Historic Step Taken by Interpreters Organizations

by Essam Elmahgoop

In response to the latest actions taken by the Judicial Council in California, the three major interpreters organizations took a historic step and sent a joint letter to the Chief Justice and all Judicial Council members. Here is the letter:

Dear Chief Justice George:

In a time of diminishing numbers of qualified court interpreters, the Judicial Council has taken measures that will further exacerbate this situation. On December 2, 1999 the Council, upon recommendation from staff, voted to adopt regressive compensation policies for court interpreters.

The Council adopted a mileage compensation Policy which will adversely affect many courts and interpreters statewide. This policy is completely contrary to a long established practice of compensating interpreters for full round trip mileage in a majority of the state trial courts. The Mercer Study, commissioned by the Judicial Council, found that mileage was paid by 72% of the entities surveyed. The vast majority of northern California trial courts presently pay full round trip mileage. This new policy will negatively affect these courts’ ability to contract with interpreters.

Additionally, the adopted cancellation policy represents a degree of control inconsistent with the court classification of a majority of court interpreters as independent contractors. A state court is not entitled to any “offset amount” if an interpreter is canceled and then accepts another assignment during the same time frame, be it in the state or federal court system. Such policy clearly suggests control over an independent contractor’s ability to earn a living. Once an interpreter is canceled from an assignment, he/she should be free to do as they wish.

According to the Proposed Recommendations of Remaining Compensation Issues matrix, AOC staff states the legal opinion of the law firm of Morrison and Forester clearly advises that courts and other agencies can cite the public policy rationale of conserving public resources as a justification for this proposed policy. How will public resources be conserved when interpreters elect to take their cancellation fee and decline other court assignments? Court cases in desperate need of interpreters will be unable to proceed. This will prove to be a shortsighted and costly attempt at controlling professionals in high demand.

Staff’s recommended definition of the full and half-day sessions will create more confusion statewide than the intended clarification. The Council’s hired legal opinion suggests that the time frames need to be clearly bracketed. Clearly defined bracketed time frames were proposed by the Court Interpreters Advisory Panel, yet AOC staff chose not to follow their advice. In fact, AOC staff, via Mr. Joseph Wong, failed to propose that any of the CIAP’s recommendations be adopted by the Council.

CIAP members were appointed by you in an advisory capacity because of their expertise in the professional field of court interpreting. Why then do their recommendations continue to go unheard? Why does AOC staff consistently put forth the recommendations of the Trial Court Presiding Judges and Court Executives Panels in matters dealing with court interpreters? Is it not Mr. Wong’s responsibility to assist the CIAP and present their recommendations? Why do staff’s recommendations consistently follow proposals by other panels, and not the CIAP’s? The court interpreter compensation recommendations proposed by the CIAP are all consistent with existing policies/contracts in many state trial courts throughout California. Their definition of the full and half-day sessions, the cancellation policy, mileage reimbursements, excess pay, etc…, are in line with accepted practices that would place the state courts in a competitive position with other users of interpreter services. The CIAP’s proposals are also consistent with the panel’s mandate to conduct outreach and recruitment. Regressive policies will not accomplish these important goals.

These policies do not reflect the spirit of cooperation needed to create a stable, highly qualified pool of interpreters to serve the state courts, and therefore we strongly protest the adoption of AOC staff’s recommendations. On behalf of the members of the California Court Interpreters Association, the Bay Area Court Interpreters Association and the California Federation of Interpreters, we urge you to reconsider the recommendations of the Court Interpreters Advisory Panel.


Carlos L. Cerecedo – President, CCIA

M. Paz Perry  – Chair, BACI

Uri Yaval – President, CFI