Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tower of Babble

I've asked the questions at many depositions. I try to approach it with purpose; trying to obtain information, clarify the facts, find out what happened and what did not happen. It's a challenge, bordering on fun. However, taking a deposition through an interpreter is not fun.

I have asked questions through interpreters in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Greek, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, Fukanese, Taiwanese), Japanese, Portugese, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Arabic, Hebrew, Creole, Tagalog (a Filipino dialect), and ASL (American Sign Language). I never had German, either because German's all speak English or they don't have too many car accidents. I never took a deposition with a Yiddish interpreter, but I did see one used in court (Brooklyn, of course). Depositions with interpreters share common problems. Here are a few:

1. Some questions do not interpret well. In a car accident case, a lot of lawyers like to start with this question "Did there come a time when the vehicle you were driving came into contact with another vehicle." It's not a great question, it's compound and it can be confusing. Lawyers like it because it establishes certain things: there WAS an accident, with CONTACT, this witness was there, and there was another vehicle involved. I asked five different Spanish interpreters to translate this question, so I could listen to it with my high school Spanish background. They interpreted the question five different ways. One thing about this question IS consistent. When you ask a Spanish speaking witness, through an interpreter, the question "Did there come a time when the vehicle you were driving came into contact with another vehicle", the answer is always the same: "QUE???"

So you have the interpreter ask the question again, and the witness says, "The accident happened at 7 o'clock." or, "You mean was I in an accident?" or "QUE???"

2. Sometimes witnesses want an interpreter, but they actually speak English pretty well. If they understand your question they answer in English. If they don't understand the question, or, if they don't like the question, they wait for the interpreter. I don't let witnesses do this. It's all or nothing. Either no interpreter, or I want the interpreter to do a literal translation of every question and answer.

3. A related problem is when you ask a detailed question, the interpreter interprets it, the witness gives a long response in Urdu, and the interpreter translates it as "Yes". Sitting there, you know the interpreter and the witness have had a dialogue about the question, and the interpreter has taken it upon himself to "paraphrase" an answer. If this happens, I state on the record what has just occurred, then ask the reporter to read back my question and ask the interpreter to do a literal interpretation of the question and answer. If they don't do it, I advise opposing counsel that if this is not corrected I am busting the deposition. I have done that a few times, and I know other attorneys who have too.

4. Sometimes the interpreter is just not great at the particular language. They may have the credentials to do both Mandarin and Cantonese, but they are native to Mandarin and have learned Cantonese. What do you do when they just don't know the word? You see them struggling and they don't know how to say "windshield wiper" in Cantonese. So they try some combination of words like "car glass cleaner" and the witness says the Cantonese equivalent of "Que?" so the interpreter tries the Mandarin word for windshield wiper, and now the witness is mad at the interpreter and says nothing. Finally, the interpreter translates your question in Cantonese, but when he comes to "windshield wiper" he says "windshield wiper," and the witness says "Ohhhh, windshield wiper.." and answers the question.

5. Sometimes, when questioning an English speaking witness, you want to call in an interpreter who speaks "Stupidese," but that is a topic for another day.

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