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As Luzerne County Court officials seek cuts to help erase the $6.3 million 2013 county budget shortfall, they’re now forced to budget $50,000 for outside language translation services next year, a court official said. The additional expense is necessary because two employees didn’t obtain the state certification required to continue providing Spanish language interpretation in court proceedings, said county acting Court Administrator Michael Shucosky. Probation officer Thelma Kennedy, the third employee who provides in-house courtroom Spanish translation, is waiting to learn if she passed the certification exam, he said. Shucosky said Kennedy and the other staffers – Alma McGarry and Silvana Calderon -- met national courtroom translation requirements accepted by the state in the past. But the governing Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, or AOPC, now requires passage of a more stringent state certification exam. Only one person in Luzerne County – White Haven resident Joussy Olsen – has obtained this state certification for Spanish translation, according to the AOPC website. Olsen works as a private translator and has been paid about $5,600 to provide county court translation since 2010. The law requires courts to provide translation when witnesses, defendants and plaintiffs don’t speak fluent English, he said. When a certified county translator is unavailable, the court must rely on other state-approved outside individuals or a translation agency. For example, the county must spend thousands of dollars on a translator from Philadelphia for a sexual assault trial held this week involving a defendant who speaks Spanish. “The closest we could find was in Philadelphia,” Shucosky said.

Qualified Interpreters

 

Kennedy, who is paid $45,652 annually, is listed on the AOPC website as a “qualified” Spanish interpreter. Courts are only supposed to use qualified interpreters if they have exhausted efforts to find a certified one, the AOPC says. Qualified interpreters can’t be used in felonies, jury trials or cases where the “life, long term liberty or property of the defendant is at stake,” the AOPC says. While the certification requirement is more burdensome to counties, Shucosky said he understands the state’s push for “very, very high qualifications.” “A misinterpreted word could change the entire nuance of a case. People could argue they didn’t understand,” he said, noting the abundance of Spanish dialects. Shucosky said there’s never been an issue or concern with the translation skills of McGarry or Calderon. The state certification test requires extensive knowledge of court terminology, including words not used here, he said. For example, the women were unable to translate the meaning of “bailiff” because bailiffs aren’t used here, he said. The certification exam may be taken every six months, and McGarry and Calderon plan to try again, he said.

Even if Kennedy obtains certification, she cannot meet the demand for translation on her own, he said. The Hazleton area has an influx of Spanish-speaking residents, and the court also must provide language assistance to district judge offices and for many children-and-youth proceedings, he said. Calderon transferred to a secretarial position in the Hazle Township district judge office because a vacancy had to be filled and she will be able to assist the growing number of Spanish-speaking clients, he said. She makes $29,429. McGarry, who is paid $59,685, has returned to a vacant supervisor position in probation services on the recommendation of Probation Services Director Michael Vecchio, Shucosky said. McGarry will handle pre-sentence investigations and continue providing interpreter assistance outside courtrooms, he said, noting her services were recently “loaned” to the county election office preparing Spanish translation of voting information and bilingual ballots. McGarry also will conduct four-week training programs teaching court employees basic Spanish, he said. Shucosky hopes more local residents “realize there’s a market” for translators and obtain the state certification in Spanish and other languages to reduce a statewide shortage. The AOPC mandates counties pay a starting rate around $45 per hour, he said. Court officials recently scrambled to find a Punjabi translator for a court proceeding, he said. The AOPC lists only one certified translator of the language in Lancaster, and the proceeding was short enough to allow use of a phone interpreter, he said. “All other counties are struggling with the same issue,” he said.

By Jennifer Andes of timesleader.com

 




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