The Viginian-Pilot reports that in 2003, 44,610 people who didn’t speak English needed interpreters for court cases in Virginia, compared to 14,689 cases six years ago.
“The language we most need an interpreter for is Spanish,’’ said Chesapeake Chief General District Court Judge Colon Whitehurst. “But I’ve personally had a case last fall where the defendant was Mongolian , and I couldn’t communicate with him at all.’’
In nine out of 10 cases in Virginia involving a language barrier, a Spanish interpreter is needed. Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Russian, French and Chinese interpreters also are often called upon.
For lengthy trials, courts in Chesapeake and other cities try to find interpreters who can be present during the hearings. But for short hearings, Virginia judges have been relying on a conference-call interpreter service called InterpreTALK.
The service, contracted by the Virginia Supreme Court on a per-use basis beginning in 2002, allows judges to access interpreters for 177 different languages.
“It works like a gem,’’ said Whitehurst.
Providing a person in the courtroom to serve as an interpreter cost taxpayers nearly $3 million in 2003 – more than double what was paid for the same services five years earlier.
InterpreTALK cost an additional $48,566 last year. The dial-up service works well for short hearings, court officials say, but lengthy sessions require a more costly in-person interpreter.
In rural areas of Virginia where interpreters are not easily accessible, Mays said, the dial-up service helps.
InterpreTALK is operated by Language Services Associates of Willow Grove, Pa. The firm has interpreters throughout the country and constantly searches for translators of less commonly used languages.