When Oscar Marino moved from Venezuela to Lawrence for college more than 30 years ago, he could take only English-as-a-second-language courses during his first semester at Kansas University. Within a decade, he was in Douglas County District Court, helping to translate terms that made up a language of their own.
Marino has been a translator in Douglas County District Court and Lawrence Municipal Court on at least a part-time basis since the early 1990s. He’s seen the growth of the county’s Spanish-speaking population and the resulting need to help bridge the language gap in court.
“It has grown exponentially,” Marino said.
Marino’s own story is like that of many longtime Lawrence residents: He intended his stay here to be short. He was 27 when he arrived one winter after leaving his hometown of Los Teques, just up the hill from Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. Marino planned to improve his English in Kansas University’s ESL program, then transfer to Kansas State University to study animal science and, later, return to Venezuela. Then he met the woman who would become his wife, Sabrina. Later she became pregnant with the first of four children. Marino decided to finish college at KU and graduated with a sociology degree.
Last year, Marino retired after 15 years as a city probation officer. Before that, he worked as a juvenile probation officer. Marino’s translating began when an attorney asked for help one day in 1991, and he soon began providing the service once or twice each week. Now, Marino said, it’s unusual if he doesn’t appear a half dozen times each week in district court and twice a week in municipal court.
Growing population, growing needs
When Marino began translating, Hispanics made up about 2.6 percent of Douglas County’s population — about 2,100 residents, according to census data. That has spiked 164 percent to more than 5,600 in 2010, about 5 percent of the county’s population.
District Judge Robert Fairchild said that though providing translation services for defendants and attorneys in Douglas County isn’t as difficult as it is in other counties with larger populations of foreign-born residents, there was a time when court officials here worried they would need to create a full-time translating position. Marino is one of three interpreters the court uses on a part-time basis, Fairchild said. James Calderon, who is certified to interpret in federal court, and Shelly Bock also interpret for the court.
Today, Fairchild said, the court budgets about $15,000 each year for translation services. Of that total, he said, more than $9,700 is spent on Spanish.
A language of its own
“Legalese” might as well be its own language, what with terms such as arraignment, subpoena, evidentiary hearing and status conference, just to scratch the surface.
“It’s a completely different language; one you don’t hear every day,” Marino said.
A stint working in a Venezuela court before moving to Lawrence helped Marino in a way he couldn’t then know.
“The advantage was I already knew the judicial language in Spanish,” he said. “For me now it’s easy. I’ve done it so long I know what’s coming.”
Marino doesn’t know how long he will keep translating. He said he will continue as long as he enjoys it. And in about five years, he said, he’d like to move to Texas. Anywhere “close to the ocean.”.