Deposition “Check” Interpreters in High Stakes Litigation

Legal Deposition Check Interpreter Services

The overall goal of using a deposition check interpreter is to obtain the most accurate translation possible.  We’ve blogged about the importance of having deposition testimony given in a foreign language translated accurately and the common use of multiple deposition interpreters hired by each party to the case in high-stakes litigation.

Parties defending non-English depositions in cases with significant dollars at stake will often employ their own interpreter, known as a “check” interpreter, to ensure that the deposition questions and answers posed to their client are being translated fairly. Such “check” interpreters, or party interpreters, are also used to assist attorneys during deposition-preparation sessions to prepare the deponent for their deposition.

Deposition Check Interpreters: The Pros and Cons

Problems, however, can arise when the check interpreter disagrees with the interpretations of the chief deposition translator. The presence of multiple deposition interpreters at a deposition can lead to confusion among the lawyers, the litigants, the deponent, and the court reporter, and can result in a confusing and imprecise record. Because there is no specific legal basis for using a check interpreter at a deposition and no clear rules governing how disputes between the interpreters should be resolved, courts have addressed disputes involving check interpreters with varying results.

Some courts have rejected the use of check interpreters outright. For example, in Malpico v. Newman Machine Co., Inc., 107 F.Supp.2d 712 (2000), the parties attempted to depose the plaintiff with several interpreters who repeatedly disagreed about the interpretations, leading to a confusing record. Consequently, the plaintiff filed a motion asking the court to allow him to have an interpreter of his choice attend his deposition to aid him in understanding the proceedings at the deposition, submit objections through his counsel, and to otherwise protect his rights as a litigant. The plaintiff argued that his due process rights would be violated unless the court permitted the plaintiff’s interpreter to attend the deposition.

The court denied the plaintiff’s motion in part and granted it in part. The court held that the plaintiff was permitted to have an interpreter of his choice present outside of the deposition room and that the plaintiff was permitted to communicate with the interpreter if the plaintiff became confused with the proceedings or needed to make an objection. The court, however, refused to allow the plaintiff’s interpreter to be present in the deposition room or to challenge the interpretations of the official interpreter. The court reasoned that “if two interpreters are present there is always the potential for conflict in interpretations,” and found that even though the plaintiff spoke a special Spanish dialect making it more difficult to understand the official interpreter, it was not impossible for the interpreter to communicate with the plaintiff.

In another case, 9th St. Estates v. Rohatcka, 610 N.Y.S.2d 430 (1994), the respondent sought a court order permitting her to have a person who spoke both Ukrainian and English present at her deposition in order to verify the accuracy of the interpretation. Previously, the respondent was deposed by petitioner’s counsel, who hired a Ukrainian interpreter to translate the questions and answers. The petitioner also brought her friend, who spoke both English and Ukrainian, to the deposition. During the course of the deposition, the respondent’s friend alerted the petitioner’s attorney to the fact that the interpreter was not interpreting significant words correctly. The petitioner’s counsel then insisted that the respondent’s friend leave the deposition, and the respondent’s attorney demanded that she stay. As a result of the conflict, the deposition was terminated. After a hearing on the matter, the court allowed the respondent to have a person present to assist in assuring that the questions and answers were being properly interpreted. The court held that for a deponent who does not speak English well or at all, “the right to have an interpreter who interprets correctly at a trial or pretrial deposition is a matter of fundamental fairness.”

As demonstrated above, although the use of check interpreters is not without problems, it can be extremely beneficial. First, having a certified interpreter hired by one of the parties present to ensure that the questions and answers are being interpreted correctly and fairly by the chief interpreter can help put the non-English speaking deponent more at ease during an on-site interpreted deposition, or a remote interpreted video deposition. Second, using a “check” interpreter can keep the primary interpreter on his or her toes and will allow counsel for the opposing party to be alerted to the existence of translation problems as soon as they arise so that they may be addressed by the parties and the court in a timely fashion.

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