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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Guam Judiciary Approves Courtroom Interpreter Registry
Recent demands high for Chuukese interpreters

By Brett Kelman

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 30, 2012) – The local courthouse on Guam hopes a new registry -- and higher, more consistent pay -- could help end a shortage of courtroom interpreters.

Yesterday, the Judicial Council approved a registry program that will collect dependable, qualified interpreters for court hearings, and discussed a new pay scale for registered interpreters.

The registry will go into affect immediately, and the council plans to vote on the pay scale during another meeting in December. A code of conduct for interpreters also is under review.

Without a registry, the efforts to get an interpreter for any court hearing is a bit of a "turkey shoot," said Pro Tem Judge Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson yesterday.

Some of the interpreters used by the court have experience and training, but some are new and haven't been trained on the complexities of court proceedings, she said.

"The registry will guarantee that if someone is called from the registry, they have been trained, they have been examined and they are acceptable," Barrett-Anderson said.

Barrett-Anderson said she hoped the registry would include two interpreters for the following languages by the end of the year: Chuukese, Palauan, Yapese, Pohnepeian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog and other languages from the Philippines.

According to Pacific Daily News files, the court estimates each case that requires an interpreter is delayed an average of five times -- or about five months -- because of the interpreter shortage.

The shortage developed because the court's interpreter system hasn't kept up with the flood of migrants who have come to Guam in the last 20 years, Pacific Daily News files state. The biggest demand is for Chuukese interpreters, in part because there has been an influx of Chuukese immigrants to Guam in recent years.

With the registry in place, the courthouse also can begin paying its registered interpreters a higher salary.

Currently, interpreters make about $25 an hour, rounded to the nearest quarter of an hour. However, some interpreters may have to wait at the courthouse -- while not collecting pay -- to cover a single, short hearing.

As proposed, the new pay scale would pay registered interpreters $35 per half day and $65 per full day, with an extra $20 for trial proceedings.

"These court interpreters, who really may rely on this as a part-time job or even a full-time job, they need to be assured that they are going to be paid. ... And part of that effort is we need to improve the rate of pay that way so this will be attractive to someone with these skills," said Chief Justice F. Phillip Carbullido.

During the Judicial Council meeting, Carbullido also said the court would "step up" efforts to hire an interpreter coordinator to better organize the limited number of interpreters available.

Carbullido said this decision was in reaction to a recent Pacific Daily News story that highlighted the shortage of interpreters and the resulting delay of court hearings.

"With proper scheduling, we can address some of the shortcomings that have come to light," Carbullido said.

Any efforts to increase the pools of qualified interpreters will help the District Court of Guam as well, said Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood. The local court and federal court share a pool of interpreters, and shortages have been felt in the federal court as well, she said.

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