There is a new player in the world of interpreting. ASL Interpreter Grades is a new review site designed to allow people give ratings to their interpreter experiences. While I have some concerns about the implementation of the site, I've been very impressed and pleased with the responsiveness to community feedback. Enough so that I took the step to list myself in their database. You can find me here to leave a rating.
But this website has me thinking deeply about the idea of public reviews and there is one aspect of our work where I don't think people should be included on a site like this. I am talking about the fakers. These are the people who put themselves out there as interpreters because they happen to know some sign language and think they can do this job. I don't think it is very fair that these people should be included in a review database alongside those of us who have invested the time, resources, and effort into our professional training and credentials. I would propose that a site like ASL Interpreter Grades offer us a Rogues' Gallery so that we had a separate listing for people who shouldn't be operating as interpreters at all.
And I have the first candidate. Jamie S. Sycamore (née Stephens)
I first came across Mr. Sycamore when working at an on-call in a courthouse. In this particular location, a large number of cases are heard and enough Deaf people come to court to warrant an on-call interpreter. I was working through the afternoon docket of cases that I knew would need my attention when I suddenly realized that a case I had expected had long since past the appointed call time. I and the dispatch coordinator called the courtroom to find out when the case would be called. We were told that the case had already happened and that Mr. Sycamore had served as the interpreter (huh?). We listened to the court recording and were able to hear that this man misrepresented himself to the court as the appropriately qualified interpreter of record. The court, when made aware of this, was seriously upset. Having a person interpret on the record when they are not qualified and was not under the purview of the court's interpreting office put the case outcome in jeopardy, which could have resulted in harm to the case participants and a waste of the court's resources in re-hearing the matter.
Apparently, Mr. Sycamore had come to court with a Deaf caseworker on a city contract (escort interpreting or designated interpreter is a thing, when properly done). The fact that he didn't know enough about our profession to know that he would be entirely unsuitable to interpret in court as the interpreter of record (conflict of interest, lack of qualification, lack of skill, etc.) is the first indication that he doesn't have the knowledge to be doing this job. On the court recording, I could hear him subvocalizing the entire time which tells me that a) he is not signing in ASL and b) doesn't know enough about court to realize how sensitive the microphones are. In addition, there were at least three times in the short interaction (about five minutes) where I could hear him speaking what he was obviously signing at the same time, which tells me that he doesn't know enough to know that Sim-Com is strictly forbidden in court settings. At least one of these Sim-Com communications was a question for clarification that he was asking on behalf of himself and not translating for the court, which tells me that he doesn't understand court proceedings in regard to not communicating directly with participants while serving as the interpreter of record.
My initial investigations revealed that he is not a member of RID nor NAD. His professional resume on LinkedIn claims that he holds the VQAS Level II/III, but we'll return to this in a moment. He also claims to have partially completed the BAI program at Gallaudet and will return to finish it (that was four years ago and he has not returned). Would you go to a doctor who had just decided that two years of medical school was good enough to get by on?
The next three encounters with Mr. Sycamore are all experienced by other colleagues, but come with recordings (as court settings do) and a reliable electronic trail to support the claims I am making here. First, a colleague forwarded me a social media conversation where Mr. Sycamore was criticized by another interpreter (in a comment on Mr. Sycamore's sharing of a photograph of himself interpreting for the DC city mayor) for accepting assignments he is not qualified to do. In an attempt to shut down that interpreter's criticism, Mr. Sycamore posted a rather pithy response, citing the "respect for colleagues" portion of RID's Code of Professional Conduct. Clearly he is familiar with the text, but seems to only want to apply the portions that work to his advantage. He has completely ignored the requirement that interpreters only accept assignment for which they are qualified, which I would venture to say are NONE considering his demonstrable lack of skill and repeated ethical violations.
The next occasion was back in that same courthouse. Only this time the interpreter on-call actually spotted him in the court. When challenged in open court, he fled the premises.
The third occasion found him working in another jurisdiction as the interpreter of record. My colleague reported to me that she was present as the "table interpreter" (which gives the Deaf participant access to counsel during proceedings) and directly challenged Mr. Sycamore lack of qualifications. She was able to witness the truly horrible work he was producing (Example: Judge says "I'll give you my findings", which was interpreted as I WILL GIVE-TO-YOU MY FIND FIND FIND. For a grassroots ASL user). He even had the nerve to ask my colleague into the hall and try and dress her down for being disrespectful towards him in front of the court for challenging him.
However, there is more to that part of the story. Because my colleague's challenge was answered by the attorney with an extensive voir dire (where they ask the interpreter to verify their credentials for the record). To which Mr. Sycamore recounted that he was qualified to do the job because he holds the Virginia Quality Assurance Screenings II/III. This is incorrect in two ways. First, the II/III are defined as "screenings" NOT as "certifications." A Level II means that only 65% of the information was accurately conveyed and the Level III means only 80% is being accurately conveyed. Neither of these credentials would have qualified him to be in court. HOWEVER, all of this is moot because an email to the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing yielded the following to me:
"Jamie Stephens had a VQAS Level III in Transliterating, Level II in Interpreting. However, those credentials expired in July of 2014." - Elaine S. Ziehl, VDDHH, VQAS/EIPA/ISP Specialist
Which means that he no longer holds this screening level. Which means he committed PERJURY.
This is the type of person I am talking about when I say that I don't fancy the idea of sharing a space online that would ostensibly hold him up as a peer in the work that I do. He is not a peer. He's been told at least three times that I know of that he is unqualified to do the work and yet he persists. He is doing a great deal of harm to our profession and to the Deaf people whose lives he is callously taking into his hands when he masquerades as a qualified interpreter. This is even more insidious than the fake interpreter at Mandela's funeral because Mr. Sycamore at least knows enough sign language to not be called an outright fraud.
But I am throwing the gauntlet down. Our licensing laws have yet to be realized and since he is not even a member of RID, I can't use their grievance process. So I will instead use the only tool I have to bring attention to this man. I offer him to you for consideration as the inaugural entry in a Rogues' Gallery.
Edit 22 JUN 15
In response to the surge of comments I've had on this post, I'd like to address three points.
1 - Defamation is a legal term that may occur via slander or libel. Both require that my statements be false. As I noted above, these incidents are matters of public record and are, therefore, not false. However, I now have heard roughly a dozen stories of worse offenses that I will not report as I do not have material to back up the claims being given to me.
2 - If you'd like yet another example of his utter inability to properly function as a professional interpreter, you can visit this appalling video.
3 - Yes, I have taken this issue as far as I can with the powers that be. However, as I am merely another interpreter and not an injured party, I lack standing to pursue direct legal action. If you have ever been on the fence about why interpreters should be licensed and regulated, then I offer this posting as testimony for why you should hop squarely on that bandwagon and work to see legislation passed in your jurisdiction.
It has come to my attention that Mr. Stephens now goes by Jamie S. Sycamore. I have update this blog to reflect the change in name.