at least another hour of editing before the transcript is ready to be delivered. The reporter is writing on a stenography machine in a language called “Steno,” which is basically a phonetic script of the syllables heard by the individual reporter. For example, the word “attorney” in steno could be written as “toern”, and interpreter could be “interp.”

Real time reporters are producing a near complete transcript aided by a program installed in their laptop which is connected to their stenography machine. Their laptop screens show the testimony already in English because they input case-specific terminology as part of the pre-job preparation. Unable to predict the pending testimony, they will afterwards need to add spellings.

Reporters often maintain a full dictionary for technical and scientific terms and apply them to long-running case depositions and statements. Even for the most contentious, argumentative, English-only deposition or courtroom proceeding, the transcript is thoroughly and efficiently produced. Courtroom reporters will already have the specific case names, but any new evidence offered in testimony that contains foreign language names will need correct spellings. The time required for hunting down foreign language spellings can increase the workload for a reporter.

Interpreters should also consider the accuracy of the record as part of their responsibility. Veteran reporter Rick Smith of Charlotte Smith Reporting in Houston, Texas points out that, “For both reporters and interpreters, the focus of our work is to be verbatim, and for us reporters the entire transcript has to be verbatim. I sign a certificate stating that what is contained in the transcript is transcribed to the best of my ability. That includes correct spellings.” Another reporter adds, “If anything, interpreters providing spellings make us look good by helping to provide a complete and accurate transcript.”

Consider the potential transcript result in a Spanish-interpreted deposition when the reporter hears the following testimony. The witness, Juanaset Ismael Covarrubios, states his address as “Pasaje Valle #1245, Urbanización Antiguo Cuscatlán, San Salvador, El Salvador,” stating his wife’s name as “Aracely,” and his children as “Toyoc, Beatriz, Cesar and Juanaset Jr.” The qualified interpreter is pronouncing these names of people and places in correctly accented Spanish, but this sounds like gibberish to the monolingual reporter. The transcript could look like this:

Q. Please state your name for the record.
A. Jauntiest Israel Cover Your Bus
Q. Please state your address.
A. Passage Value #1245, Urban Nation Ant Eater Cruise Atlanta, San Salvador, El Salvador
Q. Are you married?
A. Yes.
Q. What is your wife’s name?
A. Ought to Sell It
Q. And what are your children’s names?
A. Toyota, Beaters, Queasier and Jauntiest Jr.

The exactness of the record is required and regulated by the rules of civil procedure, thus protecting each individual’s civil rights. This example demonstrates how testimony can be wrongly transcribed. In the discovery process, the attorneys may want to rely on contact information. It is doubtful any correspondence would make it if addressed to “Ought To Sell It Cover Your Bus, Passage Value #1245, Urban Nation Ant Eater Cruise Atlanta, San Salvador, El Salvador.”

During the process of a witness testifying, reporters are accustomed to noting an unclear word, but this interrupts their concentration and flow. The reporter is following along and taking down what the interpreter is saying, but since we are completely bilingual, we will pronounce the foreign language term in the source language pronunciation without skipping a beat. This often throws the reporter off for a second…unless they know in advance that you will be providing them with the correct spellings.

Here’s what you can do: incorporate the correct foreign language spellings of certain words into your note-taking process. The reporter will need both the accurate spelling and the subject matter to enable finding it for insertion in the transcript. Most of such terms will form part of the witness’s response to certain questions. Since most depositions follow a standard format of questioning, you can be prompted to copy the spelling as soon as you hear the question. You can write the word down adding an indication of the subject matter, for example, “POB” for “Place of Birth.” Starring it then will help you find it in your notes afterwards. It is important, though, to not delay your interpreting flow while you are taking notes. Some interpreters try to spell the words on the record, which can interrupt the flow of questioning and the proceeding in general. It begins to sound like a spelling bee if too many words are spelled on the record. Practice beforehand will help you with this double tasking process. It is reasonable for you to hurriedly write in “chicken scratch,” and then at the end of the deposition, to copy your list on a fresh sheet of paper for the reporter to take. After a few years of fumbling around with my legal pad to make a clean list, I started printing up special sheets for this purpose. They have my name and contact information on them for further questions. The two-column format has the left column titled Topic and to the right titled Spelling. I even found lilac-colored paper, which is easier on the reporters’ eyes. See sidebar.

Even the most experienced interpreters can improve their service. Smith tells the story of working with an interpreter whose interpreting skill impressed him but who fell short in overall service. “I asked him when he first got there if he wouldn’t mind helping me out by spelling the words that have to be on the record in Spanish and to just write them down for me before he left. Hours later, when we finished, he was leaving and I asked for the spellings. He said, I thought you were writing them down. It turns out he had not written any down. I had to explain to him that I can only spell them out phonetically since I don’t speak Spanish.”

Taking the extra few moments to provide this service makes a difference to reporters. And you will be notably remembered.

Diane E. Teichman, a Licensed Court Interpreter for the State of Texas and translator, has specialized in legal work since 1980. She is the Series Editor for the book series Professional Interpreting in the Real World. She can be reached at

Here is a suggested list of spellings the reporter will need and the subject matter in which they normally occur.

Spellings Needed
1.People’s names and nicknames
2.Places (streets, towns, foreign company and agency names)
3.Titles: individual, employment and degree School and University names
5.Cultural events and traditions, dishes

Question Topic
1.Personal history and family, co-worker and other witnesses to incident.
2.Foreign residence and employment. Be prompted by the Where? question.
3.Personal history, education and profession.
4.Employment or purchases made in foreign country.
5.Details about the incident. What action was performed and why.

United We Bargain, Divided We Beg

by Mary Lou Aranguren
State Certified Spanish Interpreter

Court interpreters in the state trial courts face a number of challenges and changes in the coming months. The projected raise to $265/day is meant to sweeten a bitter pill: the model contract put forward unilaterally by the Judicial Council (JC).

  • The JC is working on a statewide “model” contract for contract interpreters that they expect to have ready in July. As independent contractors, interpreters have limited options in responding to the imposition of a one-sided contract.
  • Language Line, formerly owned by AT&T is actively selling itself as a source of interpreting services in the California courts. The program bypasses certification standards for court interpreting by using interpreters “certified by Language Line.
  • The JC has already chipped away at certification requirements with the ”provisionally qualified” compensation program, and courts throughout California daily ignore good-cause requirements and procedures.

How can we protect our profession? A contract, by definition, is a mutual agreement. But the Administrative Office of the Courts has recommended that the Judicial Council not negotiate with interpreters on rates or policies. The Bay Area Court Interpreters Association (BACI) and the California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) recommend that interpreters not sign a contract that has not been negotiated with interpreters or our representatives.

The two organizations will hold a series of workshops throughout the state in May and June to promote a discussion of court interpreters’ employment status and options, so that interpreters can develop an interpreter model contract. Court interpreters who attend will receive 1.5 hours of free continuing education credits for the workshop portion. “Labor Concerns in the California Courts,” which examines the ins and outs of employee and independent contractor status.

Workshops are scheduled for: May 6, Orange County; May 11, Sacramento; May 18, Sonoma County; May 31, Oakland; June 3, 6 & 8 in Los Angeles County (several locations); June 10, San Diego; and June 17, Monterey. For more information please call BACI at (415) 421-6833 ext. 229.

As part of an ongoing effort to gain a voice and control in professional development and working conditions for court interpreters, BACI has recently affiliated with the Northern California Media Workers Guild/Communication Workers of America (NCMWG/CWA). Los Angeles-based CFI will vote on affiliating with CWA in late May.

Interpreter associations collaborate

Board members of CFl, BACI and CCIA met on November 14, 1999 to discuss issues of mutual concern. The three associations have formed a joint committee made up of two members from each association. The committee will facilitate communication between the associations and coordinated efforts in response to developments in the profession. CFl, BACI and CCIA have also agreed on these shared principles:

  1. Interpreters need a voice and control in the establishment of professional standards and working conditions in the state trial courts.
  2. The terms and conditions of any contract between the state courts and court interpreters should be based on the mutual agreement of the parties after negotiations with interpreters.

California rates
Thc San Francisco Recorder reported that Governor Davis has included funding for interpreter services in his 2000/01 budget at $268.00 a day. If this raise goes through, California interpreters should see it sometime after July 1, 2000.

Federal rates
New rates of $305/$165 have been established in the Federal Courts as of January 1, 2000.

Historic Step Taken by Interpreters Organizations

by Essam Elmahgoop

In response to the latest actions taken by the Judicial Council in California, the three major interpreters organizations took a historic step and sent a joint letter to the Chief Justice and all Judicial Council members. Here is the letter:

Dear Chief Justice George:

In a time of diminishing numbers of qualified court interpreters, the Judicial Council has taken measures that will further exacerbate this situation. On December 2, 1999 the Council, upon recommendation from staff, voted to adopt regressive compensation policies for court interpreters.

The Council adopted a mileage compensation Policy which will adversely affect many courts and interpreters statewide. This policy is completely contrary to a long established practice of compensating interpreters for full round trip mileage in a majority of the state trial courts. The Mercer Study, commissioned by the Judicial Council, found that mileage was paid by 72% of the entities surveyed. The vast majority of northern California trial courts presently pay full round trip mileage. This new policy will negatively affect these courts’ ability to contract with interpreters.

Additionally, the adopted cancellation policy represents a degree of control inconsistent with the court classification of a majority of court interpreters as independent contractors. A state court is not entitled to any “offset amount” if an interpreter is canceled and then accepts another assignment during the same time frame, be it in the state or federal court system. Such policy clearly suggests control over an independent contractor’s ability to earn a living. Once an interpreter is canceled from an assignment, he/she should be free to do as they wish.

According to the Proposed Recommendations of Remaining Compensation Issues matrix, AOC staff states the legal opinion of the law firm of Morrison and Forester clearly advises that courts and other agencies can cite the public policy rationale of conserving public resources as a justification for this proposed policy. How will public resources be conserved when interpreters elect to take their cancellation fee and decline other court assignments? Court cases in desperate need of interpreters will be unable to proceed. This will prove to be a shortsighted and costly attempt at controlling professionals in high demand.

Staff’s recommended definition of the full and half-day sessions will create more confusion statewide than the intended clarification. The Council’s hired legal opinion suggests that the time frames need to be clearly bracketed. Clearly defined bracketed time frames were proposed by the Court Interpreters Advisory Panel, yet AOC staff chose not to follow their advice. In fact, AOC staff, via Mr. Joseph Wong, failed to propose that any of the CIAP’s recommendations be adopted by the Council.

CIAP members were appointed by you in an advisory capacity because of their expertise in the professional field of court interpreting. Why then do their recommendations continue to go unheard? Why does AOC staff consistently put forth the recommendations of the Trial Court Presiding Judges and Court Executives Panels in matters dealing with court interpreters? Is it not Mr. Wong’s responsibility to assist the CIAP and present their recommendations? Why do staff’s recommendations consistently follow proposals by other panels, and not the CIAP’s? The court interpreter compensation recommendations proposed by the CIAP are all consistent with existing policies/contracts in many state trial courts throughout California. Their definition of the full and half-day sessions, the cancellation policy, mileage reimbursements, excess pay, etc…, are in line with accepted practices that would place the state courts in a competitive position with other users of interpreter services. The CIAP’s proposals are also consistent with the panel’s mandate to conduct outreach and recruitment. Regressive policies will not accomplish these important goals.

These policies do not reflect the spirit of cooperation needed to create a stable, highly qualified pool of interpreters to serve the state courts, and therefore we strongly protest the adoption of AOC staff’s recommendations. On behalf of the members of the California Court Interpreters Association, the Bay Area Court Interpreters Association and the California Federation of Interpreters, we urge you to reconsider the recommendations of the Court Interpreters Advisory Panel.


Carlos L. Cerecedo – President, CCIA

M. Paz Perry  – Chair, BACI

Uri Yaval – President, CFI


Unrealistic Recommendations adopted by the Judicial Council

By Essam Elmahgoop, State-certified Arabic Interpreter

The following are some of the Administration Office of the Courts (AOC) adopted by the Judicial Council of California (JC) at its meeting on December 2, 1999. These recommendations went into effect on January l, 2000.

1. Mileage
Mileage will be provided as follows:
a. The interpreter travels sixty miles or more and travels outride of the country of his/her place of business.
b. The rate is $.31 per mile.
c. Higher rates may be paid by those trial courts in unique circumstances when they have limited or no interpreter resources living within the county or the county is of large geographical size.

2. Definition of the full- and half-day sessions
a. A half-day session is any portion of a consecutive four-hour period beginning between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. and ending between 12 p.m. and 12:15 p.m., or beginning between 1 p.m. or 1:15 p.m. and ending between 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m..
b. The full-day session is two half-day sessions, as defined above, within the same day.

3. Revised cancellation policy
A cancellation fee would be paid under the following conditions:
a. A contract is completed with the interpreter more than 24 hours or one business day in advance of the assignment, and
b. An assignment is canceled without 24-hour notice or one business day’s notice, for assignments beginning on the first business day of the workweek. In the case that an interpreter receives another assignment from a state trial court system or federal court, the canceling state trial court is entitled to an offset amount, up to the cancellation fee. The interpreter is to be compensated for the assignment up to a maximum of one full day.

The chair of the court Interpreters Advisory Panel (CIAP), Judge Lance Ito, did not attend the meeting as he had promised to, nor did he send anyone from the Panel to present our case to the JC and answer the questions some of the JC members had. It is hard to believe that he did not know in advance what would happen at the meeting.

The AOC took advantage of this fact and made its recommendations to the JC, making it appear that the CIAP had agreed to them, which was never the case. We can be assured that more disasters are coming our way. Stay tuned.