Case Law on the
Use of Legal Deposition Interpreters

How the Court Views Cases Involving
Legal Deposition Interpreters

Court Cases Involving the Use of Deposition Interpreters

Disputes directly or indirectly involving legal deposition interpreters and legal translators do arise from time to time in both state and federal courts. Below is a summary of two recent cases involving issues related to interpreters:

In Pham v. Golden, a bankruptcy case, the chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee (“Trustee”) scheduled and held at least 15 meetings of creditors to interview debtors Tony Pham and Lindsie Kim Pham (“Debtors”) in a bankruptcy proceeding. The trustee subsequently filed a complaint against two individuals named Bui and Tran alleging that Mrs. Pham had fraudulently transferred four condominium units sixteen months prior to the bankruptcy petition date to Bui and Tran, one of which had not been disclosed by the Debtors in their statement of financial affairs. The Trustee issued subpoenas to the Debtors commanding them to appear for depositions and produce relevant document.

The Trustee filed a motion to compel, arguing that the debtors’ attorney had purposefully and intentionally interfered in discovery and also questioned Mrs. Pham’s need for an interpreter on the grounds that she had lived in the U.S. for 30 years, attended high school and college here, and had never before requested an interpreter at any of the creditor meetings. The Trustee also alleged that the Debtors’ attorney had repeatedly interfered with Mrs. Pham’s deposition by contradicting and “correcting” the interpreter’s interpretation of certain answers and questions. The Trustee argued that these actions and other bad faith behavior had cost the estate approximately $12,000. The debtors disputed the motion, arguing that the Trustee had failed to provide any evidence in support of the alleged “interference” with Mrs. Pham’s deposition such as excerpts from the transcript. The Debtors also refuted the accusation that Mrs. Pham was “faking” her need for an interpreter.

The bankruptcy court granted the Trustee’s motion and ordered the Debtors and their attorney to pay the Trustee $17,515 as a sanction for abusive conduct during the discovery process. The bankruptcy court stated at the hearing on the motion to compel that the Debtors were the parties being sued, had an obligation to disclose everything to the Trustee and were required to answer the trustee’s questions no matter how long it took. The Debtors and their attorney filed an appeal. On appeal, the 9th Circuit Bankruptcy Panel reversed the decision of the bankruptcy court, finding that the court had abused its discretion in sanctioning the appellants. The 9th Circuit held that the bankruptcy court incorrectly stated that the Debtors were “being sued” in the adversary proceeding filed by the Trustee when in fact they were not parties to the proceeding and were instead nonparty witnesses. In reversing and remanding the proceeding, the 9th Circuit Bankruptcy Panel also held that the bankruptcy court applied incorrect standards of law in sanctioning the Debtors and their attorney.

In another recent case, Sudre v. Port Seattle, case no. C15-0928JLR, decided on December 2, 2016 by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and the plaintiffs filed several motions in opposition. The parties also filed several other motions. Among other disputes, the parties argued that the court should strike several pieces of evidence in support of their motions. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that defendant Aguilar should not be able to make certain corrections to his deposition transcript and that the corrections constituted “sham” testimony. One of the corrections in dispute involved Mr. Aguilar’s testimony during his deposition that he could not remember the plaintiff’s fall. After the deposition, Mr. Aguilar corrected his testimony to state that he remembered the fall and provided additional details related to the fall. The court found that Mr. Aguliar had provided reasonable explanations about the newly discovered facts and allowed the corrections to stand. Specifically, the court reasoned that Mr. Aguilar had relied on an interpreter during his deposition and stated that he did not understand and was confused with what the attorney asked him during the deposition and that there were various interpretation or transcription mistakes. The court held that the transcript did, indeed, reveal confusion at times between Mr. Aguilar, the attorney conducting the deposition, and the deposition interpreter. The court also found that the fact that Mr. Aguilar corrected his testimony shortly after his deposition cast doubt on the plaintiff’s accusation that he corrected his testimony for an improper purpose (namely, to create a question of fact for summary judgment.) Accordingly, the court declined to strike Mr. Aguilar’s corrections to his deposition transcript.

This language translation blog article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.

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