8 THE QUEENS COURIER • JULY 11, 2019 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM CONFUSED AT COURT
Advocate claim legal translation services are inadequate
BY MAX PARROTT
Susan Vaca, an immigration advocate
with QLA Outreach Center, came to
Queens Civil Court in Jamaica on June 11
with a modest goal: to advise a non-English
speaking client who was scheduled
to meet with a clerk that morning to talk
about a pending housing dispute.
Shortly aft er entering the court chamber,
Vaca realized that her conscience
was going make this task harder than she
In helping her client, she noticed another
non-English speaker who had no idea
when to approach the clerk. Th en another,
and another. Before long, she was helping
four Spanish-speaking clients navigate
to their scheduled meeting.
Vaca said the main concern was helping
direct clients around the chamber,
but once they got to the appointment, she
stuck around for their meetings because
she was concerned the interpreter was
not doing enough to make sure the clients
“Th ere’s one interpreter for the court
chamber and she doesn’t interpret every
word. It seems like she doesn’t want to be
there – maybe it’s a hard job,” Vaca said.
Vaca’s experience refl ects a view shared
by some lawyers, interpreters and immigration
advocates that the interpretation
services in Queens Housing Court
are defi cient. Since the state Legislature
passed its historic set of tenant protection
laws in June, their impact will now
be determined by the court’s ability to
enforce them. In Queens, equal access to
these tenant protections hinges on interpretation
Lost in translation
Queens has the highest number of
non-English speakers in the fi ve boroughs,
with 26 percent of its residents
deemed by the census to have limited
English profi ciency.
While interpretation services play a key
role in the Queens justice system, these
services oft en leave non-English speakers
confused about how to navigate the
courts, confronted with unsolicited legal
advice from their interpreters or reliant
on independently contracted interpreters
who have do not have a thorough understanding
of the legal system themselves.
“Interpretation is subpar and interpreters
are telling people in the hallway, ‘Just
move out. You have no case, no defense.’
And we’re like, ‘You’re not a lawyer. Don’t
tell people that,’ you know? But there’s no
one else in the building who can understand
what they’re saying. And so they
have this weird power, and a lack of training,”
said Sateesh Nori, attorney-in-charge
of the Queens Neighborhood Offi ce of
Th e Legal Aid Society.
Ethics and salary questions
A spokesperson for housing court said
that interpreters are made aware of their
ethical and professional responsibilities,
which include not giving any legal advice,
when they attend webinars on the subject
of ethics. Th ey are also provided with a
Court Interpreter Manual containing this
Any concern regarding a breach in ethical
responsibility can be reported to the
Chief Clerk, said the spokesperson. But
it does not take more than a brief visit to
the fourth fl oor of Queens Civil Court, to
hear reports that expose these ethical safeguards
as ineff ective.
But even within the realm of state court
interpreters, there is another level of stratifi
cation: contract and full-time.
Florie Ho, who worked on a per diem
basis as a Chinese interpreter in housing
court for Geneva Worldwide, a contractor
that provides interpreters to agencies
across the city, said that more and more
the courts are using contractor services to
fi ll the need, with less training and oversight.
A spokesperson for the state court system
said that per diem interpreters are
required to attend an ethics seminar presented
by the Offi ce of Language Access
(OLA). But Ho said that she never received
this training at Geneva even though she
translated city materials directly for OLA
in addition to her work in civil court.
She said that because Geneva’s staffi ng
system is built off of a bidding process that
pits the rates set by its contract workers
against one another, interpreters are more
likely to get consistent work with lower
rates. As a result, experience and trainings
have become disincentivized.
Ho said that she met some interpreters
at Geneva who took rigorous court
interpretation exams, which used to be
a requirement to become a court interpreter.
As independent contractors, these
interpreters fi nd the staffi ng system stops
them from charging their worth.
Photo: Max Parrott/QNS
QNS reached out to Geneva, which
declined to comment on this story.
A stacked deck
Th e manner that interpreters are scheduled
also creates issues for defendants.
Nori said that because of the high amount
of interpretation in Queens, the court
ends up bunching the cases involving
common languages together.
Th at means when the court registers the
need for an interpreter, it reschedules cases
into full-day batches of nothing but Bengali,
Chinese or Korean speakers, for instance.
When these cases get rescheduled, it can
drag out the judicial process. When they fi nally
do get there, it’s possible that they will be
reliant on an interpreter hired on a contract
basis. In Ho’s experience through Geneva,
contractors hired under these circumstances
learn about their caseload for the fi rst time the
day of, leaving no time for preparation.
“Interpreters need to know what’s going
on or be given like a briefi ng. Because
otherwise interpretation could be wrong
solely because you yourself don’t know
what’s going on. So it’s all just confused
people,” said Ho. “I think the courts need
to know whether or not they actually care
about people understanding the judges
and the lawyers and what’s going on.”
Read more at QNS.com
The Queens Civil Court building in Jamaica
$99 $99 $99 DESIGNER FRAMES
PLUS FREE 2ND PAIR
Frames & Lenses
Offer ends 7/31/19
brand clear sphericalLenses/*Contact
lens fitting additional. Not valid for Toric lenses. Not valid with
Some restrictions apply, see store for details.
Offer ends 7/31/19
Select frames with clear plastic, single vision lensas
vision plans or packages. Must present prior to purchase.
see store for details
Offer ends 7/31/19
With the purchase of glasses,
contact lens e l.
2 Boxes of Lenses
Encore Premium Brand
* $200 minimum purchase on first pair of designer
frames. Second pair frame from select group with
vision plans or packages.
Offer ends 7/31/19