The ATA Chronicle - September/October 2020 - 29

INTERPRETERS FORUM

BY CORINNE MCKAY

What I've Learned from Remote Court Interpreting

S

ince passing the Colorado French court interpreter
certification exam almost exactly a year ago, I've been
interpreting two to four times a week in the Colorado
state courts. I love the work, and I'm not saying that just in
case one of my managing interpreters reads this. At first, my
goal was simply to pass the court interpreter certification
exam to prove to myself that I could do it (hello, imposter
syndrome). But lo and behold, I find court work both
fascinating and fulfilling. I love learning about the legal
system and feeling like I'm serving as a bridge between French
speakers and the legal system. I just love everything about it.
The last in-person interpreting job I did was on Monday,
March 16: a fairly lengthy hearing in a little town out on
the Colorado plains. Pandemic-wise, things were heating
up. Everyone had to wash their hands before entering the
courtroom and the clerks were religiously bleach-wiping every
surface in the room. Still, we either didn't really know or didn't
really want to accept what was coming down the pike. I sat
right between the defendant and the public defender, handing
pens and papers back and forth and certainly not social
distancing. Since then, I've still done a few court interpreting
assignments every week, but they have all been remote: either
over the actual telephone or using Webex. Most of these have
been brief hearings, first appearances, or status conferences.
The Colorado state courts have put all jury trials on hold, and
even longer proceedings like motions hearings have mostly
been postponed until sometime this fall.
Pre-pandemic, I had some questions about the Colorado
courts' emphasis on in-person interpreting. Court interpreters
here are paid for travel time (at half rate) and mileage, and there
are only three certified French court interpreters in the state, so
in some cases I'm driving an hour or more each way, sometimes
for an appearance that might last five minutes. I sometimes
wondered, is this really necessary? Might some of this be better
handled remotely?
In some cases, remote court interpreting has worked really
well, and it certainly expedites things. The court staff work
really hard to keep things running smoothly, and in most cases
the remote systems work well enough that the hearings can
happen. It's a far better option than delaying everything until
it's safe to go back to the courthouses in person. However, I've
now become a much bigger fan of in-person interpreting. In
fact, I cannot wait to get back to in-person interpreting, for
various reasons.
■	

Unable to hear: I've interpreted for people who were
driving, sitting outside in public places, or in a house with
a lot of background noise, making it incredibly hard to
understand them.

■	

People talking over each other: Especially when you're on
the phone with no video, there's really no way to get someone
to stop talking, other than to try to tell them to stop or to start
talking over them.

■	

Remote process doesn't expedite everything: An example
is when people call in to a Webex conference on the
telephone rather than from a computer, so their phone
number appears instead of their name on the meeting ID.
This then requires someone (usually a court clerk or the
judge) to go through each phone number, read the number
out loud, and ask the person to un-mute themselves and
say who they are ("Calling from 333-333-3333, this is Jack
Smith and I'm the father of the victim in the Jones case.").

■	

Confidentiality: I've interpreted for a few family court
hearings that clearly would have been confidential if they
were happening in person. In one case, one of the parties'
children were clearly visible in the background of the video
call while custody issues were being discussed, including
details that the children really should not have been hearing.
Children are prohibited from courtrooms, but I don't see
how it would be possible to require a party to a case to get
childcare to take a video call.

Interpreters are a vital part of ATA. This column is designed to offer insights and perspectives from professional interpreters.

www.atanet.org

American Translators Association

29


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The ATA Chronicle - September/October 2020

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