CFI to JC: Interpreters do it better in person

SAN FRANCISCO – About two dozen interpreters wearing red filled up the Judicial Council gallery Friday morning to push for extending language services to court users in civil matters and caution against the misuse of Video Remote Interpreting.

CFI members stood and held signs that read “Interpreters do it better in person” before a Judicial Council working group presented on their efforts to develop a language access plan that would include the use of Video Remote Interpreting.

Implementing Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), which involves an interpreter being at a different site than the court or parties, would come at a great cost to taxpayers and linguistic minorities, former CFI president Alex Abella told the Council. (Read CFI’s VRI position here. See letters of support from other organizations here.)

“This is an unproven and poorly adapted replacement for the best language access now available — a real, live interpreters in the courtroom,” Abella said. ”Nonetheless, if appropriately deployed to ensure access, the interpreters would not oppose this for interviews with attorneys and probation officers and out-of-court communications.”

California’s Judiciary organized the Joint Working Group for California’s Language Access after the Department of Justice insisted the state begin extending interpreter services to civil court matters. The DOJ found the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Judicial Council and the Superior Court of Los Angeles failed to comply with federal civil rights laws by not giving all Limited English Proficient court users access to interpreters.

Justice Maria Rivera, co-chair of the Judicial Council working group, told the Council they hope to present a draft plan on language access by next June.

The goal is to have public hearings with the opportunity to submit written comments in spring 2014 and the final statewide language access plan prepared by December 2014, with gradual phase in of interpreter services by case type.

Judge Steven Austin added that incorporating technological solutions such as VRI into the language access plan would offer the Judicial Branch “significant cost savings.”

San Francisco Superior Court interpreter Daniel Navarro urged the Council to instead focus on using the expertise of interpreters and rely on in person language professionals.

“Streamline coordination to make is available for ancillary services. Analyze the unmet need in civil and what it will require using on-site interpreters. Let us train bilingual staff. Create interpreter, translator, and management positions. Because without a job a pipeline, language access simply will not float,” he said.

During the meeting, CFI Legislative Advocate Ignacio Hernandez reminded the Council that they can and should take action now by using unspent funds in the interpreter budget to provide interpreters in civil matters, thus beginning to comply with the DOJ’s recommendations.

“The Council is still sitting on about $14 million in carryover money in the state interpreter fund that has not been expended. We have asked for the money to be expended for …interpreters in civil cases,” he said.

During the latest legislative session CFI sponsored a bill calling for use of that money to fund a pilot project of interpreters for  civil cases, but the governor vetoed it earlier this month. Although CFI’s legislative committee worked with Judicial Council and AOC staff to negotiate several amendments the wanted made to the bill, in the end the Council didn’t support the bill and even expressed concerns to the governor about it, Hernandez said.

“Because of that, individuals, limited English speakers are worse off than they would’ve been had the bill been signed,” he told the Council.

Read the closed captioning of the meeting here.

Watch what interpreters had to say about VRI and bargaining on this video by Guild Freelancers member Steve Zeltzer here.

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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.