Changes at Town Court

Tekulsky, a new clerk, and interpreters step in
Emily Grunewald, center, with her fellow court clerks just days before her retirement last month, after 23 years on the job. From the left were Nicole Shipman, Michelle Field, Tamara Palmer, Ms. Gruenwald, Jennifer Anderson, Betsy Martin, and Jennifer Salsedo. T.E. McMorrow

       East Hampton Town Justice Steven Tekulsky, who was elected to the bench in November, began his new career yesterday, filling in for Justice Lisa R. Rana, who took the day off after having been on call every day since Dec. 20, the final day on the bench for the retiring Justice Catherine Cahill. His first week on the bench begins Saturday, when he will be on call for arraignments, and his first scheduled court day is Monday, when zoning and civil cases are heard. Traffic violations constituted the bulk of the court agenda yesterday.

        But Justice Tekulsky is far from the only first-timer in the administration of justice at Town Hall. He will be joined on Monday by Jennifer Salsedo, replacing Emily Grunewald, who retired as court clerk after 23 years.

       Another change, which was immediately put into place on Jan. 1, is the employment of two state certified court interpreters, Ana Kestler and Christie Jimenez-Lee. Five defendants were brought into the court to be arraigned in front of Justice Rana that day, none of whom spoke English. Ms. Kestler was their interpreter.

       Just days before her retirement as court clerk, Ms. Grunewald described her job. “I am the civil clerk. I do all the small claims proceedings, evictions, and things like that.” Ms. Grunewald said, the same role Ms. Salsedo will fill.

       “Justice Cahill was the assistant district attorney back then,” Ms. Grunewald said last week about her first day on the job, which was supposed to be temporary, in 1990. “Justice Edward Horne and Justice James Ketcham were the judges.” 

       “We are all very close in here. We are like family.” The key to being a successful clerk? “I like the public. I like people,” Ms. Grunewald said. “I don’t have any real set plans,” she said about the future. She paused, then said, “We’re taking Emma, my granddaughter, to Disney World.”

       On Ms. Kestler’s first day as an interpreter on New Year’s Day, arraignments before Justice Rana went smoothly. Ms. Kestler stood slightly behind each defendant, speaking almost simultaneously in English as the defendants spoke in Spanish, or in Spanish as the justice spoke.

       The process for becoming a certified interpreter in the state is arduous, but once certified an interpreter can work in any state court. Besides Wednesdays and Thursdays, the busiest days in court in East Hampton, Ms. Kestler will fill in for arraignments on other days and will continue to work in Family Court in Central Islip and Criminal Court in Riverhead. Ms. Jimenez-Lee will be the interpreter for civil cases, on Mondays.

       “There are a series of tests. First writ ten, then oral,” Ms. Kestler said. The key is to interpret automatically. “It does take a little training to get to that point,” she said. The danger is in the pause. Interpolation is off limits for an interpreter, as is emotion. “You can’t feel empathy,” she said. It is the interpreters’ job to be a conduit for information, without ever filtering it.

       With the new interpreters coming in, Marcella Luke, who had been a part-time interpreter for the court for 17 years, found herself without a job. She expressed unhappiness about this last week, saying she had wanted to stay on even though she is not certified. Tania Valverde remains an fill-in interpreter on weekends, as needed.

       Changes are also coming to the Justice Court’s website and phone system. Both sitting justices have expressed a strong desire to streamline and improve online and on-the-phone communication with the public and attorneys, with basic links for standard information, such as directions and hours. The court’s web page became hard to find on Jan. 2, with a link missing from the town’s home page. It had not been restored by yesterday morning.