A good, well trained court interpreter is essential when a witness is not fluent in English.  However, it is not enough to be merely bilingual. While we can usually get trained, certified court interpreters in the more common languages, that is often impossible when dealing with more obscure tongues. 

I had a vivid example today, taking a deposition in Kansas City of a Croatian speaking truck driver.  We could not find a certified court interpreter in Croatian in the Kansas City area, so we just had to go with the Croatian interpreter that a local agency there was able to provide.  However, try as we might, we could not get her to stop paraphrasing and summarizing, repeatedly saying "he says that…..," rather than interpreting verbatim.

In Georgia, the Judicial Branch of state government includes the Commission on Interpreters, which examines interpreters for linguistic competency, provides court interpreter orientation workshops, and provides standards for court interpreting.  Clearly our Croatian interpreter in Kansas City had not had the benefit of that sort of court interpreter training.  Some of the key points are:

1. Do not discuss the pending proceedings with a party or witness, outside of professional employment in the same case.
2. Do not disclose communications between counsel and client.
3. Do not give legal advice to a party or witness. Refer legal questions to the attorney or to the court.
4. Inform the court if you are unable to interpret a word, expression, special terminology, or dialect, or have doubts about your linguistic expertise or ability to perform adequately in a particular case.
5. Interpret all words, including slang, vulgarisms, and epithets, to convey the intended meaning.
6. Use the first person when interpreting statements made in the first person. (For example, a statement or question should not be introduced with the words, "He says . . . .")
7. Direct all inquiries or problems to the court and not to the witness or counsel. If necessary you may request permission to approach the bench with counsel to discuss a problem.
8. Position yourself near the witness or party without blocking the view of the judge, jury, or counsel.
9. Inform the court if you become fatigued during the proceedings.
10. When interpreting for a party at counsel table, speak loudly enough to be heard by the party or counsel but not so loudly as to interfere with the proceedings.
11. Interpret everything including objections.
12. If the court finds good cause under section (E), hold a pre-appearance interview with the party or witness to become familiar with speech patterns and linguistic traits and to determine what technical or special terms may be used. Counsel may be present at the preappearance interview.
13. During the pre-appearance interview with a non-English speaking witness, give the witness the following instructions on the procedure to be followed when the witness is testifying: (a) The witness must speak in a loud, clear voice so that the entire court and not just the interpreter can hear.
(b) The witness must direct all responses to the person asking the question, not to the interpreter.
(c) The witness must direct all questions to counsel or to the court and not to the interpreter. The witness may not seek advice from or engage in any discussion with the interpreter.
(d) During the pre-appearance interview with a non-English speaking party, give the following instructions on the procedure to be used when the non-English speaking party is not testifying: (i) The interpreter will interpret all statements made in open court. (ii) The party must direct any questions to counsel. The interpreter will interpret all questions to counsel and the responses. The party may not seek advice from or engage in discussion with the interpreter.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.