Shiny New SC Court Interpreter Policy and Procedure

Between the Labor Day weekend and Hurricane Dorian’s threat to our coast, you may have missed the news.  The South Carolina Judicial Branch issued its first ever Court Interpreter Policy and Procedure Guide. Compared with other state court standard practice guides, it is less than 60 pages.

Who needs to become familiar with this Guide?  Everyone in and using the court system who will need an interpreter. Page 6 indicates that the Guide will assist judges, solicitors, public defenders, lawyers, court reporters, and court interpreters.  What are the highlights that will hold you over until you can read the 53-page Guide?

The bullet points in Chapter 1, Section II reviews the three modes of interpreting: simultaneous, consecutive, and sight. It is vital that judges, lawyers, and court reporters familiarize themselves with court interpreter practice.  Sight mode requires time for the court interpreter to read and comprehend the short document, mentally translate its meaning, apply target language grammar, syntax, and semantics, and then generate the rendition orally.  This will help the other officers of the court understand why there is or isn’t a pause in interpretation. 

You can find the Interpreter Oath in the Appendix on page 35.

Chapter 1, Section III paragraph 2 and Section IV paragraph 3, and Chapter 2, Section III, paragraph 1 state that court interpreting service scheduling is done through the Clerk of Court. The bullet points in Chapter 2, Section VIII state that cases requiring interpreters should be heard first so other courtrooms and courthouses may be served by the interpreter.  Additionally, judges should embrace grouping interpreter cases by foreign and sign languages.  Sometimes a judge has to wait until the interpreter completes an assignment in another courtroom.  Why is that better for the SC Judicial Branch’s budget?  I have personally seen two interpreters scheduled in the morning for Family Court, when only one would suffice.  Is that a problem?  First, the court needlessly wastes twice as much on interpreters in Family Court. Second, if General Sessions Court couldn’t locate an interpreter, an LEP party had a matter continued unnecessarily.  If that party remains incarcerated while possibly being a candidate for pretrial release, due process rights are violated, not to mention incurring unwarranted incarceration expenses for state and county taxpayers.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin.  SC Code of Laws §1-13-20 prohibits discrimination based on national origin and disability.  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability.  Now that we have this Guide, is there any danger of violating the due process rights of LEP, deaf, and hard of hearing individuals (who may have attorneys or are self-represented)? You betcha, every day!  Here they are:

  • Federal and state discrimination laws regarding national origin and disability
  • Timely language access assistance and processing of LEP people’s matters
  • Unessential continuances of LEP people’s cases
  • Needless incarceration of non-English speakers due to continuances
  • Court interpreter directory not available online
  • Certified court interpreters not prominently indicated in the directory, the only interpreters who have demonstrated minimum proficiency standards Unequal footing with incomplete and inaccurate interpreting
  • Impediments to accurate interpreter performance and cognitive fatigue
  • Lack of interpreter availability

How can you reduce and eliminate noncompliance in these nine areas? Advocate for these adjustments. 

Eliminate Waiting Time (page 15, page 27). The clerk of court indicates the interpreter’s arrival time. For example, an interpreter reports as ordered at 9 a.m. The calendar isn’t called until 11 a.m., and the first interpreter case is called at 11:30 a.m. The interpreter has waited 2.5 hours. The last interpreter case is called at 12:30 p.m. and concludes at 1 p.m. The interpreter has been in the court’s service for four hours. However, Court Administration argues that since the interpreter only interpreted for 1.5 hours, it will only pay the two-hour minimum. This disincentive obstructs the court’s ability to provide suitable language access and no doubt contributes to the Judicial Branch’s poor National Language Access Index.

Compensation for cancellations, no shows, continuances, at-court settlements, etc. Interpreters who report to court are unable to bill that time and mileage to another paying client. This quandary leaves fewer interpreters willing to accept court assignments. Most states pay interpreters their minimum scheduled assignment (and any mileage driven) if a minimum of 48 hours’ notice is not received.

Require team interpreting for hearings and trials over one hour. ASTM F-2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting (page 4) and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translator’s Position Paper on Team Interpreting dictate the use of team interpreting in any proceeding expected to last more than one hour, not three hours. SCACR §511 Rule 8 requires court interpreters to assess and report impediments to performance. Without a team, the proceedings lose compliance with Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters 1 and 4, resulting in a travesty of justice.

Full compensation for team interpreters in both active and support roles. All members of the interpreting team must be paid for the duration of the hearing or trial. Many interpreters now refuse these long assignments due to incomplete payment, and justice is not served by placing a warm, unqualified body to give the appearance of language access.

Request that the directory be available online. Having lawyers and self-represented litigants trouble the clerk of court for out-of-court interpretation needs squanders clerk resources. Locating a certified court interpreter online should be as simple for South Carolinians as it is for their counterparts in Georgia and North Carolina.

Allow two non-overlapping minimum invoices in one day. Chapter 2, Section V, page 16 should eliminate “are more than three hours apart,” and replace it with “do not overlap.” This will cure the lack of available court interpreters for multiple court assignments on the same day. 

Compensate all daily out-of-county mileage. Chapter 4, Section IV, page 27 states only one round-trip mileage is reimbursed. This policy discourages interpreters accepting two separate court assignments in the same day.

Compensate travel time. SCJB’s refusal to pay driving time impedes courts’ ability to find interpreters willing to travel. Paying up to the full hourly interpreting rate for travel time is standard practice in most states. Many refuse assignments because it is not worth their time for only $90 plus mileage.

Chapter 3 refers to Professional Rules of Conduct for Court Interpreters, found in South Carolina Appellate Court Rule Section 511. In order to fully comprehend the Guide and the court interpreting profession, it is vital that judges and attorneys familiarize themselves with these rules AND expect consistent conduct from interpreters. In fact, the Appendix on page 37 in the preamble to SCACR §511 expresses that. Further, page 6 of the Guide welcomes suggestions. I implore you to make your voice heard by Chief Justice Beatty, Court Interpreter Director Karama T. Bailey, and the SC Court Interpreter Certification Program (SCCICP@sccourts.org) on any modifications you deem necessary in the Guide. Not only might they save the Judicial Branch, state, and counties money, but they might also improve South Carolina’s National Justice Index.

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