There's No Place Like Home
by Gina Gattone, CET
They say that living abroad makes you appreciate what you have back home. Eleven years ago, I took my second trip from my home in Chicago to Argentina. I fell in love with my husband, a Spanish-Italian native of the port city, and moved to Buenos Aires a year later. It took some getting used to living in a metropolitan area of 13 million people, but we live simply, we love our neighborhood, and we have a happy little family.
Through our frequent visits and technology, I get to see my family often. But I don't think I'll ever get over missing the snow, especially during the winter holidays. And even though I can hop on a two-hour flight and be in Patagonia walking across a glacier surrounded by spectacular views with lots of ice and snow year-round, it's not the same as making snow angels in front of your own home. During the rest of the year, I miss getting in a car to go to the grocery store and being able to pick out fruits and vegetables that aren't in season. I miss waffles and doughnuts and all kinds of foods that are hard to find here. I've adapted though. I walk everywhere and eat healthier than I have in my entire life.
When my kids were old enough to start going to pre-school, I was a stay-at-home mom and wanted to find a job that was going to allow me to work at home for the short period of time that I had available; something that might allow me to use my specific skills acquired in my studies and that would keep me connected to my home in the U.S.
I have a Bachelor's degree in anthropological linguistics. At university I was taught to perform detailed linguistic transcription looking at structures and codes of the language as well as seeking out the broader meaning of the cultural significance of what is being said. With some guidance from my sister, I discovered AAERT and the field of legal transcription. It seemed like it might be a profession that would allow me to use that skill I had honed in college. Happily, legal transcription has proven to be the perfect fit for me. I became certified, and I found a job that I love. I'm constantly challenged, and I love the people with whom I work.
I notice that a lot of people see me light up when I talk about my work. So I get asked the question, "What do you do?" a lot. When I tell people that I'm a transcriptionist, I usually need to follow that up with a little explanation of the difference between transcription and translation. Sometimes I just have to say, "I type out legal hearings in the U.S. from English to English." For the most part, this subject piques a lot of people's interest. I seem to be surrounded by family and friends who are lawyers and judges, and they have lots of questions about my work because the U.S. court system is different, fascinating, and most importantly, as they say, it's honorable.
I get asked what I like about my work, and I like to tell them that it's the criminal trials. Jokingly, I tell them that nobody has ever written a "Law and Order" civil trial series for a reason. That's not to say that there are civil trials that aren't interesting. On the contrary: there are some that are downright intriguing.
There are a few odd differences that I've noticed living here in Argentina as far as lawyers, the law, and the courts are concerned. For example, here in Argentina, when one becomes a lawyer, they get the title, "doctor" because they are "juris doctors." This title stays with them whether or not they practice law. If they do go on to practice law and eventually get appointed as a judge to a certain court or "tribunal," as they call them here, they are privileged to no longer have to pay income taxes -- something that runs at about forty percent of the income here.
One really important difference is that jury trials are not available here in the same way as they are in the U.S., and just knowing that fact is quite emotional for me, especially when I have the opportunity to transcribe a jury trial.
In the Constitution of Argentina, there is a provision allowing for jury trials in certain penal cases. However, the courts are in a losing battle between their wanting to provide a jury trial according to the Constitution and limited resources and funds; judges who feel that an adequate jury would be impossible due to lack of education of the eligible participants; as well as the fear of an absolute impossibility of an impartial jury due to media (TV and newspaper) intervention. In the last two years, there have been a handful of jury trials in Argentina in the more rural provinces of Cordoba and Neuquen. The first jury trial to happen in the province of Buenos Aires took place in July of 2015. Just to be clear: literally one handful, five jury trials, have occurred in the last two years in Argentina. The Argentine Constitution does not allow for jury trials on civil cases.
Another problem that Argentina's court system must face is transparency and its history of corruption. When the most recent jury was interviewed by the newspaper "La Nacion" last year, some said that they were literally trembling with fear that they would be picked for this job. They don't know if someone is going to try to sway their judgment by threats, if they would have fear for their welfare afterwards, or even if they could handle the intense stress that comes with deciding a verdict. In Argentina, if the jury decides a guilty verdict, the defendant loses his right to an appeal.
As I look out the window of my office, I see people walking down the street and I wonder if they know their rights. They probably have thought about their rights of self-expression or their right to assemble as they love to protest anything and everything here, but they probably have given little thought to their rights of due process of law. If ever they were accused of a crime, even though the Argentine Constitution allows for a jury trial, it more than likely would not happen.
When I'm transcribing a change of plea and I hear the judge say, "You have the right to a jury trial," it makes me pause to think about the due process that I rarely gave thought to years ago. When I have the opportunity to transcribe a jury trial, I work through the frustrations of trying to understand mumbling prospective jurors, the lawyers who like to walk around the courtroom away from the microphones, and that one juror with the cough who manages to sit in front of the microphone on every jury.
All kidding aside, it reminds me of how fortunate we are in the United States to have a complicated system that protects our citizens, in comparison to other court systems throughout the world. Knowing that I am part of this honorable process not only connects me to my home, but is a fulfilling and yet humbling experience.
Gina Gattone is an AAERT Certified Electronic Transcriber.