October 31, 2009 by Kathryn Dolan
Newly sworn court interpreters ready to play their part in providing greater access to justice for non-English speakers
The capital city of Lima, Peru in South America, with its mild climate and population of around eight million people, is 3600 miles from central Indiana. But Massiel Krall, originally from Lima, was recently certified as an Indiana court interpreter and her native language, Spanish, is more commonly being heard in courthouses across the Hoosier state. Census figures released for 2005-2007 indicated approximately 434,000 people in Indiana spoke a language other than English in their homes. This number confirms the multi-cultural reality of mid-America. As Indiana’s demographics change, there will be increasing demand for certified court interpreters like Massiel Krall.
Krall and ten other bi-lingual Hoosiers each raised their hand on September 25th and were officially sworn-in as certified Spanish court interpreters. Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker who administered the oath explained, “Today is as much a celebration for you as it is for the Indiana Supreme Court and the trial courts.” Indiana Public Defender Susan Carpenter also spoke at the ceremony and agreed with Justice Rucker. As a member of the Court Interpreter Advisory Board she also served as an original member of the Race and Gender Fairness Commission. “When we discovered the extent of the growth of non-English speakers we were stunned. Without the support of the Indiana Supreme Court this would not exist.”
The Interpreter Certification Program began in 2003 in response to Indiana’s growing non-English speaking population and the need for interpreter services for individuals who do not speak English as their native language. The Commission on Race and Gender Fairness recommended that the Supreme Court establish a certified court interpreter program. The Commission is charged with studying the status of race and gender fairness in Indiana’s justice system and investigating ways to improve race and gender fairness in the courts, legal system, and state and local government, as well as among legal service providers and public organizations. The Commission makes recommendations to the Supreme Court on the adoption of policies and procedures promoting race and gender fairness. “Before we could address race and gender issues on a global scale we needed to address the language barriers,” said Justice Rucker as he explained the history of the interpreter program. The long-term hopes of the 25-member Race and Gender Fairness Commission began with a simple premise—the importance of basic communication could not be ignored.
The Supreme Court authorized Lilia Judson, Executive Director of the Division of State Court Administration, to join the National Center for State Courts’ Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification. The Division began work to implement an Indiana court interpreter testing system for Spanish and established the Court Interpreter Advisory Board to help guide the program.
The certification program has been expanded to include a number of languages, now with a total of 73 certified court interpreters. With standardized materials from the National Center for State Courts, the Supreme Court has certified interpreters in Spanish (71), Arabic (1) and in French (1), has tested in Polish and Russian, and has the capability to test in many other languages.
Michael Cadavid, who was born and raised in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Corona, Queens New York, NY, was one of the interpreters recognized. His parents emigrated from Colombia to the United States and spoke Spanish at home. For Cadavid, learning the legal terminology was the toughest part of the certification process. At the ceremony, Justice Rucker pointed out, “Certified interpreters are now being used all over the state and the certification process is tough. It includes a written and an oral exam as well as ethics training. There is also a criminal background check. A candidate is certified only after completion of all stages.”
Newly certified interpreter Greta Payne, who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina pointed to that rigorous certification process as crucial, “Being bilingual doesn’t guarantee a good interpretation,” she explained. Payne provides interpreting services to state and federal courts in both Indiana and Kentucky. Other interpreters like Krall agree. She explained, “The certified court interpreters are bound to comply with a code of ethics and professional responsibility for judiciary interpreters.”
The interpreters recognized at the ceremony in the historic Supreme Court courtroom successfully completed all five phases of the certification process within the last two years. Ruth Rivera Morales, Chair of the Indiana State Bar Association Latino Affairs Committee, extended her congratulations to the interpreters and offered the following remarks, “You are bestowed one of the most awesome responsibilities and opportunities. On the basic level, communication is what we need to express our thoughts and feelings. It is a tremendous responsibility to help someone who may be in one of the most difficult situations of their life.”
The responsibility entrusted to a certified interpreter is not something Vivian Kurzendoerfer takes lightly. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish at home. Kurzendoerfer learned English at school and went on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Management Information Systems. She said: “Our values of justice in this country demand that even people who don’t speak English have the right to communicate and understand court proceedings.”
Certified court interpreters remove language barriers and ensure that individuals in need have access to our court system. But the reality for many counties across the state is that there are also financial barriers. That is why the Supreme Court, through its Division of State Court Administration, awards grant money to counties in need. In 2008, the Supreme Court awarded nearly $240,000 in grant money to 40 county court systems to encourage trial courts to use the certified interpreters. Support for the program comes from beyond the bench and the bar. The Indiana General Assembly appropriates money for the program and other Supreme Court foreign language initiatives.
Camille T. Wiggins, Division of State Court Administration attorney, supervises the program. She told those at the ceremony, “It’s a terrible problem when language is a barrier in our courts and together we can bring down that barrier.” Justice Rucker congratulated those already doing their part, “We are grateful for your desire to seek professional excellence and your ability to help those who otherwise might not receive access to justice.”