Court Certified Interpreter system in the State of California
Court Certified Interpreter System
in the State of California
II. Court Certified Interpreter System in the State of California
The State of California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the U.S. Just to look at a few statistics, the 2000 U.S. Census counted over 200 languages and many dialects in California. Twenty-six percent of Californians were foreign born. Forty percent of California’s population of 34 million (2000 Census), or 13.6 million Californians, spoke a language other than English in the home. Roughly 20 percent of Californians spoke English less than “very well,” which precludes meaningful participation in a judicial proceeding without substantial language assistance. Over 8 million Californians spoke Spanish at home; more than half of these spoke English less than “very well.” There are about 2-million Koreans in the U.S., and 600,000 Koreans in California. As seen on the following table, in 2006, the composition of ethnic groups in California was roughly: White (43%), Hispanic (36%), Asian (12%), Black (7%), and others (2%).
|Statistics of California
|Population, 2006 estimate
|Black persons, percent, 2006 (a)
|Asian persons, percent, 2006 (a)
|Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2006 (b)
|White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2006
|Foreign born persons, percent, 2000
|Language other than English spoken at home, pct age 5+, 2000
In view of such linguistic diversity, California introduced the court certified interpreter system in 1993 to meet the need for providing fair trial for non-English speaking defendants at criminal courts. Currently, court interpreters are certified in 13 languages: Arabic, Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and American Sign Language.
1. Legal Basis
At the federal level, as a result of the 1978 Act, it became a statutory right for non-English speaking and hearing-impaired persons to have an interpreter inan action initiated by the federal government.
At the state level, California took the lead on May 24, 1978, by passing Assembly Bill No. 2400 mandating court interpreter services and competency testing of interpreters.
California Constitution mandates that “[a] person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.”(Cal. Const., art. I, § 14) Courts must provide specially trained language interpreters for witnesses, victims, and defendants who understand little or no English. This mandate includes criminal, misdemeanor, and delinquency matters, as well as certain civil matters such as divorce or separation involving a protective order, and child custody and visitation proceedings. Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to an interpreter for all court proceedings, whether criminal or civil. The cost of legally mandated court interpreters is funded by the state.
In 1993, the Judicial Council of the State of California assumed responsibility for certifying and registering court interpreters and for developing a comprehensive program to ensure an available, competent pool of qualified interpreters. (Sen. Bill 1304; Stats. 1992, ch. 770.) In 1994 the Chief Justice appointed the Court Interpreters Advisory Panel to help the council implement the program. Senate Bill 1304 requires the council to:
► Designate the languages for which certification programs will be established;
► Approve one or more entities to certify interpreters;
► Adopt and publish guidelines, standards, and procedures to determine which certification entities will be approved;
► Adopt standards and requirements for interpreter proficiency, continuing education, certification renewal, discipline, and professional conduct;
► Adopt programs for recruitment, training, continuing education, and evaluation to ensure that adequate numbers of interpreters are available and that they interpret competently; and
► Set fees or establish fee guidelines for applications to take the interpreter examination, for certification or renewal of certification, and for certain other functions.
The CIAP was created in 1993 and is responsible for assisting the Judicial Council in enhancing interpreter services provided to the courts and to non-English-speaking parties. The CIAP has assisted in the development of important policies in the areas of recruitment, training, testing, certification, renewals, and continuing education.
The Court Interpreters Program (CIP) staffs the Judicial Council CIAP. The Judicial Council is required to report to the California State Legislature on the use of interpreter services in the courts.
In addition, the Judicial Council maintains a public database of currently certified and registered California court interpreters that can be searched by language and county, or by the name or badge number of an interpreter. 
3. Definition of a Court Certified Interpreter
Only those interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and register with the Judicial Council are referred to as “certified court interpreters.
A court interpreter is defined as interpreter who works in a civil or criminal court proceeding (e.g., arraignment, motion, pretrial conference, preliminary hearing, deposition, trial) for a witness or defendant who speaks or understands little or no English. Court interpreters must accurately interpret for individuals with a high level of education and an expansive vocabulary, as well as persons with very limited language skills without changing the language register of the speaker. Interpreters are also sometimes responsible for translating written documents, often of a legal nature, from English into the target language and from the target language into English.
Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state certifying examination are called “registered interpreters of nondesignated languages.”
4. Testing and Certification
From 1993-2007, Corporate Personnel Board of the government administered the test, but because of many problems regarding the test quality and confidentiality of the program, the testing is now entrusted to a private testing agency called Thomson Prometric. 
The certification examination is given twice a year and consists of written and oral components. In the written portion, candidates are tested on their knowledge of both English and the target language in the areas of vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, and translation. The test is consisted of 180 questions, and lasts for 4 hours. Passing grade is 70% in both languages. If a candidate passes Korean but fails in English, for example, that constitutes a failure and he/she has to pay $300 to take the test again after 6 months. The level of difficulty is between SAT and GRE, and Korean, and the level of Korean test is similar to that of Korean in university entrance examination in Korea. The vocabulary is general and is not limited to legal terminology at this stage.
If they pass the written component, they go on to the oral component, which tests their skills in simultaneous and consecutive interpreting and in sight translation. Sight translation differs from written translation, in that sight translation is the oral translation of a written document. The test is conducted one by one in a room, where a proctor records the candidate’s performance, and lasts for 25 minutes. 10 minutes for consecutive interpreting, 5 minutes for Korean to English sight translation, 5 minutes for English to Korean sight translation, and 5 minutes for simultaneous interpreting.
Most people find it hard to pass the simultaneous part of the test, because it is usually a judge talking very fast about sentencing, probation, change of plea, etc. at about 140 wpm, and it is almost impossible to pass the test without proper training in simultaneous interpretation of similar context and the knowledge of legal terminology. Since 90% of actual interpreting is done in simultaneous mode in the court, except when a witness is testifying at the witness stand in 10% of the cases, a court certified interpreter in California should be skillful in doing it. Because Korean language has a totally different syntax from English especially in the order of words, it is impossible to perform perfect simultaneous translation, but it is still possible to develop a style to deliver the meanings accurately to the listeners.
The problem with the test has been that the written test remained the same for 10 years
or more and the same oral test is repeated three times, enabling a certain group of people to have unfair access to the test preparation. For the past two years, it seems to me that some unqualified students passed the test while some good ones failed repeatedly. There is a rumor that some teachers who gave tests and graded them favored their own students over another. Maintaining the test quality and confidentiality will be essential for the success of this program.
III. Recertification and Continuing Education
After passing the certification examination, a court interpreter must submit an application to register with the Judicial Council. To maintain certification, the interpreter must attend a Code of Ethics workshop during his or her first two-year compliance period, as well as submit proof of 30 hours of continuing education and 40 recent court interpreting assignments during every two-year compliance period. There is no retirement age for interpreters, and he/she can renew the certificate as many times as possible.
Continuing education is provided by various individuals and institutions. In order to be qualified as an institution providing continuing education, the individual or the institution need to submit an application to the Judicial Council and get it approved. The continuing education is on a wide variety of topics such as the following.
- Interpreter’s Code of Ethics
- Expanding Vocabulary in IT, Business, Medical, and new fields.
- Antonyms and Synonyms
- Cultural Equivalence
- Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure.
There is a great demand in California for certified and registered court interpreters, particularly in areas with large immigrant populations. About half of California’s certified and registered court interpreters work as permanent employees of the trial courts. The other half work as freelance contract interpreters, hired by the day or the half day by the courts. Currently, contract court interpreters are paid $282.23 per full day and $156.56 per half day by the government. Trial courts pay their staff court interpreters between $30,000 and $66,000 per year, depending on location and experience and subject to negotiation with organized labor.
In 2002, the Trial Court Interpreter Employment and Labor Relations Act (Sen. Bill
371) was enacted. Prior to this bill, all court interpreters were independent contractors. SB 371 established an employment model for court interpreters, and more than 750 certified and registered interpreters have become employees of the trial courts. The result of SB 371 is that approximately half the certified or registered interpreters used by the courts are staff interpreters. Compensation for staff interpreters is subject to negotiation by four regional bargaining units.
Many interpreters prefer to work as freelancers, because civil assignments tend to pay much better. When working with private agencies, compensation is $250 half day up to 3 hours and $500 full day up to 6 hours, and $100 an hour for overtime. For trials and important civil depositions and trials with big clients like Hyundai or Samsung, it pays between $800-$1000 a day. There are enough assignments to go around and a popular interpreter would sometimes get 9 phone calls a day, work everyday, and make about $100,000 a year. Extra teaching and translation would increase the amount.
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SUGGESTIONS FOR INDEPENDENT STUDY GENERAL INTEREST
Joo, Junhui. American Court Blues – Korean Americans at the court as seen by a court certified interpreter. Seoul: Easy Books, 2004.
Astiz, Carlos A. “But They Don’t Speak the Language: Achieving Quality Control of Translation in Criminal Courts.” The Judges’ Journal (Spring, 1986): 32-35.
Berk-Seligson, Susan. The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
DeJongh, E.M. An Introduction to Court Interpreting: Theory and Practice. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992.
Edwards, Alicia Betsy. “Ethical Conduct for the Court Interpreter.” The Court Manager, National Association Management, 1988.
Frankenthaler, M.R. Skills for Bilingual Legal Personnel. Cincinnati: South- Western Publishing Co., 1982.
Gonzalez, R.D., Vasquez, V.F., and Mikkelson, H. Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Pratice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1991.
Loftus, Elizabeth, Ph.D. and Ketcham, Katherine. Witness for the Defense: The Accused, The Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.
Marquez, Alex and Marta. The New Interpreters Handbook, A step-by-step guide to becoming a professional interpreter. Anaheim: Iberia Language Press, 1987.
O’Barr, William M. Linguistic Evidence: Language, Power, and Strategy in the Courtroom. New York: Academic Press, 1982.
Rainof, Alexander. “How Best to Use an Interpreter in Court.” California State Bar Journal, Vol. 55, No. 5 (May 1980): 196-200.
Rainof, Alexander. “Where Showing the Finger Points to the Truth.” California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Forum, Vol. 1-8, No. 4 (July – August, 1991): 50- 52.
Solan, Lawrence M. The Language of Judges. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Chapman, Robert L. Thesaurus of American Slang. New York: Harper & Row, 1989; First Harper Perennial edition published 1991.
Mikkai, Adam, Boatner, Maxine T., and Gates, John E. Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1984.
Partridge, Eric. Smaller Slang Dictionary. New York: Dorset Press, 1986.
Spears, Richard A. NTC’s Dictionary of American Colloquial Expressions. Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1989; 1992 printing.
Dictionary of Criminal Justice Terms, New York: Gould Publications, 1984.
Glazier, Stephen. Random House Word Menu, Random House, 1992.
Mikkelson, H. The Interpreter’s Edge, (With Korean Tape Set) Self Study Package. Spreckels, CA: Acebo Press.
TAPES FOR SIMULTANEOUS PRACTICE
ACEBO Publications P.O. Box 7485
Spreckels, CA 93962
Bryan School of Court Reporting
2511 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
 California Commission on Access to Justice, Language Barriers to Justice in California: A Report of the California Commission on Access to Justice (State Bar of California, Office of Legal Services, Access & Fairness Programs, Sept. 2005), available at www.calbar.ca.aov.