When a Deponent or Lawyer Disputes a Deposition Translation

A Qualified Interpreter Can Reduce Deposition Conflicts.

We’ve blogged about deposition interpreter services in depositions where one lawyer lodges numerous objections on the record, and about depositions where a non-English-speaking deponent chooses to amend his or her deposition testimony after the deposition. One of the more common conflicts during a foreign language discovery deposition arises when the deponent or the deponent’s counsel takes issue with the accuracy of the deposition translation and interpreting.

In Sokolova v. United Airlines, Inc., the defendant filed a motion for sanctions against plaintiffs’ counsel regarding a dispute that arose during the defendant’s deposition which required a Russian deposition interpreter. The plaintiff spoke Russian and, although she required the use of a Russian interpreter at her deposition, she also spoke some English. The conflict over the interpreter started almost immediately after the deposition began when the plaintiffs’ counsel felt the Russian interpreter had not translated the oath accurately. Plaintiff’s counsel also objected to the relevancy of defense counsel’s questions regarding why the plaintiff had emigrated from Russia to the United States 25 years ago and other allegedly unnecessary questions.

Trouble surfaced in the deposition again when the interpreter began having difficulty translating because the plaintiff would not stop talking to allow the interpreter to translate. The plaintiff herself took issue with the Russian interpreter’s translation of “few” as “several,” believing that the interpreter had not translated her testimony accurately. The interpreter then made a statement on the record, claiming no hard feelings but wanting “some credit.” Specifically, the Russian interpreter complained that:

“I am a professional court interpreter since 1993. I’m not claiming to be an attorney, and I’m not claiming to be a respondent. But I’m just trying to do my professional job as I do for so many years and never had any problems. And for some reason this time, all my efforts are being met with animosity.”

Defense counsel began asking irrelevant personal questions again, and a discussion ensued between the attorneys about possibly not being able to finish the deposition that day due to other conflicting personal matters.

The deposition continued, but not without more conflict. The next conflict that arose with the Russian interpreter occurred when the plaintiff kept answering questions before they were translated since the plaintiff understood some English. The Russian-speaking plaintiff apologized, and the Russian interpreter asked counsel to instruct the plaintiff to pause after each phrase so she could have an opportunity to translate the deponent’s testimony.

Still more problems with Russian interpreting ensued. The interpreter complained that the plaintiff was talking too fast and “nonstop.” The Russian interpreter also interrupted the testimony, stating that the plaintiff was “confusing” to translate because she was crying. Plaintiff’s counsel then complained that the interpreter had missed some testimony, to which the interpreter stated sarcastically, “[counsel] does my job now, so I can relax.”

The deposition then ended and resumed on a later date. At the plaintiff’s second deposition, the plaintiff’s counsel alleged that the Russian interpreter inaccurately interpreted a phrase as “sitting under” instead of “laying under.”

The attorneys continued to argue over various matters, going back and forth until they asked the Russian interpreter for her take on the proceedings, to which she responded:

“Thanks for letting interpreter state her opinion. Interpreter is more than willing to do her professional job, interpreting both ways and doing it on her best ability. Interpreter is very happy to work today with all of you and interpreter is asking for – just for some understanding of the difficulty of her work and interpreter is specifically addressing counselor by phone to stop bullying an interpreter. Let interpreter do her job.”

Plaintiff’s counsel, however, disagreed with the Russian interpreter’s characterization of the events, and the plaintiff stated that she would not come back for a third deposition if things did not get back on track. The Russian deposition interpreter then called plaintiff’s counsel a “liar,” and defense counsel called plaintiff’s counsel a bully and unprofessional and ended the deposition.

In analyzing the defendant’s motion for sanctions against the plaintiff, the court first noted that the plaintiffs’ counsel had a right to object if he legitimately felt a Russian to English translation was inaccurate. The court went on to state that “it may have been wise to engage a different translator, perhaps one who was court approved as professionally qualified as opposed to language skilled.” The court, however, decided not to award discovery sanctions in this matter. The court noted that the lawyers had to deal with translation issues from the witness and an attorney who speaks both Russian and English and an examiner who at times “had her own issues.”

The case is Sokolova v. United Airlines, Inc., Court No. 18 C 2576 decided on January 21, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

Get in touch with the deposition interpreting service All Language Alliance, Inc. to retain competent deposition interpreters in Russian, Mandarin, Italian, Oromo, Krahn, Cantonese, Mongolian, Amharic, Spanish, Arabic, Punjabi, Somali, Korean, and other foreign languages for a smooth deposition experience during an on-site deposition or a remote Zoom video deposition.

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