The Utah court system is embarking on what judicial officials believe will be one of its largest efforts to ensure that language interpreters are available for those who need them.
The interpreting services already provided in criminal, juvenile and a narrow range of civil cases will be extended to all case types — including small claims and justice courts.
Yet judicial leaders enacting the expansion this month also voted to stick with a plan some observers say flouts a federal directive to provide interpreters free to all litigants who have limited English proficiency.
The Utah Judicial Council let stand an existing procedure giving judges the discretion to charge those who can afford to pay interpreter fees in civil cases. That procedure, said Tim Shea, senior staff attorney for the Administrative Office of the Courts, is “a discretion that is almost never used.”
But leaders of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, with 1,200 members, are disappointed with the decision. “We recognize there are improvements being made to the system,” said Rob Cruz, an association director for the Washington, D.C.-based group. “The notion of a person paying for their interpreter, regardless of their income, is problematic on several fronts.”