Level playing field; Court interpreters help speed the process, meet growing demand.
WORCESTER- But for Marisol Arzeno-McGill's linguistic skills, Santos A. Delgado would probably not have understood a word Assistant District Attorney Timothy M. Farrell was saying as the prosecutor explained his predicament to the judge.
He could not go forward with the scheduled hearing on Mr. Delgado's motion to suppress the drug evidence against him because a key police witness had inexplicably not shown up to testify, Mr. Farrell told Judge James R. Lemire during a recent Worcester Superior Court session.
Held on $50,000 cash bail and facing a minimum mandatory 10-year prison sentence if convicted, the 22-year-old defendant listened intently as Ms. Arzeno-McGill, the Spanish-speaking interpreter at his side, communicated Mr. Farrell's comments in Mr. Delgado's native tongue.
Citing the court's heavy docket and the likelihood that Mr. Delgado's case would not be reached anyway, Judge Lemire continued the matter to another date. Mr. Delgado, a Jamaica Plain man also known as James Pena-Guerro, was returned to the lockup.
Ms. Arzeno-McGill rushed off to another courtroom where her services were needed.
It was one of more than a dozen times Ms. Arzeno-McGill would be called upon this particular day to assist Spanish-speaking parties to cases in the five court departments that make up the Worcester Trial Court at 225 Main St. She and Larry Smith, the other Spanish-speaking interpreter assigned permanently to the Worcester courthouse, are among 28 certified language interpreters employed full time by the state Office of Court Interpreter Services.
They include 19 Spanish interpreters, five Portuguese and one each who speak Vietnamese, Khmer, Cape Verdean and Haitian Creole, according to Gaye Gentes, manager of the office. Court interpreters are required to pass a test and undergo a tightly structured training program before becoming certified.
Ms. Gentes also uses the services of 188 per diem interpreters, independent contractors who speak both English and a combined total of 51 other languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese. A recent recruitment program added court interpreters in Hmong and several African languages, including Twi, Ibo, Dinka and Luganda, Ms. Gentes said.
State law mandates that non-English speaking and deaf or hearing-impaired parties or witnesses in legal proceedings be provided the aid of an interpreter. In fiscal year 2008, the Office of Court Interpreter Services filled 96,737 requests for interpreters in about 140 courts statewide, up from 56,000 seven years earlier, according to Ms. Gentes.
The annual cost to the taxpayers is $1.5 million for the staff interpreters and $4.4 million for the per diems, according to Trial Court spokeswoman Joan Kenney.
Court interpreters have their own code of professional conduct covering such topics as accuracy, impartiality, confidentiality, proficiency, demeanor, case preparation, conflicts of interest, public comments and legal advice.
The code describes the role of the interpreter as that of a "communication facilitator" who helps protect the rights of non-English speaking people involved in the legal process.
Mr. Smith, a Michigan native, said he learned Spanish while attending Western Michigan University and later became more fluent in the language while working in the tourism industry in California. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and a member of the California bar, Mr. Smith moved to North Carolina in the late 1990s, started doing
court interpreting part time there, then received his certification as a court interpreter.
He and his wife moved to Worcester "sight unseen" in 2001, after he accepted his current job here.
"I love it," Mr. Smith said of his work.
"For me, it's a natural. It's a coming together of law and Spanish after all these years. It brings together what I like about both. I'm a people person. I think you have to be in this business. And I love language," he said.
There's more to court interpreting than the ability to speak English and another language, according to Mr. Smith.
There are two basic modes of court interpretation, simultaneous and consecutive, and each has its own set of challenges, said Mr. Smith. The former requires the interpreter to speak contemporaneously with the person whose statements are to be heard. In the latter, the interpreter allows the speaker to finish his or her statement before attempting its interpretation.
Mr. Smith likened simultaneous interpretation to a splitting of the brain's lobes that enables the interpreter to listen and speak at the same time.
"You've got to develop that ability of incoming and outgoing, in two different languages. And it's in real time," he said "It takes practice. It doesn't come naturally. You just have to learn."
Surprisingly, Mr. Smith said he and most of his colleagues find consecutive interpreting more difficult because it is so taxing on the memory.
Spanish is Ms. Arzeno-McGill's first language. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she studied English in grade school.
A former bilingual elementary school teacher with a master's degree in communications from Boston University, Ms. Arzeno-McGill worked as an account executive in
before becoming a medical interpreter at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a position she held four years.
She has been a court interpreter for 20 years, the last seven on a full-time basis, and said she has enjoyed every minute of it.
"I think I have the best job in the world," she said.
Being assigned to five different courts - superior, district, juvenile, probate and housing - exposes her to a wide range of legal issues and keeps the job interesting, according to Ms. Arzeno-McGill.
"Each court has its own style, its own way of doing things. I never know when I walk through the door what's waiting for me that day," she said. Ms. Gentes said the system developed by Ms. Arzeno-McGill and Mr. Smith to cover the Worcester Trial Court is used as a model for court interpreters statewide.
"What I enjoy the most is that what I do, it's an instrument to the limited-English speaker to have a voice and have full understanding, participation and access to our legal system," Ms. Arzeno-McGill said.
Contact Gary Murray by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CUTLINE: Spanish-speaking court interpreters Larry Smith and Marisol Arzeno-McGill are assigned permanently to the Worcester Trial Court. They are among 28 certified language interpreters employed full time by the state Office of Court Interpreter Services.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/DAN GOULD
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Apr 20, 2009|
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