Previously in this blog, we discussed the biggest court interpreting problem in South Carolina. We also commented on the SC Court Interpreter Policy and Procedure Guide, which negatively addresses the problem. Although court interpreters were instructed that this is the new guideline, clerks of court seem to be told that they are proposed guidelines.
Amid this confusion is another looming issue: payment problems. Why are SC Court Administration’s payment problems your concern? If certified court interpreters reject court assignments, your LEP client may have an untrained, unskilled, otherwise qualified interpreter or paraprofessional. The foreign language speaker may not understand that person. Perhaps your client’s due process rights will be trampled,and no interpreter will be provided.
As previously mentioned, the SC Judicial Branch does not have an agreement with court interpreters to contract for professional services. This leaves contractors in a precarious situation regarding timely payment. In North Carolina, court interpreters mail their monthly invoice with their daily logs to the Office of Language Access. Once the invoice is approved, it is sent to the financial office for payment. Payment is initiated via check or direct deposit. If direct deposit is chosen, an e-mail is sent with the deposit notification and which invoices are being paid. From the time I mail the invoice to the time compensation is directly deposited, it usually takes ten business days. In Tennessee, the only southeastern state to place in the top ten of the National Justice Index, invoicing has progressed into the 21stcentury; interpreters send their invoice electronically. Just like attorneys, every hour not practicing law is money and time lost. The same applies to interpreters.
In chapter 4 of the Guide, although the policy of the judicial branch is to issue timely payments, our experience is quite the opposite. There is no way for interpreters to allow 30 days from receipt of paperwork for payment because interpreters do not send the paperwork to Court Administration. The clerks of courts do. That means that telephone calls must be made to the clerk of court, court administration, finance office, or all three. Once that wasted time is subtracted from the assignment compensation, interpreters are earning less than $25 or $45 per hour. Supposedly, there is now a delay in processing because if an interpreter works in two separate counties on the same day, the finance office needs to wait for all invoices to arrive. That is preposterous. Many of us normally receive payments within 45 to 90 days, if at all.
Although lawyers are required to perform a certain amount of pro bono or assigned service;interpreters aren’t subject to that. We always earn more in the private sector; accepting court assignment is our assigned service portion of business.