Interpreters help provide court access

Debbie Wachter Morris
New Castle News
July 22, 2011

NEW CASTLE — There are times in the Lawrence County courts when a participant doesn’t speak or understand English.

Then the courts are responsible for hiring an interpreter for the proceeding.

Such was the case earlier this month in the court of District Judge Melissa A. Amodie, where a Spanish translator was needed to assist a man at his hearing for a traffic offense.

Translators of various languages are used in the courts to serve those who cannot speak English.

The cost is borne by the courts, and it can get quite expensive, according to Mary Kelly, a court adminstrator’s secretary who arranges for their appearances.

Kelly noted it’s a rare occurence in the district courts, such as Amodie’s. But she said she arranges for interpreters about twice a month for common pleas court — mostly for family cases.

“I think we’re going to start seeing more of it,” Amodie said.

She explained that, by law, the courts have to provide intepreters, because everyone has to have fair access to the courts.

She recalls once having arraigned a woman by telephone, who spoke only Russian and needed a translator.

It can be a difficult process, because the courts have to talk directly to the defendants, instead of addressing the interpreter, Amodie said. Then the interpreter translates what the judge or other court officials say.

“We’re lucky we haven’t had to do it more,” she said, because of the cost.

The interpreters must be specially trained and certified through the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts, explained Michael Occhibone, Lawrence County’s court administrator.

“It’s getting to be more frequent,” he added.

“Once they are on a case, they stay with a case,” he said of the interpreters. And in the event a case has multiple proceedings, the interpreter is needed for all of them.

Although the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts has a list of translators on its Web site, Kelly arranges for them through an agency called Languages by Nicole in Industry, Pa., which has all state-certified interpreters.

The cost is $75 per hour, plus mileage.

The translator’s recent bill for the traffic hearing at Amodie’s office was $292.71.

There are times Kelly also must hire someone certified in sign language, and she uses a different Pittsburgh agency for those interpreters.

She has a Vietnamese interpeter arranged for this week and a Cambodian translator for Aug. 29, both for family court.

Other interpreters available speak Arabic, Armenian, Cantonese, French, German, Hindi, Hmong, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog and Thai.

Kelly noted she has to keep close watch over when court proceedings are canceled or postponed so she can notify the interpreter as soon as possible, because they require 48 hours notice for cancellation. Otherwise their charge applies.

She recalled a day last winter when there was a heavy snowfall and she was forced to cancel the translator for the proceeding within 24 hours. She said the courts were billed for it anyway.