Senior Court Operations Consultant
Office of the State Court Administrator
500 S. Duval Street,
Tallahassee, Fl 32399-1900
Miami, July 11th 2017
The members of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF) are concerned by the situation in the 11th Judicial Circuit, where non-certified Spanish interpreters are often permitted to interpret in court and court-related proceedings. Given this concern, ATIF sent a letter to Chief Judge Bertila Soto (attached hereto). Her reply to our letter (also attached) is even more troubling.
In her response, the Honorable Chief Judge says that the Court is complying with the rules by providing certified staff interpreters for defendants. That is true and we are not disputing that.
She also states that, “in the event that the court cannot provide an interpreter in a court-related proceeding, such as a mediation, the responsibility falls on the attorney or self-represented litigant to retain the highest state-level designated interpreter to comply with the requirements set forth under Rule 2.565, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration.” This is indeed a correct statement of the rule, but it is ATIF’s position that this rule is not being enforced effectively.
If the presiding officer of any court or court-related proceeding does not verify and ensure that the requirements of Rule 2.565 are met, then the rule, for all practical purposes, is moot. Our members have witnessed and are troubled by this lack of verification and enforcement, which is frequently the case in Miami-Dade County. They are concerned that if it is allowed to continue, it will become more and more prevalent.
From occasional cases in the past, this practice has become more common, for the simple reason that it has gone unchecked. As a result, non-certified interpreters have encountered no resistance or obstacle to offering their services in many of the 11th Circuit courts. In many instances, self-represented litigants are even encouraged to bring with them to court a non-certified interpreter (who could be a friend, relative or anyone at all).
Some interpreting agencies that had originally adapted to the new rules and regulations are now reverting back to the sporadic use of non-certified interpreters, and not as a result of an unsuccessful diligent search for certified, qualified or registered interpreters. Rather, it is because currently the credentials of these non-certified interpreters are not requested nor challenged when these people are sent to perform assignments in this Circuit.
Curiously, this seems to be the case only in the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County. We have received no information of this anomaly occurring in any other circuit. To the contrary, we find laudable efforts–such as that of Amy Borman. General Counsel for the 15th Circuit, who wrote a Florida Bar News article on 11/15/2016 about the proper use of certified interpreters. We are also heartened to see that the 17th Judicial Circuit takes these rules seriously, to the extent of printing on its notices that, “both parties must obtain a court-certified interpreter.” Some 17th Circuit judges even go so far as to request that the certified interpreter state his/her name and certification number on the record–and at least one judge that we know of even checks the veracity of this information on the Florida Courts’ website before continuing with the proceeding.
Our members are concerned that this situation in the 11th Judicial Circuit, where we have a large percentage of certified interpreters, will spread to other circuits, and that much of what has been gained by Florida’s certification process could eventually be lost.
Many interpreters in Miami-Dade County are now questioning the value of their certification in the face of this situation. They feel that the process to obtain certification–which is difficult and costly–should provide some corresponding significance in terms of the service they provide. Other than in a position as a staff interpreter, where certification is a job requirement, in Miami-Dade one can make a living as a court interpreter without being certified, mostly due to the laxity found in the 11th Judicial Circuit.
Before we conclude, there is another matter, with regard to Rule 14.100(a), in Judge Soto’s response that we believe requires clarification. The Honorable Chief Judge states, “However it is important to note that a ‘court interpreter’ includes as all persons providing spoken language interpreting services in all court or court-related proceedings, except those providing services without remuneration on behalf of persons demonstrating an inability to pay in circumstances not requiring the appointment of a court interpreter. See Rule 14.100(a). Persons falling within the foregoing exception are not considered ‘court interpreters’ and consequently are not subject to the rules regulating the use of court interpreters.” [Emphasis mine.]
Since we received this reply from the Chief Judge, our members have been asking whether this means that, if we certified court interpreters render our services for free to persons unable to pay, we are no longer subject to the rules and regulations that currently govern our conduct and performance? And does it mean that, if we are accused of an ethical violation, it would be sufficient to state as a defense that, since we were acting pro bono, we are technically not a “court interpreter” and therefore such rules do not apply?
We are in need of clarification and guidance in these matters. Both ATIF and, we believe, the CICRP want to see the community of certified court interpreters continue to grow and become ever-more professional under these relatively new sets of rules and regulations. The system should also adapt to these new rules and enforce them. We are convinced that we all stand to benefit from this approach: the courts, the litigants and witnesses, the interpreters and justice in general.
I thank you in advance for the guidance and advice we soon hope to get from the CICRP.
Association of Translators
And Interpreters of Florida