CART in the Court: Setting a Standard

Peter Wacht

On December 7, 1995, Camille Jones, a disability services specialist, became the first person with hearing loss to sit on a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court, thanks to the communication access realtime translation provided by Jacquie Gutierrez, RDR, CRR, CRC.

"It was both exciting and frightening," says Jones. "The thrill was in being able to do something I had always wanted to do but couldn't because of my hearing disability. I learned so much about the judicial process and responsibilities of serving as a juror. The scary part was being in uncharted waters, not knowing what to expect or how both courthouse staff and fellow jurists would perceive me."

To even get to this point was a struggle for Jones. At the time, both Jones and Gutierrez were feeling their way, as no guidelines for the provision of CART in the courts existed. The official reporter acted as the interpreter. Why even make the effort? The answer lies in a letter of appreciation Jones wrote to her assigned courtroom judge, Candace Cooper:

"A fellow jurist asked me in the Assembly Room why I was doing this if I had the option, like I always had to do in the past, of excusing myself by writing a note stating that I could not hear. She said I might be enjoying the experience this time, but it will be a major inconvenience in the future. I responded that I wanted to have the same experiences my friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors have, disabled or not, and if they have to be inconvenienced by some of these experiences, then I can be also."


Breaking new ground

Jones ran into some rough spots during her jury duty, in part because the application of the technology was still relatively new and many of those involved were not accustomed to seeing this service in the courts. For Gutierrez, it was a nerve-racking experience. She was fairly new to the court and didn't have much experience dealing with the judges. And the first judge Gutierrez interacted with was less than pleased to see Jones in his courtroom.

"He was extremely unreceptive, asking me things like, 'Why doesn't the juror just say she can't serve?' and 'How much is the county paying you to do this?'" says Gutierrez.

Fortunately, Jones escaped that panel. Judge Cooper's courtroom proved more welcoming. "It was like night and day," says Gutierrez. "The judge was excited to have us there, gave me all the set-up time I wanted, provided me with a witness list, and even asked where I would like to sit with the juror. What a relief! Camille ultimately got on that panel, and we sat together for a nine-day criminal trial.

"The only difficulty from there on out was hauling the equipment in and out of the courtroom expediently so as not to interfere with the discussions held out of the presence of the jurors. Camille helped me carry the equipment out of the courtroom every time."

Jury deliberations were another challenge for Gutierrez. "I was petrified about the jury deliberations at first, but the panel was very well behaved. I asked them to sit in the same seats throughout deliberations and assigned each seat a number. I then programmed my dictionary so that when I wrote that number, the juror's first name would come up. This made it easier for Camille to communicate with them on a first-name basis, as jurors always do in the deliberation room. If things got too fast, Camille would be the one to speak up and say, 'Please, one at a time. I can't read that fast.'"


Establishing the guidelines

With CART becoming a more common tool for giving people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing access to the judicial system, the Los Angeles County Superior Court moved forward in establishing a policy regarding the provision of CART in its courtrooms. The CART policy now in place results from the joint effort of court management and the Los Angeles County Court Reporters Association.

"The impetus in developing these guidelines is that the Superior Court determined that it would be inappropriate for the official reporter responsible for making the verbatim record to be concurrently acting in the role of interpreter because of differing needs," explains Terry Weiss, manager of court reporter services. This perspective coincides with NCRA's Guidelines for professional practice which state that in a legal setting the court reporter should refrain from working in the dual capacity of official reporter and CART captioner at the same time. When no other option exists, the role to be performed is that of the official reporter, and all present are entitled to read the display. "A further impetus in developing these guidelines is that the Superior Court had a backlog of hearing-impaired individuals needing CART waiting to serve as jurors."

The Los Angeles County Court Reporters Association accepted the task. "I met with Jacquie and had her literally take me step-by-step through the process she had experienced with Camille," explains Katy Ingersoll. By that time, Gutierrez had provided CART for plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses, so she incorporated that knowledge as well. Ingersoll also researched the law, rules of court, the professional ethics, and the role of the court interpreter adopted by the Judicial Council of California, and spoke with interpreters and those in the courts who would be affected by the policy. As Ingersoll points out, "The CART reporter would no longer be the official court reporter. In fact, the CART reporter would be governed by rules and laws affecting interpreters."

Gutierrez and Ingersoll then put the narration into a policy-type format and sat down with Juanita Blankenship, then administrator of litigation support services (now retired), to ensure the language would pass close scrutiny by administrators and judges. They then met with Paul Runyon, administrator of litigation support services; Gregg Drapac, manager of interpreter services; Blankenship; Gary Cramer, president of LACCRA; and several other stakeholders. "I had to defend line by line every item in the policy, explaining why it was necessary in assisting a hearing-impaired person," says Gutierrez.

The resulting policy, which has been in place since 1999, has led to some benefits not only for the court and those needing access, but also for the court reporters providing CART. "The court benefits by providing a much-needed service to the community and assists the court in meeting the ADA requirements," says Weiss. "Feedback from reporters has indicated that providing CART services is a rewarding experience."


CART training

To ensure full understanding of the guidelines, Weiss manages the training of the CART captioners, which includes a one-day program that covers policy issues, ethics and conduct, and several other areas. Then comes a review of the CART procedures, with Gutierrez providing copies of actual court proceedings: One written as an official reporter would, another written as a CART captioner/interpreter would.

"There are several differences in writing for a hearing-impaired person," says Gutierrez. "Most of them involve ease of reading. We emphasize the importance of fingerspelling if something is not in the reporter's dictionary. We make sure they have auto-includes for things like the juror oath and swearing a witness so that these will come up quickly and error-free. We also give them suggestions for identifying the jurors individually by seat. It is not acceptable to just write 'PROSPECTIVE JUROR' when they are already seated in the box. The juror can't necessarily follow who's speaking. These are just some of the things we do, but it's basically a re-thinking process.

"Finally, we take them into a courtroom, and I give them suggestions as to where to set up their equipment, which depends on where the juror is on the random list and where the electrical outlets are. We emphasize being assertive about your needs, but never rude. The rest is a pep talk, telling the reporters how rewarding it will be - and, believe me, it is!"

And what are the requirements for participating in the training? "A reporter must be writing realtime," says Weiss. "During the training we emphasize no untranslates and fingerspelling in order to eliminate possible untranslates and being able to global on-the-fly. Reporters must be willing to demonstrate to the court their realtime capabilities. The guidelines provide a framework for providing the service for being an interpreter."

The Superior Court currently calls in one person with hearing loss every other week to serve as a juror. Thirteen reporters have completed the CART captioner/interpreter training, with 27 more reporters scheduled for the next training session.

However, the training isn't just for the court reporters. Runyon, Weiss and Gutierrez began the process of meeting with bench officers to introduce them to CART and explain the differences between the official reporter and the CART captioner/interpreter. In addition, they developed brochures for the bench officer, judicial assistant (clerk) and the person in need of CART services.

For example, for judicial assistants, the brochure reminds that the captioner/interpreter should be sworn in with the following oath: "You do solemnly swear or affirm to accurately translate English into realtime translation to the best of your ability, so help you God?" For CART participants, the brochure explains that the captioner/interpreter will:

  • Demonstrate the software.
  • Interpret juror orientation.
  • Advise of all announcements.
  • Accompany the juror to any assigned courtroom.
  • Translate all proceedings in a courtroom through deliberations and verdict.

The captioner/interpreter will not:

  • Engage in personal conversations.
  • Answer any trial-related questions.

An immediate benefit

The development of the CART guidelines and the program for training CART captioner/interpreters had a direct and immediate benefit for those involved. Jones had the opportunity to serve as a juror on a second trial, "entering into the experience with confidence in knowing that the accommodation was readily available to me, and that I had the right to request and receive it. CART enables me to accurately follow the court proceedings and testimonies, and to participate actively in deliberations with fellow jurists. Because of the captioning, I was able to achieve my goal of experiencing a sense of pride from participating in a system that every American should identify with and feel a responsibility toward."

And for the CART captioner? "As a CART captioner/interpreter, you are someone's link to the hearing world," explains Gutierrez. "They are so grateful and appreciative. Any of our officials who have been a CART captioner/interpreter have discovered this incredible feeling of really being needed and wanted. If only we could get this kind of a boost every day in the courtroom."

About the author

Pete Wacht was NCRA's Senior Director, Communication and Public Affairs


Developing model guidelines for CART in the nation's courts

The National Court Reporters Foundation and the American Judges Foundation developed model guidelines to be used systemwide for the provision of CART in the nation's courts. Individual courts or court systems can then customize the guidelines to meet their individual circumstances. Using the Los Angeles County Superior Court guidelines as a foundation, these national guidelines will:

  • Define CART and explain the duties of the CART captioner
  • List the equipment required for the provision of effective CART service
  • Set forth standards of ethics and professional responsibility
  • Develop guidelines for training and education programs for the court reporter and court personnel
  • Explain how citizens can request the services of a CART captioner
  • Establish procedures and protocol for the interaction of the CART captioner with the hard-of-hearing or deaf citizen and court personnel  
  • Describe the appropriate procedure for providing CART service not only in the courtroom during the trial, but also in the jury assembly room, the jury deliberation room, witness interviews and other judicial environments where communication access is necessary.


CART captioner guidelines

The Los Angeles County Superior Court ADA-CART Procedures manual sets out the behavior expected of a court reporter functioning as a CART captioner/interpreter during the judicial process. Section 2.0 lists the functions and duties:

In order to ensure and protect the rights of the deaf or hearing-impaired individual to full communication access, the CART captioner/interpreter shall not function in a dual capacity of the official reporter and CART captioner/interpreter.

The CART captioner/interpreter shall act solely as the interpreter for the deaf or hearing-impaired individual, adhering to the statutes, rules and standards governing court interpreters.

The official court reporter in the courtroom shall act as the sole individual responsible for reporting the official court record, adhering to the statutes and rules governing official reporters.

[Note: The official reporter may be called upon to provide realtime communication access for a deaf or hearing-impaired individual observing court proceedings. In this instance, the official court reporter shall not be recognized as the CART captioner/interpreter.]

2.1 The CART captioner/interpreter is required to interpret for the deaf or hearing-impaired individual:
2.1.1 spoken language through realtime text
[Note: The CART captioner/interpreter is expected to interpret in as close to a verbatim form as English style, syntax and grammar will allow.]
2.1.2 translation of auditory events heard by hearing participants, which may include:
2.1.2(A) spontaneous statements of individuals or laughter
2.1.2(B) indications of extreme tone or emotion in a voice, such as choking, sarcasm, a raised voice
2.1.2(C) sounds in the hearing environment which participants would react to, such as a fire alarm, a loud bang or buzzing noise
2.1.3 interviews with the deaf or hearing-impaired individual

Section 5.3 explains the CART captioner/interpreter's responsibilities:

The CART captioner/interpreter is expected to conduct himself/herself in accordance with the Standards of Judicial Administration adopted by the California Judicial Council and the Professional Ethics and the Role of the Court Interpreter.
The CART captioner/interpreter shall:
5.3.1 report all proceedings verbatim [Reference Section 2.1]
5.3.2 request clarification through the court if words are not heard or understood
5.3.3 delete daily interpretation (realtime text) from computer
5.3.4 interpret (report) all readback by the official court reporter
5.3.5 advise the deaf or hearing-impaired individual of the CART captioner/interpreter's neutral responsibility
5.3.6 collect all equipment at the end of the proceedings and quietly exit the courtroom
[Note: The CART captioner/interpreter is not required to accompany the deaf or hearing-impaired individual during breaks and recesses unless ordered by the court.]
The CART captioner/interpreter shall not:
5.3.7 divulge any information gained during the course of daily duties
5.3.8 read back the interpretation (realtime text) to anyone unless ordered by the court
5.3.9 communicate with the deaf or hearing-impaired individual personal thoughts or opinions