Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

National Court Management Conference Includes Discussion About Interpretation

Fulfilling the increasing demand for language services is a challenge faced by courts at every level across the United States.

Court managers gathered in Savannah, Georgia this week for a national conference and shared ideas about how to meet this challenge.

“Our state has the second-largest population of Burmese speakers outside of Burma,” said David J. Remondini, chief deputy executive director for the Indiana court system. “As you probably know, there is no national certification test for Burmese, and so this is a difficulty for us.”

Take the case of Sioux Falls, South Dakota: population 160,000. In 2012, the Sioux Falls courts handled cases involving more than 45 different languages, according to Karl E. Thoennes III, court administrator for South Dakota’s Second Judicial Circuit. These ranged from the more well-known such as Spanish to obscure tongues like Kurdish and the West African native language Wolof.

Thoennes led the session titled “Immigration and Limited English Proficiency,” at the National Association for Court Management 2014 Midyear Conference in Savannah.

Thoennes discussed how courts commonly think of their obligation to provide interpreters as being limited to criminal trials, but increasingly there is a demand for everything from small claims cases to family court to simple inquiries at the front counter.

By far the most common challenge raised by court managers was cost. Particularly in rural courts in states like Texas, courts around the country are struggling to find ways to pay for language services.

Participants in the discussion shared innovative solutions that are being implemented, including remote interpretation and other technological solutions.

Ohio courts accommodate approximately 80 languages and handle more than 25,000 cases per year that require interpreters. State and federal law require that courts ensure the people in these cases can understand the proceedings.

The Ohio Supreme Court has put in place a comprehensive program for assisting local courts in providing interpretation services. The program includes:

  • A statewide language line that will enable courts to connect with live interpreters.
  • Bench reference cards that have been distributed to all Ohio judges to provide guidance in handling cases that require an interpreter.
  • A training video for judges and court personnel that explains Ohio’s interpretation rule and how to achieve compliance.
  • A public information campaign that includes a website, brochures, posters and other material to inform litigants and others about rights and responsibilities in the area of language proficiency in the courts.

Other programs at the NACM Midyear conference included a keynote address about effective leadership, a session on operational-based performance management, and breakout sessions on providing access to justice through technology, managing a diverse workplace, assisting self-represented litigants, and courtroom videoconferencing.

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