Pharos-Tribune

October 3, 2010

Non-English speakers draining court funds

Interpreting services prove problematic, costly

By Lindsey Ziliak
Pharos-Tribune

— Cass County court funds are being drained by an influx of courtroom defendants who don’t speak English.

Cass Superior Court II Judge Rick Maughmer said he’s seen eight languages other than English in his courtroom this year alone.

By law, people who appear in court speaking foreign languages have to be provided with an interpreter.

“We have to provide them with these services. That’s black and white. It’s in the laws,” Maughmer said.

This creates problems and generates worries in court, though.

A major worry for Maughmer right now is the cost.

He is required to provide certified interpreters for any jury or bench trial. The going rate for a certified interpreter is $65 an hour. Even interpreters who aren’t certified often charge $35 an hour.

Maughmer said Cass County is working with a limited budget for interpreters this year “We apply for annual grants. Typically we receive $14,500,” Maughmer said.

This year, however, the courts were given $7,500.

He noted there are a large number of Burmese showing up in his court. Burmese interpreters are difficult to find, he said, because there are a number of different dialects of Burmese.

He found a woman in Indianapolis who speaks a number of the dialects, so he scheduled all of the Burmese-speaking defendants on one day. For her services, the court paid her travel expenses and an hourly rate. The whole day cost $1,000.

The cost isn’t the only problem Maughmer and other judges face when dealing with a non-English speaker.

Maughmer said when someone doesn’t speak English, courtroom proceedings can become time consuming.

“It slows things way down,” Maughmer said.

He has to make sure the people facing charges understand what’s going on in court.

Even with an interpreter, Maughmer worries some non-English speaking people don’t understand the proceedings.

Some, he said, can be told they have the right to an attorney, but they may not know what an attorney is even in their own language because of a lack of education.

Judges also have to worry about finding interpreters, which Maughmer said in some cases, can be hard.

For initial hearings, Maughmer said the Supreme Court gives him access to a service called Language Line. Interpreters from all over the country can be utilized for over-the-phone interpreting.

According to a pamphlet produced by Language Line Services, the company can interpret from English into more than 150 languages.

 The company provides judges with a language identification card as well to help judges determine what language a limited English speaker uses.

Various languages are listed on the card. Under each language there’s a message written in that language that reads, “Point to your language. An interpreter will be called. The interpreter is provided at no cost to you.”

The person then points to the language he or she speaks, and the judge makes a phone call to Language Line requesting an interpreter.

According the pamphlet, the company offers the service 24 hours a day seven days a week.

This service only works for initial hearings, though. Sometimes, Maughmer said he has to hire an interpreter. He said he was lucky to find the Burmeses speaker in Indianapolis and he uses Kim Perez as a certified interpreter for anyone who anyone who speaks Spanish.

Once, Maughmer said he had to pay $35 to a friend of someone who had a hearing in his courtroom. He couldn’t find an interpreter for the person.

Maughmer said he doesn’t foresee the problem improving either.

“This is a big problem, and it’s only going to continue growing as the workforce becomes more diverse,” Maughmer said.

As short as two years ago, Maughmer said he didn’t see anyone in the courtroom who spoke Burmese.

He said many of them are probably coming here to work in the meat packing industry.

“These people tend to break laws primarily because they’re just not aware of them,” Maughmer said.

He added there are still non-English speakers who offer money to the police when they’re arrested to try pay the officers off because that’s what they did in their native country.

Maughmer said they don’t understand why the police refuse their money and take them to jail.

As these people continue to flood his court, Maughmer said he’s not sure how he’s going to have enough funding for interpreters for all of them.

He said asking the state for more funding is not the answer, though.

“Should the state provide more money for interpreting? No. We need less crime. There’s more laws than ever,” Maughmer said.

• Lindsey Ziliak is a staff writer at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or lindsey.ziliak@pharostribune.com.