Phil Spector and O.J. Simpson know this floor. I’m sure Angelo Buono, Kenneth Bianchi, and the Night Stalker would have felt at home here. As a Court Interpreter (Spanish/English) in the Los Angeles County Court system I’m often assigned to the Criminal Courts Building on Temple Street. It’s crime central in Los Angeles–and it’s on the 9th floor of this notorious building where the worst of the worst go to have their cases heard. It’s where Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom is. It’s also where non-famous but sensitive criminal trials take place–the only floor where you pass through a second security check. The courtroom numbers rarely correspond to the floor on which they are located, so I’m always surprised when I end up on 9. Nobody tells you what you’re facing until you’re inside the courtroom. I get a certain feeling in my gut when the elevator doors open. In my experience, nothing good ever happens on the 9th floor.
Whether villain or victim I’m not there to judge. I leave that to the justice system. I’m there to render an accurate translation of what was said in one language (source) into another (target). Sometimes I go straight to the lockup area behind the courtroom to interpret between attorney and client. Sometimes I interpret for defendants during hearings and trials. But I also must interpret when they’re about to receive their sentences. I know that Penal Code 187 is murder and sometimes it can appear more than once on the defendant’s entry. I’ve seen charges for mayhem, armed robbery, and sex crimes but I look these up each time as I still have not committed them to memory. Simultaneous interpretation involves hearing the words and almost immediately interpreting them into another language without really thinking much about it. But then there is what the court calls an “impact statement.” When someone speaks about how a child molestation or the murder of a loved one has affected them and is sobbing, it’s not so easy to go on autopilot. Each time I interpret on the 9th floor I do my best and try to leave my feelings at the elevator door. I almost always can.
—Robert Guerrero is a Court-certified interpreter working in both the private and public sector throughout Southern California.