Here’s something that doesn’t happen everyday: a hearing at the federal courthouse in Wichita was continued this morning because the translator spoke the wrong African language and couldn’t communicate with the defendant.
Then again, the case of Lazare Kobagaya is anything but typical. It’s the first case involving genocide to be charged on U.S. soil. Kobagaya is charged with falsifying an immigration report, and with participating in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. One of his lawyers, Kurt Kerns, has faced threats while traveling in Africa working on the case.
Judge Monti Belot had postponed this morning’s hearing from Monday, because of travel problems with the interpreter, flying into Wichita from New York. It was supposed to be a routine status conference to help with scheduling in the complex case. Before the hearing this morning, defense attorney Melanie Morgan learned that interpreter spoke the wrong language. Her client speaks Kirundi, and the interpreter spoke Kinyarwanda. They are similar but not the same.
“I think there’s a problem with different tenses,” Morgan told the judge. Morgan said Kobagaya’s son, who was present during their conversation, pointed out that the interpreter wasn’t saying what exactly what she was telling her client.
Belot said he’s more concerned about finding a proper interpreter for the trial next spring.
The lawyers were set to take a deposition in Congo in three weeks. Kobagaya was supposed to participate by telephone. Now, even that seems in doubt. The lawyers said they would look for another interpreter and contact Belot to set up another date for the status conference, probably after the first of the year.