GIs’ defense attorney files complaint over S. Korean translators
SEOUL — A South Korean attorney representing two U.S. soldiers lodged a complaint Thursday about inadequate court-appointed translation offered to his clients the day before in Uijeongbu District Court.
Defense attorney Jin Hyo-keun, contracted by the U.S. military, requested that the court provide different English-Korean translators on Sept. 13 when his clients appear for sentencing in their unrelated cases. A U.S. military international law representative requested that Jin seek new translators, 2nd Infantry Division officials confirmed late Wednesday afternoon.
The soldiers, Pfc. Taylan Laurence Bohman and Pfc. Nicholas Acosta, expressed frustration after the Wednesday proceedings, telling their attorney that they repeatedly had to seek clarification on what the translators were trying to ask.
Judge Jung Jin-ho ordered the junior of the two-person translation team to take over the duties, even though the senior translator objected, and the defense attorney was forced to translate some of his own statements when the translators were unable to clearly communicate with the soldiers.
A court official contacted Thursday expressed embarrassment over the situation.
“It was our mistake and we are sorry for that,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She described the translators as unqualified and said they will be replaced.
U.S. Forces Korea legal officials, queried Wednesday, addressed the situation via an e-mail response Thursday.
“The U.S. military could lodge a formal complaint with the court,” read the message. “However, in this case, the defense attorney agreed to ask the court to appoint a new translator for the next session. The defense attorney, who speaks fluent English, indicated that there was no substantive harm done due to the incompetent” translation.
The USFK officials said that they’ve received a “few rare complaints” over the years from status-of-forces-agreement personnel about the performance of defense counsel or translators.
But, the e-mail stated, “the US military has been able to resolve those through informal discussions and coordination with the defendants, their defense counsel, and court authorities.”
The defense attorney said the translation was so bad Wednesday that he was tempted to demand the trial be halted. He said he didn’t do so because the soldiers have pushed for a speedy end to the process.
Acosta is supposed to attend a school and Bohman is to move from South Korea when the trial concludes, Jin said.
Neither soldier would comment on his frustration Wednesday.
But Jin said Thursday he doesn’t believe the two will be “negatively affected” by Wednesday’s proceedings.
He said he believes both Acosta and Bohman will receive suspended sentences, in large part due to the financial settlements they made with victims in their cases.
Acosta is charged with assault, illegal use of a vehicle, property damage, drunken driving and driving without a license in connection with a fight outside a bar in Dongducheon on April 15. He’s paid more than $9,000 in settlements.
Bohman is charged with assaulting South Korean men after he attempted to visit his girlfriend at a bar that hadn’t opened yet for the evening. Bohman has paid more than $18,000.
Financial settlements, common practice in South Korea’s justice system, usually lessen potential sentences.