Is the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Defining the Concept of “Interpreter” Good for Judicial Interpreters? Part II.

June 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

After dealing with the bigger issues affected by the Alito decision affirming the definition of an interpreter in the Taniguchi case, I now direct your attention to the more practical consequences of the decision.   First, this was a decision by the United States Supreme Court about the court fees in a case involving legal translation. In other words, it does not affect anything outside the U.S., it does not affect any interpreters and translators in non-judicial settings, and it does not directly apply to any court interpreters and translators at the state and local jurisdictions.  Of course, what I indicated above will stop nobody from bragging about the affirmation of the interpreter concept by the Supremes.

It is really our legal interpreter and translator friends and colleagues who will be dealing with the aftermath of the decision. The parties in federal civil cases will be more reluctant and careful when retaining the services of a legal translator.  Private Law Firms will demand lower translation fees.  The answer to this situation should be a professional and aggressive legal translator who will not give in to the desired adjustment.  We have to keep in mind that private law firms charge substantial fees for civil litigation, and they charge all costs separately from their fee. In other words, the translator will be paid with the client’s money, not the attorney’s. It is also a good idea to ask for a down payment and to draft a contract that clearly states that translation services shall be paid upon presentation of the invoice, regardless of the attorney’s plan to “recover” from the other party. That is the lawyer’s problem, not the translator.

When the attorney requesting translation services is a CJA, the interpreter must ask him to first obtain approval from the trial judge. Once the judge has signed a minute order, the translator can provide her services and then submit her invoice to the court for payment.  In all other criminal cases when the court hires the translator to translate court documents such as presentence investigation reports or plea agreements, the translator should not worry. These services are covered by the law as it is part of the defendant’s right to actively participate in his defense and the right to access to the courts. This is important to keep in mind, as there will probably be cases when the Alito decision may create some confusion as to the services that have to be paid by the court.  Remember, in this case it is the judiciary who is paying for the translation services, not a private party who has paid, and now seeks that the judge order the other party to reimburse him the fees.

It is also important to keep in mind that as a practical matter, translation services, and transcription services, can be provided and paid by the government as expert services.  Please keep handy a copy of 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(e)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1920(6) in case you have to argue the law with a client.   Finally, keep in mind that for some time attorneys, judges, and private citizens will be extra careful when it comes to translation services, even interpretation services could be affected by this decision of the Court.  Protect your clients, work with them; a good potential solution could be a sight translation of the voluminous documents so the attorneys can decide what it is that they really need translated. A summary translation (like the ones prepared by our military translator colleagues) can also be an option, as it will help the attorneys decide what to translate.

Be very careful, be alert, remember, if you are a court interpreter, legal interpreter, legal translator, linguistics expert witness, or legal foreign-language transcriber, the Alito decision could affect your market. I invite you to share with us any strategies that you may be following to minimize the effects of the Court decision.

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§ 2 Responses to Is the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Defining the Concept of “Interpreter” Good for Judicial Interpreters? Part II.

  • Marylou Abrams says:

    Thank You for the usefull information. However, I think that to apply this it comes to the Judge in the case to do it or not.

  • Saila Milja-Smyly says:

    Tony – Could you please provide the references for your legal opinion that the ruling “does not affect any interpreters and translators in non-judicial settings” should the ordinary meaning of the term be at issue. Thanks very much.

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