Spanish Court Interpreter Pay Slashed 30%: Welcome to Nevada

by Translation Guy on July 16, 2012

I asked Judy Jenner, president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association, to write on this important development for TranslationGuy -Ken

Earlier this year, court interpreters in Nevada had their pay slashed by 30%. Nevada leads the nation in many things, including home foreclosures and unemployment, so it’s natural that cuts have to be made. However, such drastic cuts for Spanish language services in Nevada’s courts seem like cruel and unusual punishment for interpreters and Spanish speakers participating in the court system.

Certified Spanish court interpreters in Nevada make up a small and carefully selected group. Nevada is part of the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, and the certification exams are quite challenging: the state only certifies two or three new interpreters a year. Juxtapose that with Nevada’s growing Hispanic population and you’ve got a recipe for a train wreck. One would think that Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, would pay court interpreters what they are worth so they can afford to serve the language access needs of defendants.

Contract court interpreters in Nevada have no set hours (and no guarantee of employment), don’t get paid for driving time or even mileage, have to pay for their own parking, have no benefits nor health insurance, etc.

Oddly, the rate was only reduced by 30% effective mid-February for Spanish interpreters, while the rate for all other languages has been kept the same. Until last year, Nevada had full certification for Spanish only. And when full examinations for other languages were introduced, no one passed. For all other languages, Nevada only has registered interpreters – I am one of them for German. So I can now go to court to interpret for the occasional German defendant and earn the old rate (plus a two-hour minimum, which was never in place for Spanish) even though I am less qualified for German legal interpretation than I am for Spanish (I am master-level certified).

I have declined to sign the new contract with Clark County. Unfortunately, I am one of the few interpreters who were able to refuse. I don’t blame my colleagues, as many of them have put all their business eggs in one basket and have relied exclusively on the courts for work. Others do not have the experience or enthusiasm required to attract clients who pay professional rates. Other certified court interpreters were not even interested in working for the county at the old rate, and work exclusively with private law firms, doing mainly depositions for civil matters. I have now joined those ranks, but remain torn because people who are in dire need of language access now have fewer interpreters to assist them. I do a lot of non-profit work, but when I interpret, I need to be paid an appropriate rate. Some interpreters in the Reno area, which is very close to the California border, have chosen to work in California, which is home to the California Federation of Interpreters.

But the ultimate losers are the Spanish speakers in the state of Nevada.

Judy A. Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and court-certified Spanish interpreter in Las Vegas, NV. She holds an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister. She is the president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She is the author of the award-winning translation blog, Translation Times, pens the “Entrepreneurial Linguist” column for The ATA Chronicle, and is a frequent conference speaker. Judy co-authored “The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation.”


  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Ken! I think it’s an important issue that must be discussed. We don’t want another UK-style scandal on our hands — think ALS and the court interpreters.

    I am very much torn between my desire to facilitate access in the courts and my need to run a professional business, which charges professional rates.

    • Ken says:

      Thank you so much for writing it, Judy

  2. Paula says:

    This really doesn’t seem very forward thinking, as Latinos are the largest growing segment of the population.

  3. Teresa Wolf says:

    Well at least there is relief for the interpreters with finding work elsewhere, the same cannot be said for those that need their services before the court.

  4. Marie says:

    Once again government proves itself ridiculous.

  5. Rob Gispert says:

    Your right really, interpreters can always find another avenue to make money, but the people before the court really do need the help.

  6. Thankfully, not only do I speak more than just Spanish but also have the ability to work in California, but honestly, I’m sure I’ll try and do as much pro-bono work as I can because this seems not only unfair for interpreters but Spanish speakers

  7. Donald says:

    Get much German work in Nevada?

  8. Mary Anne says:

    God damn republicans, I’d bet anything its their fault.

  9. Nevada state politics have always been a joke, this is just sad though.

  10. David says:

    Why, just why do this? It seems just the height of stupidity

  11. Richard says:

    Why only Spanish, that is an point of interest….

  12. Olivia says:

    I can’t see the justification for only dropping the rate for one language, if you want to do this as a cost cutting measure, it should be across the board or find another area to save money.

    • Ken says:

      The lament of all Spanish=English linguists, Oliva.

  13. Jeff Ryder says:

    This is really kind of disgusting, and borders on infringing on peoples constitutional rights, as should the lack of interpreters prove too big a problem people will not get access to fair and speedy trials.

  14. Kay Hall says:

    I’m really starting to think lack of common sense is a requirement for a career in politics

  15. Lucy Stewart says:

    Were interpreters really costing the state that much money? I just can’t see it.

  16. Lisa says:

    30% just seems really excessive

  17. Robyn says:

    I really can’t understand doing this in an election year, this has to alienate Spanish speaking voters, which is a key demographic.

  18. T.Burnett says:

    30%?! How can that be justified?

  19. I really wish the damn economy would turn around so I could stop reading stories like this….

    • Ken says:

      I know. Depressing isn’t it?

  20. Just dumb, and cruel to both parties

  21. Karen says:

    As you say, it seems like cruel and unusual punishment, and raises the constitutional question of equality before the law. Without equal access to the legal system, are Spanish speakers being treated fairly?

  22. John Gilles says:

    Well the driving and parking can be written off at tax time, No?

  23. Lisa King says:

    Nevada leads the nation in home foreclosures and unemployment? Really, tough times

  24. I understand that we live in harsh fiscal times, and cuts happen; but this seems excessive.

  25. I suppose cuts are natural in times such as these. I can understand people trying to consolidate their finances, but, as people have said above, this seems a little drastic to me.

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