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Arizona Will Soon Require Court Interpreters To Know Law, Receive Credentials

(Photo by Joe Gratz - CC BY 2.0)

Picture a courtroom. We think of a judge, a lawyer, the defendant. What about a foreign language interpreter?

There are hundreds of them working in our state’s courts, and they play a crucial role in ensuring justice for anyone who doesn’t speak English. Now, the Arizona Supreme Court is making sure our state’s court interpreters know the law.

The Arizona Supreme Court recently announced it will require all 100 interpreters on staff – and the 500 more who are contracted throughout the state – to go through a credentialing program by 2019.

The goal is to ensure they all meet a baseline knowledge of not only interpreting skills, but also of the legal concepts and ethics that guide their work.

Scott Robert Loos has worked as a court interpreter in the Maricopa County Superior Court for 37 years, and he said this is a welcome change that he hopes will bring more qualified people into the field and ensure that smaller courts will have qualified interpreters to serve them.

“By the time the matter is ready to go to trial, they should have a good understanding of what the issues are, what the strategies are, the legal doctrine that applies,” he said. “All of that needs to be done in advance.”

Arizona is joining 45 other states in adopting a credentialing program.

Loos said being an interpreter means much more than just speaking another language.

“It is not the interpreter who is talking at all. So, it’s not my listening to this person and going over here and giving a summary to someone else,” he said. “I have to assume the same tone – what we call the same register – the style and vocabulary of that particular event. So, in a courtroom, it’s courtroom register.”

And, Loos says, there’s a more important aspect to it. Interpreters are dealing with issues of freedom, life and death.

“It is a very tense matter because it’s, especially in a criminal case, a question of the freedom of the defendant,” he said.

On this day, Loos interpreted for a defendant in a murder case in which the state is seeking the death penalty. That’s why he said it’s important that interpreters know the complex workings of the court.

“No interpreter should walk into a courtroom without understanding the nature of American law, rules and procedure, the code that applies,” he said.



Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.