Utah Courts to Expand Interpreter Services
Interpretative services are already available in criminal, juvenile, as well as a small range of civil cases, and will now become available to all case types, which includes small claims and justice courts.
However, judicial leaders who enacted the expansion this month have also voted to stick to a plan that some observers feel disregards a federal directive to provide interpreters free to all litigants who have a limited English proficiency. The Utah Judicial Council let stand an existing procedure allowing judges the option to charge those who can afford to pay for interpreter fees in civil cases. This procedure, said senior staff attorney for the Administrative Office of Courts Tim Shea, is "a discretion that is almost never used," but leaders of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators are not happy with the decision.
"We recognize there are improvements being made to the system. The notion of a person paying for their interpreter, regardless of their income, is problematic on several fronts." said National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators director Rob Cruz.
Rob Cruz believes that the decision could invite a whole range of legal challenges and inflame debates on offering services that he says helps the entire court process, not just indigent or English-challenged litigants.
In adopting the changes, council members were aware of the United States Department of Justice letter that was sent out last year that directs Utah, as well as other states, to provide any service for free, when "meaningful" access to court proceedings requires interpretations.
The Department of Justice says that the state's use of federal funds, in addition to enforcing Title VI of the federal civil rights acts, supports the argument for no-cost programs. Charging for services, said Thomas E. Perez, an assistant United States attorney general, might violate civil rights laws.
After council members accepted the expansion recommendation made by a legal study committee, Utah may be able to deviate from the Perez directive based on a different view of the civil rights act and how it applies to offering language services.
“People whose first language is not English will have an interpreter for all court proceedings. That will honor the person’s right to due process,” said Tim Shea, who argued that the new Utah court rule is in full compliance with the Title VI.
In the mid 1990's, Utah was one of the charter member states in the National Consortium for Language Access to the Courts, and since then, the Judicial Council's steps towards a meaningful access has been, as Tim Shea puts it, "more than reasonable."
Council members in November acknowledged that Utah and other states could be challenged or even sued over charging fees for court services that should be made available at no cost. Court leaders added on that they hoped the proposed expansion of the interpretive services would make the state of Utah less of a prime target for any or all such challenges. 
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