The buildup to the mistrial in New York state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s bribery case wasn’t just courtroom drama. It became a whole megillah.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas had ordered prosecutors to turn over 93 hours of a cooperating government witness’s telephone conversations to defense attorneys because the recordings might help the defense. But complicating matters, 20% of those conversations were in Yiddish.
Though the New York region is home to more than 75% of the nation’s 159,000 Yiddish speakers, according to U.S. Census data, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has but a single interpreter on call.
That is down from five in 2009, according to Edward Friedland, the district executive for the court, which handles Manhattan, the Bronx and several counties north.
After the judge’s order, prosecutors scrambled to assemble a full team of Yiddish translators over the June 15-16 weekend to create transcripts of the calls for defense attorneys. The mistrial came last week. More.