Translator bridges language gap in court

When Spanish-speaking defendants go before a judge in Mohave County, they will probably find Vilma Weigand standing next to them.

The first few months that Weigand worked as an interpreter with the county's court system in 1992, there were no calls for her service.

Now, she averages about 10 hours a week, serving as an official interpreter for Mohave County Superior Court; the Kingman, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City justice courts; and the county's municipal courts.

Some weeks, she is called in every day to translate English into Spanish for criminal defendants.

She said she has seen a steady increase of defendants who speak only Spanish.

She also serves as a translator for the Mohave County Attorney's Office, the county public defender and legal defender's offices as well as private attorneys.

"You need to have a neutral party there," Weigand said.

"I'm not an employee of the court.

Basically I work for the judge."

Weigand translates everything the defendant says in court even if it is something that could incriminate them in court.

She says she abides by a code of ethics.

Any advice a Spanish- speaking defendant seeks from her she refers to their attorney.

"I'm a link, a liaison," she said.

"I'm a bridge between two parties who don't understand each other.

That is a great service."

During a courtroom proceeding, she added, serving as a translator can be a "brain challenge."

Trials are more tiring because of their length.

After a trial, she will ask jurors if she had been in the way.

Almost always they will say no.

"You have to pay attention," she said.

"You have to be fast translating one language into another."

She also translates for Spanish-speaking parents of juvenile offenders.

Generally, juveniles speak English while their parents do not.

Common problems she faces in court are noisy or talkative people in the audience.

More than once she has stopped proceedings to tell the offender to be quiet.

She also does not like to work in the antique, third-story courtroom of superior court because of the acoustics.

Weigand would also like to see attorneys trained in working with a translator, possible every two years, to account for turnover rate by attorneys.

While translating, attorneys or defendants will commonly look at her, including her in the loop of their conversation.

She prefers that they look at each other, she said.

"I'm just a voice," she said.

She said someone who speaks Spanish as his or her native language would have an easier time as a translator than someone whose primary language was English.

To better help her with her translation, she keeps of dictionary of criminal medical or business terminology.

"I will do this until my brain stops working," she said.

When she isn't translating for the courts, she works recruiting child-care providers for home child care in Mohave and La Paz counties.

Weigand, born and raised in Nicaragua, moved to Kingman in 1991.

She previously lived in Denmark, Spain and Scotland before moving to this country where she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in biology.

She is surprised how many people think that her native country is located in South America.

Some people even think she is from Africa.

Spanish in Nicaragua is generally the same as Spanish spoken in Mexico except for some words.

She even taught Spanish at Mohave Community College but did not like the experience.

"It was too demanding," she said.

With her biology degree, her ideal job is to translate medical information to Spanish speaking patients at a hospital.

Ironically, her 15-year-old son does not speak Spanish.

He spoke Spanish until he was 2 or 3 years old.

Then for several months he did not speak at all, drawing concerns from day care staff.

It is common for children, raised in one language who then learn another, not to speak for a while, she said.