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A “notario” who told confused clients from Latin America that he could perform their immigration legal work has failed to overturn his theft conviction by challenging a court interpreter’s performance. However, the court and attorneys on both sides agree that the state will see more appeals based on the competence of interpreters as the state continues to attract more non-English speakers. Harvey Holliday, also known as Harris L. Harvey, ran an office in Marietta, Ga., under the name Legal Mediation and Arbitration Services. Cobb County prosecutors say Holliday offered legal advice to immigrants seeking permission to live and work in the United States. He took his clients’ money, but he never did the work, they argued. Cobb jurors convicted him of three counts of theft by deception and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. State v. Holliday, No. 00900639. On appeal, the trial court errors Holliday alleged concerned the performance of an interpreter who translated the testimony of five Spanish-speaking witnesses. The court never properly established the interpreter’s credentials, Holliday argued, and a few times during trial, witnesses said things in Spanish that, although they were never translated into English, jurors might have understood. The panel, which comprised Chief Judge J.D. Smith, Presiding Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. and Judge M. Yvette Miller, unanimously rejected Holliday’s arguments. Holliday v. State, No. A03A1479. “Given the overwhelming evidence of Holliday’s guilt, his arguments that a different result might have obtained if the interpreter had fully translated the offending material are nothing more than conjecture and provide no basis for reversal,” Smith wrote. TRANSLATION CHALLENGES INEVITABLE However, the court, the state and the defense agreed that challenges to the job court interpreters do are inevitable. As courts adjust to accommodate defendants and victims who speak little English, errors in translation are going to occur. David S. West, who represented Holliday on appeal, said the court’s decision didn’t surprise him. He expected the court to “protect the sanctity of the interpreters,” he said. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more challenges in the future, he said. “We’re going to see this problem. It’s going to come up,” he said. “I was surprised that I was evidently the first person to raise this issue.” West said lawyers representing clients whose accusers don’t speak English might want to consider retaining independent interpreters at trial. If lawyers want to object to errors in interpretation, he said, they have to do it when the error is made. And if they don’t speak the language, someone has to do it for them. “How else do I know for sure what’s being said?” West said. “What else am I supposed to do?” The metro area courts handle the need for interpreters differently. Cobb has an office dedicated to finding interpreters for all branches of government, including the courts, and contracts with a pool of interpreters certified by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Commission on Interpreters. DeKalb County State Court has three part-time interpreters on staff. The push for interpreters stems from the state’s changing demographics. According to the U.S. Census, in 1990 the Atlanta metro area had 158,907 people who spoke a language other than English at home — about six percent of the population. By the 2000 Census, 505,400 of the area’s 3.8 million people older than five spoke another language at home — 13.3 percent of the population. Many of these residents speak little English and are at the mercy of people who take advantage of their limited language abilities and lack of knowledge of the U.S. legal system. A NOTARY POSING AS A LAWYER Prosecutors say Holliday took advantage of linguistic confusion. In Latin American countries, a “notario” can perform many of the same services as lawyers. Holliday was a notary and took advantage of that status by giving Latin Americans the impression he could perform legal services. At trial, one of the victims, Juan Fernando Salazar, testified that he paid Holliday $6,200 to monitor his family’s requests for permanent resident status. Holliday, whom Salazar thought was “a good attorney,” said he would take the case, but he never did any work. Cobb District Attorney Patrick H. Head called Holliday’s behavior “a pretty egregious case.” “Any time you have somebody who victimizes people who can’t help themselves because they don’t know the language and don’t know the system, that’s pretty bad,” he said. On appeal, Holliday said the interpreter failed to translate witnesses’ testimonies on more than one occasion. In one instance, one of the victims testified in Spanish that when he went to Holliday’s office, there was a smell of whiskey. Though the interpreter didn’t translate the phrase, Holliday argued that one or more jurors might have understood enough Spanish to catch this “improper character evidence.” Second, an independent interpreter who reviewed the trial transcript for Holliday’s appeal said that another witness testified, again in Spanish, that an Immigration and Naturalization Service employee referred to him as “another of Mr. Holliday’s victims.” Again, this statement was not translated into English. Holliday argued that if the comment had been translated as required, the defense would have objected to the testimony. But Smith wrote that such an objection would have been unnecessary. “[E]ven assuming that one or more jurors understood the Spanish word for �whiskey’ and understood the hearsay statement concerning another of Holliday’s �victims,’ the evidence against Holliday was overwhelming,” he wrote. INTERPRETER’S QUALIFICATIONS OK’D West also argued that the trial court erred by not verifying the interpreter’s qualifications before trial. In Cobb, the court administrator’s office assigns interpreters to trials. A voir dire by the court is not done, though the judge does administer an oath in which the interpreter promises to render true and accurate translations of what’s said, without omission or embellishment. However, Smith noted that the interpreter is certified by the Georgia Supreme Court and teaches a postgraduate interpreter certification program at Georgia State University. Certified interpreters must pass a demanding national exam that includes ethics, real time interpretation and vocabulary tests. “Although, as pointed out by Holliday, the trial interpreter did not have a college degree and could not state the number of trials in which she had assisted, given her training and credentials, we cannot agree that she was not qualified to serve as a translator in Holliday’s trial,” Smith wrote. Smith wrote, however, that he doesn’t think the court has seen the last of the kind of challenges Holliday raised. “It would stand to reason that similar concerns might arise when, as here, the defendant speaks English, but the victims speak another language,” Smith wrote. “As the number of non-English-speaking individuals in the United States continues to grow, it is certainly foreseeable that courts will face serious issues related to translation.”

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