From July 16 through July 18 four state interpreter programs came together in a unique and unprecedented collaboration by combining their resources for court interpreter training. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee sponsored the 2015 Legal Interpreting Seminar at UALR’s William H. Bowen School of Law and the Pulaski County Courthouse. The seminar focused on continued education for both spoken and sign language interpreters. Two nationally-recognized interpreter trainers, Agustin de la Mora from Orlando, Florida (spoken language) and Sharon Neumann Solow from Monterrey, California (sign language) offered their expertise to the 68 interpreters attending from across the country. The first two days’ sessions were designed to teach skill building techniques, vocabulary and legal interpreting ethics and protocol which would be utilized during the mock trial on the third day.
Planning for the 2015 seminar began at the end of the 2014 Legal Interpreting Seminar, which Arkansas’ AOC Court Interpreter Services successfully planned and administered. Court Interpreter Services developed a curriculum and with the help of many judges and attorneys who volunteered their time, it was a success on a small budget. The 2014 seminar cost significantly less than similar workshops of this caliber, which range from $40k upwards. The AOC Interpreter Services invited neighboring states to the seminar with the purpose of introducing new programs to the importance of continuing education, as well as sharing Arkansas’ experience of how to put on a workshop on a budget. The collaboration would benefit Arkansas’ and neighboring state’s courts by being able to grant reciprocity to interpreters across state lines who have been trained with the same high standards.
The Louisiana Supreme Court and Mississippi and Tennessee’s AOCs accepted the invitation and their grant contributions were used to develop the 2015 Legal Interpreting Seminar. This year there were a total of 68 participants from 17 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington and eight languages were represented: American Sign Language (ASL), Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin), French, Lao, Thai, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Every detail of the seminar was designed to provide essential tools that court interpreters need when presented with language challenges and ethical dilemmas. On the second day, Officer Ralph Breshears from the Little Rock Police Department gave a very powerful and educational demonstration on accident reconstruction and he further contributed as the expert witness during the mock trial. Honorable Herb Wright was a hit with his presentation, “Why Attorneys Ask The Questions They Ask”. Following Judge Wright’s presentation, Konstantina Vagenas, Counsel of Access to Justice Initiatives and Director of Language Access at the National Center for State Courts, brought everyone up-to-date on the current focus on language access in state courts as well as the different initiatives for establishing new interpreter programs across the country. The culmination of all the presentations was on the third day during the mock court event. . Arraignments, hearings and a civil trial were held at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Judge Barry Sims’ courtroom. The morning docket had realistic arraignments and short hearings. Judge Troy Braswell presided, while Jennifer Corbin and Lee Short acted as prosecutor and defense attorney, respectively. Interpreters were able to practice their skills in the quick pace of a busy courtroom. The docket was carefully written to include Russian, Chinese and Lao witnesses as well as all the other languages represented. During the afternoon, a civil trial was held and carefully condensed to fit the three hour allotted time. Honorable Mary McGowan presided, while Judge Bobby McCallister and Gary Green acted as plaintiff’s and defense attorneys. The entire day in court provided a realistic experience of a courtroom and its procedures. The more experienced interpreters were able to polish their skills while the newer interpreters were able to put into use their new skills while learning from the more seasoned participants. The three days were a huge success with positive feedback from all attendees.
The success of the 2015 Legal Interpreting Seminar was due to a combination of dedicated stakeholders, state program managers, presenters, Arkansas judges and attorneys, Arkansas Court Interpreter Services, and all those who share the passion for language access and know the important role interpreters play in the judiciary.