Court Interpreter Goes the Distance
Catherine Piña Arrieta
Catherine Piña Arrieta
Catherine Piña Arrieta came to the United States at age 15 from Venezuela not speaking a word of English. Her family settled in Perrysburg, Ohio, after her dad received a promotion as a chemist and engineer with Owens-Illinois. In Ohio, Arrieta said she received the best education possible as her high school provided her with an interpreter.
That experience led Arrieta wanting to become a professional interpreter. Already fluent in her native Spanish, Arrieta learned English, French, and Italian and became proficient in Portuguese. Arrieta put those skills to use and became a court interpreter with Cleveland Municipal Court and travels to Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court for additional assignments.
“As soon as I became a U.S. citizen, I wanted to give back my newly acquired skills to the U.S. government and its effort in protecting Title VI and constitutional rights,” Arrieta said.
The Ohio Supreme Court began certifying court interpreters in 2010, and in 2013 after adopting new rules, all Ohio courts are required to use certified foreign language or sign language interpreters when available to ensure equal access to justice to all deaf and limited English proficient individuals in court proceedings.
Arrieta began working in 2003 as a court interpreter before there were certification requirements. She worked on assignment with two language agencies: International Institute and International Language Source.
“I will never forget my first assignment in Lucas County Domestic Relations Court in Toledo,” Arrieta said. “It was a divorce trial. I did my best to prepare but once I got there, I knew that in order to be true to the oath of interpreting everything accurately, completely, and impartially, I needed more training on the modes of interpretation and terminology.”
Arrieta kept busy during the next 10 years. She traveled across the state and worked in all types of courts. Then she learned about the Supreme Court’s new interpreter program, and she immediately started attending training sessions. She later became state certified in Spanish and hopes to become state certified in French this year.
“I was glad to be given the opportunity so that I could be an example to other interpreters that they can also make this into a career and even become trainers for others,” Arrieta said. “I feel that we can become pioneers in the profession here in Ohio.”
Ohio courts handle more than 25,000 cases per year that require a court interpreter. The Supreme Court’s Language Services Program certifies court interpreters in 20 languages. Program Manager Bruno Romero said it’s designed to provide services, training, resources, and policy recommendations to improve equal access to courts in cases involving limited English proficient and deaf individuals. The interpreters are required to pass written and oral tests.
“Court interpreters are crucial for providing equal access to justice,” Romero said. “They become the voice of the litigant as they must interpret everything that is said or written without editing. Interpreters are not allowed to give advice or an opinion in the case they are helping with.”
“We have become so in demand and the need for interpreters currently is great,” Arrieta said. “The biggest challenge in my court is to cover the vast need of interpretations daily.”
Cleveland Municipal Court recently hired a fourth court interpreter due to the high demands, and Arrieta credits Administrative and Presiding Judge Ronald B. Adrine with being so supportive with the growing need.
Judge Adrine has been close to the Supreme Court’s language services program for a long time as he was chair of the program from 2005 to 2010. Before that Judge Adrine also chaired the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness. In 1999, the commission issued a report and one of the recommendations included a model rule for the appointment of interpreters in legal proceedings. This recommendation later became Rule 88. His work in this area spans over 20 years.
Judge Adrine’s said interpreters are vital to safeguarding people’s rights, and that’s why the municipal court has invested in so many.
“For me it’s a no brainer. When an individual is in a courtroom setting and can’t understand what’s going on in front of them, they have no way at all to get due process,” Judge Adrine said. “Everybody, regardless of where they are from or what language they speak – it’s imperative that we make that happen for people.”
Besides protecting litigants, Judge Adrine said interpreters also help uphold judgments as they protect the court record by making sure an individual is properly represented.
Arrieta started at Cleveland Municipal Court in 2009 and estimates that she has participated in more than 6,000 hearings in Spanish, French, and Italian. Though she’s stationed in Cleveland, Arrieta also travels to six other courts across the state to lend her expertise. She uses her vacation time to take on these assignments.
Arrieta shows these court employees the Ohio court interpreter roster and tells them about the Supreme Court’s language services program.
“I go to become a resource for different counties and encourage courts to use certified interpreters when available,” Arrieta said. “I also know that I can learn a lot from the different courts and the different procedures being done.”
Arrieta continues to study for court certifications in different languages. Besides being state certified in Spanish, she recently passed her federal written test in Spanish and will soon take her oral exams. If she receives a passing score, Arrieta said she believes she would become the third federally certified interpreter in the state and could then work in federal courts and other state courts across the country.
“I will work as hard as I can to accomplish the goal of being certified in my other languages of expertise and become a resource for any who are interested in the profession,” Arrieta said. “It is such a privilege to do what I do now for a living. I feel that the sky is the limit.”
Contact Arrieta if interested in observing a trial or court proceedings with a court interpreter or attending additional trainings with the Community and Court Interpreters of the Ohio Valley.
For more information about becoming a certified court interpreter, contact the Language Services Program.
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