MultiLingual has often reported on the health risks medical interpreters face working on site during the covid-19 pandemic. But what about legal interpreters?
Los Angeles Times reports at least two Los Angeles, California court interpreters are now dead after potentially being exposed to the virus on the job: Sergio Cafaro and Daniel Felix. With the case of Felix, the paper alludes that he contracted the virus after a covid-19 outbreak at the Bellflower courthouse location where he worked.
According to California Federation of Interpreters Local 39000 (CFI), a labor union for legal interpreters, “Court administrators neither recommended nor instructed interpreters to quarantine when the outbreaks first became known and denied requests for emergency paid leave when interpreters sought to self-quarantine.”
In a January news release, CFI indicated the Los Angeles Court has failed “to seriously address the public health crisis still taking place in the county’s courthouses.”
“Inside courtrooms, there’s varying levels of adherence to mandated safety practices. Some lawyers and sheriff’s deputies occasionally remove their masks, while inmates and litigants at times have masks on improperly,” writes Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Hamilton.
In one instance, CFI steward Begonya De Salvo tells the paper she was interpreting for a defense attorney who asked the judge to delay a hearing, claiming that face masks violated the defendant’s rights in regard “to determin[ing] credibility.” In response, the judge gave a witness “permission to remove the mask and testify,” Hamilton reports. When asked for comment, the judge told Los Angeles Times “she had ‘no memory of anyone testifying in my court without a mask…We run a safe courtroom.’” When presented with a transcript from the proceedings that referenced the mask removal, the paper reports, “The judge did not respond.”
In its release, CFI calls for “a constructive dialogue with…court administrators, so that proper policies and work accommodations can be set in place, ensuring that court employees are provided a safe and healthy work environment during this pandemic.”