When the client does not know how to use the interpreter as an expert witness.
August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
I just heard the story of an interpreter who was hired to render her services as an expert witness in a trial that took place in a small town of the American Midwest. This colleague, who I know has years of experience as an interpreter, translator, transcriber, and expert witness, was retained to examine a transcription and translation job by a transcriber/translator whose work accuracy was in question. Following some fee negotiation, and after the interpreter’s client recovered from learning what a real expert witness charges for her services, this colleague examined the transcription, reviewed the translation, and contacted her client to ask her when they should meet to discuss her report. To her surprise, the attorney who hired her stated that a meeting was not necessary and that a simple oral report over the phone would suffice. A few days later the interpreter received the subpoena to testify during the trial, and the client informed her that there would be no expert witness-attorney meeting before the trial.
Under these circumstances, this very experienced interpreter appeared in court ready to testify as an expert. As my court interpreter colleagues know, the testimony of an expert has two parts: First, the party offering the witness has to qualify him as an expert by asking questions about his credentials, educational background, experience, and so on. Then, once the expertise on the particular field has been established, the parties question the expert about his analysis, methodology, findings, and opinion.
In this particular case, the interpreter had just began introducing her qualifications and academic formation when the small town judge interrupted and asked the attorney doing the direct examination if “…this (was) going to take too long, because I have so many other things to take care of…” The attorney then rushed through the qualifications of this expert, and moved on to the questions about the findings. Throughout the direct examination this witness had to sit on the stand, and literally sit on her hands as the attorney asked her many irrelevant questions leaving out many critical points and relevant aspects of the expert’s opinion. It became obvious that this attorney had examined very few experts during her career, and it was apparent that this was the first time she questioned an expert in linguistics.
As the interpreter waited for the “right” questions to arrive, and as it became clear that they would not, she had to swallow her frustration and hide her impotence as she saw how the case was crumbling down before her eyes despite the fact that the attorney who retained her had an expert report clearly showing that the transcriptions/translation in question were dramatically wrong.
As I heard this story, I imagined the frustration that this expert witness went through, put myself in her shoes, and realized that the simple fact of retaining an expert is useless when the attorneys do not know what to do with the expert opinion. It is obvious that attorneys need to know how to take advantage of having a very good expert as part of their team. In this case, as in many others, it was apparent that the small town judge and attorneys did not know what to do with the expert testimony, and never understood the importance and relevance of presenting the results to the jury to advance their case. Fortunately, seasoned experts have the privilege to work with capable lawyers and experienced judges most of the time; so the question is: What do newer experts or those interpreter experts working in outlined areas need to do to “educate” the local attorneys, judges, and system? I would like to hear your opinion.