Found flubbed Miranda Rights lying in a can of worms in Pandora’s box
I hit the road running this morning. In between depositions where I was interpreting, I set myself the task of getting to the bottom of the conundrum of what had actually happened during the incident described in the much talked about June 7 article in the Columbus Dispatch. You will recall that a member of our profession was faulted with having caused the trial of a suspected murderer to be dismissed. Little did I suspect how things would unfold.
I had written an email yesterday to John Futty, the reporter who broke the story, asking for details about the “interpreter”, identifying myself as a representative of NAJIT, a/k/a Lois Lane. I was naive enough to think he would contact me. When I did not hear from him, I called the Reynoldsburg police and was shuffled around between a detective and his lieutenant, leaving messages, until the former was assigned the task of calling me by his superior officer. I was finally able to speak to Detective Gammell during lunch today. The conversation was very illuminating. I asked him who the interpreter was and he proceeded to tell me that the police had “borrowed her” from the Franklin County Municipal Court and her name was Brenda Williams. At first he said he wasn’t sure what her job with the court was but in the end he said he thought she was an interpreter who had volunteered to help them interrogate the suspect over the phone. I then proceeded to ask him about the allegations that she had not interpreted the full Miranda rights to the defendant, whereupon he told me that Brenda had gotten a “bad rap” in the press. I asked if the police had read the rights in English and it was subsequently determined that she did not do a through job interpreting them into Spanish. The detective told me that “not at all”, that the department has a form with the Miranda Rights in English on one side and in Spanish on the other and that they just asked her to read the Spanish version on her own… He went on to explain that neither the English nor the Spanish version contain the language at issue indicating that the witness could elect to stop giving the statement at any time. He said that the judge had granted the motion by the defense to suppress the witnesses’s incriminating statements, based on that fact. Mr. Gammell also told me that the Franklin County Attorney had advised the police that it was not necessary to include that information in their form and that they had researched the matter. Apparently, some counties include the wording, others do not, and Judge Bessey happened to have sided with the defense. I thought that that was that and asked him for Brenda Williams’s contact information so that I could get a few more facts to round out what he had told me and to determine what her background and training were. On a sidenote, I also offered to have the translation of the Miranda Rights checked and updated, free of charge, courtesy of NAJIT, to ensure that they did not undergo a similar problem in the future. He was not even slightly interested. He added that he did not have Williams’s information. I asked him for the number of the court where she worked and he stated she was no longer working there. At this point, I thought I was beating a dead horse, thanked him for speaking to me and hung up.
I was going to start writing this post when it occurred to me that perhaps Brenda was on Facebook, LinkedIn, or in the NAJIT or ATA directories. I searched all of those options to no avail and I was going to drop it and only suggest that the NAJIT Advocacy Committee write a letter to the Reynoldsburg police explaining the credentials they should look for when using the services of an interpreter and what the proper role of the interpreter is in a legal setting. Then I thought, well, let me try one last thing. It’s a very long shot but let me google “Brenda Williams and Franklin County Court”. When I looked up at the screen, I almost fell off my chair! There were 2 pages of references…
It turns out that the interpreter rap is arguably the least of Williams’s worries. The lady has been involved in a very nasty case where she alleges that she was sexually harassed by a judge in the workplace for several years and that after she filed a complaint, as did other women, there was a cover-up by the court administrator and fellow judges. She received a settlement of $138,000 from a taxpayer-funded insurance policy as a result of that complaint. She was fired from her job in November of last year, approximately 2 months after the Miranda Rights incident, and in December filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking $5 million in damages and an order requiring the court to end sexual harassment. The judge and other defendants in the prior case were not named in the federal case as per an agreement when that case settled. She is alleging in this case that city and county government covered up for Judge Hale whom she accused of harassment along with the other women. The case is pending.
Ms. Williams’s attorney, George Moore of Columbus, OH, has said he will offer to settle the lawsuit if Hale steps down and the court agrees to pay Williams her salary of about $44,000 a year, according to court records,for the next 10 years. Brenda Williams has spoken only recently about her interpreting job. According to her, she learned Spanish from her mother as a child, dropped out of high school and later earned a high school equivalency certificate. She became familiar with legal terminology while studying to become a court reporter at a community college but instead, started working as a court interpreter in 2001. It appears she never received training. Food for thought as to our mission at NAJIT.
Regarding the lawsuit, Brenda states “I want people to know the truth. It’s not about the money”. Her attorney says “It doesn’t matter what kind of education you have – if you’re upper-crust or a gravedigger- everyone is accountable.” Shades of DSK – Dominique Strauss Khan, the former head of the IMF.