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.”