Lost in Translation

By Andy Jones, Sawicki Law Firm

Dallas County is home to 2,637,772 people.[1] According to the Texas Tribune, Texans speak 164 different languages.[2] And, students in Dallas Independent School District speak 65 different languages.[3] With the growing population of North Texas, those appearing as litigants in Dallas County Civil Courts will continue to speak an ever-widening number of languages other than English. With that in mind, a prepared civil advocate knows how to ensure that the testimony they need in court is not lost for lack of an interpreter.

The Texas Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC) regulates interpreters in Texas Courts.[4] For an interpreter to appear in Court, they generally must be certified by the JBCC. There are 20 languages in which interpreters can obtain certification – among them Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Russian. Should a party request a certified interpreter, one is to be appointed by the court.[5] While § 57.002 indicates that a certified interpreter must have a license from the JBCC for the language to be interpreted,[6] what happens when a litigant speaks a language not certified by the JBCC?

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure give a court the power to appoint an interpreter “of its own selection….”[7] The question of a person’s competency to interpret is for the trial court, and is subject to only an abuse of discretion review.[8] The Texas Rules of Evidence only require that an interpreter be “qualified” to interpret.[9] An examples of a “qualified” interpreter includes a corporate representative, sworn under oath, and having demonstrated his qualifications as an expert under the Texas Rules of Evidence.[10] Section 57.002 of the Government Code also uses a similar formulation for counties of less than 50,000 people when appointing interpreters.[11]

Moreover, in the criminal context, an interpreter is not required to have a JBCC certification but rather possess “sufficient skill in translating and familiarity with the use of slang.”[12] In counties that border Mexico, the Court may appoint an interpreter who is not licensed, even though a certification for Spanish exists.[13] And, where a translator for the needed language was found to be unavailable, it was not error to proceed to trial with an unlicensed translator.[14]

Ultimately, a court has “wide discretion” in determining whether an interpreter is competent to interpret and whether to appoint them.[15] For best results, the prepare civil advocate finds a translator who can meet the qualifications of an expert witness under the Texas Rules of Evidence. Relevant translation and/or interpretation experience in the field at issue in the case is also highly important. For example, in a personal injury case, an interpreter who works at a hospital likely has relevant knowledge of medical jargon necessary for accurate interpreting at deposition or trial.

It is also important to note that where a party moves for the appointment of an interpreter, the cost associated with the interpreter is considered a taxable court cost.[16]

Once appointed by the Court, the prepared civil advocate will be able to present their case and client or cross their adversary regardless of any language barriers. And, having followed the relevant rules and obtained an order from the Court, you can be confident that your case will not be lost in translation.

Andy Jones is a trial lawyer at Sawicki Law where he represents personal injury plaintiffs. He can be reached at ajones@sawickilawfirm.com.

[1] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/dallascountytexas,US/PST045218.

[2] https://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/26/languages-spoken-texas-homes/.

[3] https://www.dallasisd.org/cms/lib/TX01001475/Centricity/Domain/110/NEO%20-%20Facts%20About%20DISD%202014.pdf.

[4] https://www.txcourts.gov/jbcc/licensed-court-interpreters/exams/#ExamLanguages

[5] See Tex. Gov’t Code § 57.002(a).

[6] See id. at (b-1).

[7] Tex. R. Civ. P. 183.

[8] Franco v. State, 2017 WL 781033, at *1 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Mar. 1, 2017, pet. ref’d) (designated “Do Not Publish”) [Per Tex. R. App. P. 47.7(b) designation of “Do No Publish” after 2003 does not impact the precedential value of the opinion.].

[9] Tex. R. Evid. 604.

[10] Int’l Commercial Bank v. Hall-Fuston, Corp., 767 S.W.2d 259, 261 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 1989, writ denied).

[11] Id. at (d), (e).

[12] Franco, 2017 WL 781033, at *1 (citing Tex. Code Crim. Pro. 38.30; Kan v. State, 4 S.W.3d 38, 41 (Tex. App—San Antonio, 1999, pet. ref’d); see also Woo v. State, 05-07-01519-CR, 2009 WL 143911, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas Jan. 22, 2009, no pet.) (Do Not Publish) [Per Tex. R. App. P. 47.7(b) designation of “Do No Publish” after 2003 does not impact the precedential value of the opinion.].

[13] Gov’t Code § 57.002(d-1).

[14] Woo, 2009 WL 143911, at *3.

[15] Colunga-Pina v. State, 2016 WL 3877865, at *2 (Tex. App.—Dallas July 13, 2016, no pet.) (Do Not Publish) (citing See Linton v. State, 275 S.W.3d 493, 500 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009)) [Per Tex. R. App. P. 47.7(b) designation of “Do No Publish” after 2003 does not impact the precedential value of the opinion.].

[16] Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 31.007(b)(3).

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