Monday, January 25, 2016

Slow Saturday Specials: Court Reports

I'm not issuing judgements from here anymore, if I ever did. I'm just asking questions.

"Shortage of interpreters slows Ipswich murder trial" by Laura Crimaldi Globe Staff  January 23, 2016

SALEM — A murder trial that promises to be grueling because of the violent way a popular Chinese restaurant owner was killed has been beleaguered by delays due to a lack of Mandarin and Cantonese interpreters to assist the defendants.

Jury selection began Jan. 11 in the trial of Sifa Lee and Cheng Sun, who are charged with murder in the death of Shui Keung “Tony” Woo. But the proceedings have been interrupted repeatedly because sometimes no interpreter was available to translate, according to court papers filed Friday by the prosecution.

Lee, 38, requires a Cantonese interpreter and Sun, 51, needs a Mandarin interpreter. Both are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Woo, 62, who was beaten to death on Sept. 27, 2011, inside his Ipswich restaurant, Majestic Dragon. Lee and Sun have pleaded not guilty.

“It’s inexcusable that they don’t have appropriate interpreters to do this whole trial,” said attorney John Andrews, who represents Lee.

“The Trial Court had over three months advance notice that these interpreters were going to be needed to try this case and, for whatever bureaucratic reason, they have not been able to supply the necessary qualified interpreters which would have enabled us to impanel a jury by now,” he said in a telephone interview.

Essex Assistant District Attorney Kristen Buxton wrote in the court filing that the difficulty of finding interpreters to come to court has added at least two additional weeks to the trial, strained Woo’s relatives, and created problems for witnesses, lawyers, and potential jurors.

The state office that provides interpreters for the court system has only one Cantonese interpreter who is qualified to translate for Lee, Buxton wrote in the filing. That interpreter will not be available on Wednesdays and some other dates during the trial, she wrote.

Two prosecution witnesses also require Cantonese interpreters, including Jun Di Lin, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to manslaughter and other charges in connection with Woo’s death, according to prosecutors.

“We’re in purgatory,” Buxton said Friday in Essex Superior Court. 

I hate to say it, and the Globe won't, but that is what comes with being a sanctuary state.

She asked Judge David A. Lowy to order a Cantonese interpreter be retained to come to court on days when the state Office for Court Interpreter Services cannot provide one. Her request specifies the interpreter must be “qualified” or “certified,” meaning the person must have a certain level of training.

Lowy described the problem as a systemic one in the Trial Court.

“Anything I’ve said about the interpreter shortage in this case is not the fault of the interpreters interpreting the case,” he said.

Maria Fournier, the director of interpreter and support services for the court, said her office is working with agencies here and in four other states to hire Mandarin and Cantonese interpreters “who meet the necessary requirements and are available.”

She said the search has already exhausted local resources, including interpreters who work on a per diem basis or for independent agencies. The office has also asked the US District Court for help, Fournier said.

Attorney Michael T. Phelan, who represents Sun, said the interpreters working on the trial are not state employees but professionals who get offers to provide services to courts as needed. According to its website, the court system has about 175 interpreters, including 24 who are full time.

Interpreters are paid per diem according to their level of training and experience. More highly trained interpreters earn $300 per day or $200 for a half day, according to the form they submit for payment, while less experienced interpreters get $200 for a full day and $125 for a half day.

Phelan said he does not want the trial to be delayed, though he has not had any scheduling problems so far with getting interpreter services for Sun, who speaks Mandarin. A listing of state court interpreters shows there are seven who speak Mandarin and three who speak Cantonese.

Jury selection is scheduled to continue Monday.

Woo’s son, Edwin, said problems scheduling interpreters have beset the case from the onset. “It’s definitely a tough situation,” he said.


Let's go to the videotape:

"Objections raised as courtrooms go digital" by Michael Levenson Globe Staff  January 02, 2016

Court reporters, already a dwindling guild in Massachusetts, could become the latest American workers replaced by the inexorable advancement of technology.

The change has stirred deep anxiety among some lawyers, judges, and other officers of the tradition-bound courts, who worry that transcripts will be riddled with errors and inaudible passages if they are not taken by an attentive court reporter witnessing the trial.

But in an era when technology is improving and court budgets are shrinking, legal specialists say that courts across the country are inevitably turning to digital recording systems.

“This is an attempt to do this on the cheap, and it’s not where I would want to be saving money,” said Gary Wilson, a Suffolk Superior Court magistrate who has worked in the courts for 43 years. “I think it’s penny-wise and pound foolish to fool around with the record on a very, very serious case.”

Several lawyers and former judges said it could be difficult, if not impossible, for a transcriber listening to a recording to distinguish among lawyers shouting over one another, or striding across a courtroom.

Why would they be doing that in a court of law?

They also pointed out that witnesses may speak too softly to be recorded by a microphone. 

Seinfeld low-talkers? 

And if the system stops working, the court may not realize it until it’s too late to restore the record.

I have to admit that is a good point, although it's hard to imagine a website or video system failing (or being hacked or edited, for that matter).

“People are concerned that very serious cases, like murder cases, will be using electronic recording without a track record that it’s going to be up to the task,” said Michael S. Hussey, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Court reporters, who earn $82,000 a year, can stop the proceedings if witnesses mumble, or if lawyers argue over one another, making their words difficult to hear, said Suzanne V. Del Vecchio, a former chief justice of the Superior Court.

Oh, earning way too much.... right?

“Obviously, with digital recording, that’s not possible,” Del Vecchio said.

Lewis H. Spence, the state’s trial court administrator, declined to answer questions about the new system.

But in a recent e-mail to judges and staff, Spence wrote, “the transition to digital recording represents a significant change for the court, one that will expand capability and apply technology in important new ways.”

The digital recordings will be uploaded to a central server, making them easier to track and locate, officials said. The system, made by an Australian company called For The Record, is used in 65 countries to record court, government, and law enforcement proceedings, according to the company’s website.

Co-owner Tony Douglass said Massachusetts courtrooms will be outfitted with eight channels of audio, making it possible to isolate or slow down any voice that might be hard to hear.

“Digital recording, regardless of how you produce the transcript, gives you a very high quality recording of the court,” Douglass said. “We’ve seen it in states all across America.”


But Linda L. Kelly, a court reporter since 1977 and a fixture in Barnstable Superior Court since 1993, said she does not believe digital recordings can replace the quality of her transcripts.

She has a $elf-intere$t, no?!

She can type 260 words a minute and knows the names of local police officers and streets mentioned in trials.

That's kind of a good point.

She said she is so committed to her craft that she recently spent $5,000 of her own money to buy an ergonomic steno-machine in a distinctive shade of burgundy called “dark ruby slippers.”

“I wanted something with a little bit of sass, but not too much,” Kelly said.

Not all court reporters type their notes; some speak into a recording device and transcribe later. Either way, a person is watching the action and documenting every utterance as it is spoken.

Kelly said digital recordings of trials are like compact discs with no track listings.

“How long would it take you to find your favorite song?” she said. “With real-time court reporting, you can find those spots in the transcript just by doing a word search.”

Lee Suskin, a former court administrator in Vermont, said digital recording systems can work if the courts use “courtroom monitors” to ensure that the systems are recording properly and to write down names, unusual terms, and the start and end times of proceedings. That way, a typist listening to the recording can make an accurate and complete transcript, he said.

Massachusetts officials have not indicated whether they plan to hire “courtroom monitors.”

“As far as I know, the states that have put that into effect have been able to make a record successfully, and there have not been any issues in making a transcript,” Suskin said. “If you just turn on the machine and everyone starts talking, you have a problem.”

The case dismissed, right?


UPDATEProsecutor describes ‘senseless’ killing of Ipswich restaurant owner

Also see:

Man convicted in murder of Chinese restaurant owner

Man gets life term for murdering Ipswich restauranteur