Monday, August 24, 2009

Court Interpreters II

I just received this well-stated comment from the Brennan Center. -Carl


I just came across your 8/13/09 post on CourTex, mentioning the Brennan Center's report Language Access in State Courts. That post mentions criticism of the report by Maryland's Ksenia Boitsova, but not my response to her. In case you have not seen it, here is the text of the email I sent her:

Dear Ms. Boitsova,

I appreciate your careful reading of our report, and your suggestions for improving it.

You are right to be proud of Maryland's court interpreter program, which appears to be a model program in most respects. And the work of the Consortium is certainly deserving of praise, as we noted on pages 6 and 21 of our report. The focus of our report, however, is access to court interpreters nationally, not just in Maryland or in Consortium states. We have tried to present an accurate national picture. Although you correctly note that we did not include any court administrators on our review board, that board did include Wanda Romberger at the National Center for State Courts, who coordinates the Consortium, and Isabel Framer, who at the time was the chair of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. In addition, we interviewed court interpreter managers in 25 states, and attempted to contact one in each of the other 10 states that we studied.

Here are some responses to the specific concerns you identify:

1) Page 19, Map 2, "Who pays for interpreters": Although Maryland does not charge litigants for the cost of interpreters prior to providing the interpreters, you note that "in rare instances, and solely at the discretion of the court, interpreter costs may be assessed to the parties as part of costs of the case." That is why we characterized Maryland's policy and practice as "Whether the government pays interpreters appointed by the court and/or whether the government charges the litigant for the cost is within the court's discretion."

Additionally, although I realize that it is not in your power to prevent the courts from assessing interpreter costs at the end of a case, I want to note that the U.S. Department of Justice is quite clear that Title VI bars courts receiving federal funding from charging litigants for interpreter costs, regardless of whether the charges are assessed before or after the interpreters are provided. Pages 16-17 of my report cite numerous DOJ documents to that effect.

2) Page 72, "Court's Discretion", Maryland: Given your statement that " in rare instances, and solely at the discretion of the court, interpreter costs may be assessed to the parties as part of costs of the case," it does not seem to me to be inaccurate to state that "the statewide Court Interpreter Program Administrator assured us that costs are assessed only in rare cases."

Laura K. Abel
Deputy Director, Justice Program
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
161 Avenue of the Americas, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10013
tel: (212) 998-6737
fax: (212) 995-4550

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