June is bound to be an interesting month for the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The State Court Administrator will accept comments on proposed revisions to policies related to court interpreter pay and qualifications from June 1-26, 2023.
Among the more impactful changes, the revisions adjust hourly rates for spoken language interpreters and remove the distinctions between on-site and remote interpreters.
The Court Interpreter Payment Policy, originally drafted in 2001, was last revised in August 2021. The new revisions are intended to “achieve uniformity and fairness in the payment of non-employee interpreters” and set standards for the payment of hourly rates and cancellation compensation.
As independent contractors, individual interpreters, or the language service providers (LSPs) connecting courts with interpreters, are guaranteed neither a specific number of assignments nor a set amount of income. They are also expected to supply their own equipment for work, without compensation from the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
According to the new Appendix I, rates range from USD 30/hour for off-roster interpreters to USD 60/hour for certified interpreters.
It is notable that, at USD 59/hour, the pay rate for off-roster interpreters of American Sign Language (ASL) is almost double that for off-roster interpreters of spoken languages.
Unlike some other US government buyers, the Minnesota Judicial Branch does not offer higher rates for languages of lesser diffusion, which have fewer interpreters and are therefore harder to staff.
Critics have homed in on the fact that, if approved, the same hourly interpreting rate would apply to both on-site and remote interpreters.
“In the past, most courts have used third-party vendors who charged at least double the hourly rate proposed by the MN Judicial Branch without, in most instances, being able to guarantee the use of only certified interpreters to fulfill last-minute requests,” certified Spanish interpreter Ruth Garcia posted on LinkedIn. “By giving these “ad hoc” remote interpreters a pay cut of over 50%, the courts will go back to reducing access to quality interpreting services.”
Garcia’s proposed solution: Government agencies should hire certified interpreters directly, a “win-win” that gives buyers “access to a large pool of certified professionals nationwide.”
Consultant interpreter Tony Rosado suggested that the Courts should follow the practices common in conference interpreting.
“Because of the difference in cognitive load, an in-person full day should be 6/7 hours and a distance interpreting full day assignment should be four hours,” Rosado wrote. “Same compensation in both cases.”
The State Court Administrator may also make revisions to the Court Interpreter Roster Qualifications, adding a new “conditional roster” qualification, as well as reciprocity for tests in English proficiency, ethics, and legal terminology taken in states other than Minnesota.
Conditional roster status would be an option for interpreters who have met all the requirements for the roster except for the English proficiency portion of the written exam, provided they score Above Average or higher on an Oral Proficiency Interview.
But at least one observer said that he was most concerned about the potential reciprocity for certification exams.
“Some States let candidates take the exam in installments, others have lower passing criteria, and in some cases, languages of lesser use in court may have exams that are not as scientific as, let’s say Spanish, or the test may be so localized to a particular State that it may not be useful in other parts of the country,” Rosado wrote. “Just like with attorneys, there are different exams for every State for a reason.”