District Court holds regular Interpreter Day
Last Thursday at 9 am sharp, the main courtroom of the Edgartown District Court was full. A Portuguese interpreter sat patiently, and clerk magistrate Liza Williamson had a stack of files in front of her, ready to begin the morning's proceedings.
March 1 was a regularly scheduled Interpreter Day held at the courthouse. Such special occasions are scheduled every two weeks, and court data shows that the court's need for translators, mostly Portuguese, has jumped 75 percent over the past two years.
Ms. Williamson was the acting judge Thursday, calling out names and working through the interpreter to ask questions and dispose of cases. Half of the 40 defendants on Thursday's daily list were in need of the interpreter services, and 18 of those were being arraigned on the charge of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, according to court records.
A crowd gathered outside the probation office Thursday, as people waited for their community service assignments. Photo by J. W. Smith
During first call, an announcement of the cases to be heard on a given day, Ms. Williamson ran down the names alphabetically, asking the defendants through the interpreter, "Do you understand the nature of these charges?" and "Is this something you would like to resolve today?"
Resolution typically means eight hours of community service and $100 in court fees. Island Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard consistently agreed to such an outcome, and the defendants offered little argument and appeared eager to take care of their legal troubles and get on their way.
After Ms. Williamson announced the sentences of the Brazilian defendants, they were told to wait by the probation office for a community service assignment. Several of them spoke with The Times, through a Portuguese-speaking photographer, about their experiences on the Island.
Everton, who has been on Martha's Vineyard for two years, said this is his second time being charged with driving without a license. He was pulled over for speeding by the Oak Bluffs police. He was also charged with having no inspection sticker. Everton said he is in the country illegally.
The Dukes County Courthouse is in Edgartown. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Seeking a better life
After following friends here, he said he has been working as a painter and has not been back to Brazil since he moved to the United States.
Everton says it is widely believed in the Island's Brazilian community that someone charged with driving without a license three times will be deported. Therefore, he said, he will avoid driving until he can do so legally. Everton said he has not had any problems with immigration in the two years he has lived illegally in the United States.
Waiting patiently with a boisterous child bouncing on her lap, Janaina, who spoke nearly perfect English, said this was her first time in court. Her husband, Roberto, was also scheduled for Thursday's Interpreter Day.
Oak Bluffs police pulled Janaina over for a lights violation and also charged her with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Her husband was in court for a pretrial hearing on speeding and unlicensed and unregistered motor vehicle violations in Edgartown.
Janaina said her parents brought her to the country when she was 12, but she later returned to Brazil. She returned four years ago, but has been unable to get a green card.
Despite being illegal, Janaina said she has kept a steady job at Humphreys in Vineyard Haven, while her husband does construction and painting work.
Thiago, a sheepish young man sitting quietly by himself, said he has only been on Martha's Vineyard for six months. He was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle by West Tisbury police, as well as unlicensed operation.
Thiago said he has been working for a carpenter and is required to drive for his job. He said his employer is aware that he does not have a license.
Thiago has been in the country for nearly two years, spending time in Framingham before moving to the Island. He said he would like to get a green card because of the better life America offers, but, he says, if he continues to have run-ins with the police, his life is hardly better.
Alternately, Eude, a middle-aged mother who was in court for leaving the scene of property damage, has a green card and license. But Eude does not speak any English, a hardship she said makes living on the Island difficult.
Eude has been living on Martha's Vineyard for 10 years, and she also has sons and grandchildren in the community. She said she came here following her daughter, who became a legal resident 14 years ago, and the pair got help from their manager at Lola's Restaurant, who guided them through the legalization process.
Eude said she first sought a life in the United States because of the low wages and rampant violence in Brazil. She was also having a hard time getting by as a single parent. Eude pays taxes, works at the hospital, and said she would like to own a house one day.
The interpreter service
Individuals who must appear in court, but who do not speak English and need an interpreter, are summoned on those days when a translator is available.
The Edgartown court corresponds with the Office of Court Interpreter Services (OCIS), based out of the Massachusetts court system's administrative offices in Boston. OCIS has 22 full-time interpreters on staff, as well as nearly 200 contracted interpreters. OCIS handles hundreds of requests for interpreters each week. In 2005, the office fulfilled approximately 90,000 requests for interpreters, and the numbers are growing.
Eighty percent of the interpreter requests in Massachusetts are for Spanish language translations. The next most requested is Portuguese, which is rising dramatically, an OCIS official said. The vast majority of translator requests for the Edgartown district court are for Portuguese.