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In praise of Patricia Rosell, a great woman and interpreter

Highly-rated Northern Virginia criminal defense attorney on the art of language interpreting and the greatness of interpreter Patricia Rosell

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When waking in the morning, it is time to be open for all sorts of magic and delights ahead.

In 1999, I headed to a deposition of my Spanish-speaking client before my law practice became almost entirely criminal defense, which it now is. I asked the opposing lawyer in advance whom he had chosen as the interpreter, and he cavalierly dismissed the question, saying something along the lines of: “The interpreter is bilingual in Spanish and English. That is good enough.”

To the contrary. Language interpretation is an art that requires coming as close to being an objective and accurate conveyor of meaning and nuance from language A to B and back from language B to A, even when the situation becomes heated and people are talking or even shouting over each other. No room is available for the interpreter to be daydreaming or asleep at the wheel. The interpreter — interpretation is oral and translation is on paper — must be like an eagle hawk capturing all the words, meanings, nuance, and speakers’ personas, and interpreting them along the way without missing a beat with each new word, idea and meaning that unfold.

As fortune would have it, our interpreter on that 1999 day was Patricia Rosell (703-266-8505/rosellpat@yahoo.com), who not only is an interpretation wizard but also has a heart and compassion of gold that lets the Spanish speakers’ meaning and persona flow all the better. On this 1999 day, I had never yet heard of Pat (here interpreting for Sammy Sosa in 2005), whom to this day is hard to find through a Google search, except for today’s blog entry hopefully changing all that. I started the deposition asking Pat about her interpreting background and skills, and she answered flawlessly, perhaps chuckling inside with the knowledge that each of her answers would sell me on her interpreting excellence all the more, which they did. Pat became my go-to Spanish interpreter, which is a true accomplishment, because I have high standards for any interpreter I select, as with any professional I hire.

Now that my law practice is mostly criminal defense and my Spanish-speaking abilities enable me to converse in basic Spanish, I rarely need to hire a Spanish interpreter, because the courts pay for interpreters in criminal cases. However, I need to keep on my toes about interpreters, because some poor quality ones sometimes slip through the review process. It is one thing for me to catch that with a language I speak (French and Spanish) but involves more awareness with languages I do not, when I focus all the more to pay attention to what the interpreter is saying and doing, how my client is reacting, and what my client is saying, after I urge my client to make clear when the interpreter is not sufficiently helpful.

I ask interpreters questions before they even start interpreting, including to the Spanish interpreter who was assigned to interpret in my Portuguese-speaking client’s criminal case. I asked the interpreter about his Portuguese-speaking skills and he dismissively insisted that he simply picked Portuguese up, without ever having stepped foot in a Portuguese-speaking country nor having formally studied Portuguese. Certainly, one can learn a language well without formal study nor going to the country of origin, but to boot my experience over time with this interpreter was that somewhere along the line, he had become insensitive to the plights of criminal defendants, and that insensitivity plus my questioning his Portuguese interpretation skills led me successfully to seek a trial date continuance to get the right Portuguese interpreter to court.

Sensitivity is critical for successful language interpretation. Once I was recommended to a Spanish interpreter who can sail through any interpretation exam, but he comes across as a technocrat with insufficient sensitivity to sufficiently convey the meaning and persona of the speaker. A transcript will show that this interpreter is interpreting with high skill, but his distant manner of speaking and communicating will not help me humanize my client, which is critical to do in court. Pat Rosell keeps that humanity flowing.

As good fortune had it, Patricia Rosell regularly interprets in the Fairfax County, Virginia, courthouse across the street from me. What a stroke of fortune for me and any other lawyer and criminal defendant whose case she handles.

As a bonus, I have learned some fascinating bits and pieces from Pat about her life and knowledge beyond interpreting. Pat learned  Spanish in her native Cuba, and knows about the late Dizzy Gillespie’s love of Afro-Cuban music and his visits to Cuba. Of course, what would Paquito D’Rivera say about Dizzy’s warm encounter with Fidel Castro in 1977? (minute 00:50).

Courthouses can threaten to feel like over-institutionalized, numbingly case-churning places. I delight when bumping into such true humans as Patricia in the courthouse hallways and courtrooms.

With Pat’s permission, I list her contact information: 703-266-8505, rosellpat@yahoo.com .

Deeply thanking and bowing to Patricia Rosell.


  1. Patricia Rosell on January 22, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    I thank you so much, again, Jon!!! Happened to read this now. You have me crying!!! You are the BEST!!!
    Huge ABRAZOS!!!

    • Jon Katz on March 20, 2019 at 8:56 pm

      Pat- You rock. Jon