True story: Authorities of a state that does not offer court interpreter certification wanted proof that the interpreter was certified by the state.

August 22, 2012 § 7 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

This is a true story. It just happened to me a few months ago.  One day I was interpreting at the Federal District Courthouse in Chicago when a private attorney approached me and asked me if I would go to the county jail with him to see a client. Although I had never been to Cook County jail, I said yes as this attorney works in Federal Court all the time.  We set a date and time for the visit, he gave me the address to the jail, I googled the directions, and off I went to my assignment.  After this public transportation city interpreter looked for a place to park for quite some time and finally found one, I met the attorney outside the facility. We entered the jail just to find out that our client was housed in another division that was about four city-blocks away. We took advantage of the long walk to catch up on the case, and to get work for the shoe-shine man as our shoes got really dirty from walking on these dirt roads.

We finally arrived at the right building, we were frisked, and then we were told that I could not enter the meeting room because I had not been authorized by the court to be there. The custody officers told the attorney (my client) that unless we had a letter from the judge or from the Department of Corrections Legal Department authorizing my presence in the jail, we could not do the interview. Of course, by now the defendant had been brought downstairs and she was witnessing everything from the other side of the glass, not knowing what the delay was for.  The jail authorities explained to us that only certified interpreters were allowed inside the facility.  The attorney told them that I was certified by the United States Administrative Office of the Courts, but their response was that they needed to see proof that I was certified by the State of Illinois. I explained to them that Illinois is one of the few states that do not have a certification program; I mentioned how the Illinois State Courts work with non-certified interpreters every day, and how I worked within the federal court system where they have a certification policy in place.  I even explained to them that I am certified by two states that are members of the consortium of states that offer court interpreter certification.  It did not matter at all. They needed proof that I was certified by the State of Illinois.

Once we realized that we were in an impossible situation, and after the officers did not allowed us to use the phone to call the jail legal department to explain our case, we turned around and left.  Of course, I still got paid by the attorney. Of course, the attorney billed the client for the time he spent there; but as I was leaving the facility I could not keep myself from laughing. At the end of the day the jail officers were right, at least partially, there should only be certified interpreters working that jail. The problem is that the State does not have a certification program, and nobody has told these officers that to ask for an Illinois Court Interpreter Certification is as useless as to ask for the interpreter’s death certificate before he can enter the jail.  I decided to post this experience in the blog because it seems so unreal.  I would love to read your comments about this very unique experience.

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§ 7 Responses to True story: Authorities of a state that does not offer court interpreter certification wanted proof that the interpreter was certified by the state.

  • Jeff says:

    I loved your story, we see similar things. South Carolina started a certification process, gave a test the first year and now we have been waiting 3 years so that we can test. People ask us all the time if we are certified. We tell them We took phase one and two and are still waiting for the final one.

  • Lionel says:

    Your experience reminded me of a quote from the movie Stand and Deliver which goes like ths: “a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.” Glad to hear you got paid though. Thank you for sharing.

  • figthorn says:

    This is proof of the disconnect that exists between the different elements in a bureaucracy. This sort of impossible situation happens all the time because people working at lower levels have no idea how the overall system works. I come from a Latin American country, and I thought our systems were bad. But because of that people working in government institutions tend to be more reasonable and open to solving uncommon situations, whereas here in the U.S. they get so stuck on the rules and how things are supposed to be that they cannot deal with new situations.

  • Jose Teitelbaum says:

    This shows once again that officers…are nothing elese than…officers! Thinking and or logical behaive is out of the line and strange to them! Thanks for sharing!

  • Melinda G-H says:

    So Tony, I´m curious, who are the interpreters that are getting IN to the jail? Is there some Illinois certified interpreter ID card you should be shopping around for in dark alleys?

  • Evelyne says:

    This seems like a Kafkaesque situation or a story by Efraim Kishon… Thanks for sharing it.

  • I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for posting it.

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