The myth of federally certified Spanish court interpreter fees in the United States.
August 9, 2021 § 14 Comments
There has been some misleading information on line about the income Spanish court interpreters can make in the United States once they are certified at the federal level. This is motivated by the apparent dates for the next certification exam; and I refer to these dates as “apparent” because, not surprisingly, there is no official information, notice, or update on the website of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC). This is not unexpected as lack of accountability kept in office the same people behind the last fiasco.
As a marketing strategy, some exam preparation vendors have said, or at least implied, that federally certified court interpreters make $418.00 U.S. dollars per day, which multiplied by 5 days a week gives you $2,090.00 U.S. dollars per week; and this amount, times 52 weeks in a year is $108,680.00
The daily fee for a federally certified court interpreter is correct. Federal District Courts must pay freelancers said amount when retained for a full-day of work in court. “Unfortunately,” this is the daily fee for freelancers, and independent contractors are not staff interpreters, they do not work for the courthouse 40 hours a week; they are only asked to work when needed, perhaps several times in a month in a “good month,” and usually they are retained for half a day, at the official fee of $226.00 U.S. dollars, not $418.00
Frequency depends on the caseload, but it also depends on other factors such as the place where the interpreter is physically located, the number of certified interpreters in the area, and other criteria developed by each one of the federal districts. A good portion of this interpreter requests are not to work in court, but to assist attorneys from an existing panel, appointed to represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases, in terms of the Criminal Justice Act, commonly referred to “CJA attorneys.” These interpretation services are paid at the same federal fees approved for court services above, most of these assignments are for half a day, and to be paid, interpreters must do some paperwork, ask the panel attorney to approve and file the invoice, wait until the lawyer gets around to do it, and then wait for the court to pay. In some districts the wait could be substantial.
Unlike state courts, there are few trials in federal court, even fewer that require interpreters, and most scheduled trials end up cancelled because the defendant enters into a plea agreement. In these cases, interpreters often get no money because of the advanced notice of cancellation, and in others, when there is a last-minute cancellation, interpreters get paid for just a few days, even had they set aside weeks for a lengthy trial that is no more.
Lengthy trials are paid as full days, and sometimes interpreters make an important amount of money, but traveling to another city for a federal trial can be tricky. The district court will reimburse all travel and lodging expenses incurred by the interpreter; the key word is “reimburse.” Interpreters have to buy fully-refundable plane tickets, paying for expensive tickets since “airline specials” are not fully refundable and carry many restrictions unacceptable to the federal government. Interpreters also pay for their hotel rooms (here they catch a break because they must get the hotel’s federal employee rate considerably lower that a regular fare) their ground transportation, and all of their meals. The courthouse will reimburse all the expenses after reviewing all invoices submitted by the interpreter, but reimbursement could take several weeks and even months (usually longer that a credit card payment cycle). Many interpreters turn down this out-of-town trial assignments. They cannot afford to advance such amount of money.
Some of you may be thinking: Why should I get certified then? The answer is, because interpreting in federal court pays better than most state courts, and it definitely pays better than most abusive agencies. The important thing is to understand what the federal certification is good for.
If your expectations are to make a high income by working for the federal court system as a freelancer, then you have to reconsider your options and think about applying for a staff court interpreter position in a federal courthouse. But if you value your freedom as an independent contractor, and you have professional plans beyond interpreting the same subjects for the same judges for the rest of your career, then you have to understand the federal certification credential is helpful when you know how to use it.
First, as a newly certified interpreter, you will gain a lot of experience. This is extremely valuable when you start as an interpreter and recognize when it is time to move on. By going to interpret at the federal courthouse, you will meet attorneys (not federal public defenders or CJA panelists) from big law firms who will hire you as your direct clients. Most of the law firms I am referring to practice civil litigation and corporate law. Working for these clients will eliminate most of your competitors, as most interpreters stay with criminal courthouse work. It will also challenge you to be a better interpreter as cases are varied and usually more complicated than criminal trials. You will also meet the attorneys’ clients, many multinational businesses and Fortune 500 companies, and they will become your clients for non-legal matters where they may need interpreting services.
If you stay in criminal law because of personal reasons, you can also target the big criminal law firms that handle private clients, among them businesspeople and celebrities that could end up as your clients. If you cannot gain access to these law firms and their clients at this time because of your lack of professional experience or due to your physical location, the federal certification will let you work with the United States Attorney where you can negotiate your fee and work conditions without being limited to the official federal fees (as with the court, CJA attorneys, and federal public defenders).
Working as a freelance certified interpreter in federal court is a great back-up income strategy. Sometimes, direct clients will be scarce. When this happens, contact your federal courthouse and offer your services. They may ask you to work on a day you have nothing scheduled. Under those circumstances, it is better to work for the federal full-day or half-day fee than state court fees, or abusive agencies. Just make sure when you work in federal court you act as a consummate professional, do your best work, and be courteous to all. Courthouse interpreter coordinators will appreciate the work you do, and will understand you are not always available because you are constantly looking for ways to be a better interpreter and move up in the profession.
I hope you now understand better what to expect from a federal court interpreter certification, its potential income and possibilities; and how, when done wisely, it can help you grow as a professional interpreter. You must get certified. Please feel free to share your comments with the rest of us.
Lack of understanding, common sense = constitutional conflict in court?
November 12, 2018 § 1 Comment
I recently learned that some federal district courts got involved in the way federal prosecutors pick their interpreters for hearings. I have practiced in federal court for many years, and the decision on who will interpret for the office of the United States Attorney has always been left to the prosecutors who know the case better than anybody else. This means they, and their prosecutorial team of paralegals, investigators, detectives, and law enforcement agents, know the language complexities of a particular case, and therefore, better equipped to decide who they need for that interpreting assignment.
I do not dispute that some districts, because of a lack of federally certified court interpreters, or out of plain ignorance, have never tried a case where the assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSA) have their own interpreters for a trial. Some districts are so small, the AUSA office does not even have a staff interpreter. Some districts are so remote, that even the court tries cases with unqualified court interpreters (usually certified or accredited at the state level) because it is next to impossible to get somebody to the courthouse. Evidentiary hearings and trials require that an interpreter be physically present at the hearing. Remote interpreting is not a viable option for these proceedings.
That some have always followed this practice does not make it right, and courts in districts in urban centers where federally certified court interpreters are available have no reason to inject themselves in what should be an internal process of the Department of Justice. Let me elaborate:
The American legal system, and all legitimate legal systems in the world, are based on an independent judiciary free to decide with no pressures or fear of retaliation. The United States Constitution recognizes and enshrines this principle through the separation of powers. The Executive Branch of the federal government originates from Article 2. The Judicial Branch stems from Article 3.
With administration of justice in a criminal case, all individuals in the United States have the rights and protections established by the Constitution and secondary legislation; mainly, the right to a public and fair trial by their peers, starting with a presumption of innocence, charging the Executive Branch of government, through the United States Department of Justice, with the burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, in an orderly regulated process, presided by and controlled by the Judicial Branch of government. To put it simply: Because the government cannot be judge and party, it is an agency from outside the Judicial Branch, in this case the Justice Department, who prosecutes the case on behalf of the U.S. government, including the citizens that the government must protect from the bad guys.
We can see that having the burden of proof is no small task. Federal prosecutors must investigate de facts, test and evaluate the evidence found, and prepare a case that will persuade the jury and judge of an individuals’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. If successful, the Justice Department will meet its duty to protect society. This is no easy task; it also means that individuals will lose their assets, their freedom, and even their life. A prosecutorial team must have the best team available to fulfill its function, and that is extremely difficult.
Federal prosecutors must call witnesses to testify in the trial. When these witnesses do not speak English, their testimony must be interpreted into English to benefit the defendant, the defense attorneys, the judge, and the jury. It is only then, after the rendition of the interpretation, that the defendant will have exercised his constitutional right to confront the witness or accuser. It only after the rendition that a judge or jury can assess the credibility of the witness. It is this time they will decide if they believe all, part, or nothing of the witness’ statement.
But most of the work is done before the witness steps in the courtroom and takes the stand. Prosecutors and their teams test, evaluate, and prepare their witnesses before a trial. Questions are asked many times, in many ways; adjustments are made. Not to influence testimony, but to present the truth clearly to the trier of fact (judge or jury). Usually the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution is very complex, specialized, scientific. Dense concepts and sophisticated terminology must be interpreted into English during the trial; cultural concepts must be clarified before the final rendition (many expert witnesses come from abroad just for the trial); legal systems compared so the accurate term in the target language is rendered by the interpreter. Leaving loose ends is not an option: The prosecution must prove, and the standard could not be any higher: beyond reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and their teams, assisted by the interpreters, go over the testimony with every witness as many times as needed. These interpreters must research, study, practice, develop a common glossary for each testimony. The witness gets used to that team of interpreters and the interpreters get used to the witness.
The interpreters for the prosecution know the case, they are familiar with names, dates, places, and other key information that must be interpreted with accuracy. From gang slang, to amounts of drugs, to family relationships. It all needs to be well-understood so the interpretation heard in trial is accurate, pristine, and truthful.
Confidentiality is essential to our justice system. It lets the parties tell the truth to their attorneys so they can represent, in a criminal case, a defendant or society with full knowledge of the facts. Confidentiality is also very important when it comes to the lawyers’ strategy. Prosecutors and defense attorneys develop a strategy to win a case. The interpreters for the prosecution know the strategy and facts, and they are covered by the veil of secrecy. Using a court appointed interpreter to interpret for the prosecution generates a conflict of interest. You cannot be judge and party simultaneously. Even the most professional, trustworthy interpreters should never be placed in such situation. The sole appearance of conflict is enough to cast a shadow on the proceedings. Client-attorney privilege only exists when there is an expectation of privacy. How could this be argued when the same interpreter hears all confidential details?
The independence of the prosecutorial interpreters is so important, that even their payment differs from that court appointed, public defender, and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorney interpreters receive. I am not referring to staff interpreters, I am talking about independent contractors retained to work in a case. While interpreters for the court, public defender, and CJA attorneys are paid through the judicial system (Judicial Branch of government) interpreters for the prosecution are paid by the United States Department of Justice (Executive Branch). The funds come from different budgets to assure independence, absence of conflict of interests, and separation of powers. The Office of the United States Attorney pays better that the courts, and unlike the latter, fees are negotiable between the parties (interpreters and AUSAs). This can also be relevant if you think that most more experienced, better trained interpreters would rather work for the prosecution, leaving a smaller pool of top-level interpreters to work for the courts, and increasing the risk of an inaccurate rendition of a prosecutorial witness’ complex testimony during the trial.
The widely, and constitutionally backed, practice of having a separate interpreter team for the prosecution in federal cases must continue as long as we have separation of powers, and a system where one party has the burden of proof. There is no rational justification for this practice by the executive branch of government, to be changed by court staff, from a different branch. Such decisions are being made in courthouses where none of the issues above were given any thought, where prosecutors did not reflect on the implications of such changes, and a decision was unilaterally made, perhaps due to a lack of understanding that lead to this policy deprived of common sense. If the decision at these district courts was made unilaterally, we have a separation of powers issue; if it was decided for monetary reasons, remember that interpreter fees are paid from two budgets (executive and judiciary); if it was decided to avoid comparisons between experienced prosecutorial interpreters, and perhaps less qualified court appointed ones, it was motivated by unethical reasons and it shows a disappointing level of professionalism; and if this was a joint decision by the courts and AUSAs in some districts, they must address the conflict of interest and at the least the appearance of conflict.
Our legal system has been around for 250 years. It has organically adjusted its parts to observe the fundamental democratic principles, starting with an independent judiciary, a separation of powers, and the rights and protections to the individual and society. In today’s world where many things that were, are no longer, let’s hope this is not changed by the capricious decision of a few. I invite you to share your thoughts on this issue.
Interpreting CJA cases is a bad business decision.
March 26, 2018 § 37 Comments
A recurring theme among my court interpreter colleagues in the United States is the extreme difficulties they must endure when working under the Criminal Justice Act program (CJA). There are complaints about absurd paperwork procedures and unimaginable payment delays. Some colleagues’ invoices for professional services rendered under this program have been outstanding for over a year!
I worked with attorneys under the CJA program, but when the system changed about 18 months ago, and interpreters’ invoices had to go through the defense attorneys to get paid, and I heard some of the delayed payment stories from colleagues nationwide, I decided not to take CJA cases anymore.
For those of you who do not do federal court interpreting work in the United States, in 1964 the United States Congress enacted the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C. § 3006A) to provide a system for appointing and compensating lawyers to represent defendants financially unable to retain counsel; and providing for payment of experts, investigators, or other needed defense services in federal criminal proceedings, including interpreters. Today, the Office of the Federal Public Defender, with the over 10,000 private “panel attorneys” who accept CJA assignments annually, represent the vast majority of individuals prosecuted in U.S. federal courts.
CJA panel attorneys are paid an hourly rate of $132 in non-capital cases, and, in capital cases, a maximum hourly rate of $185. These rates include both attorney compensation and office overhead. In addition, there are case maximums that limit total panel attorney compensation for categories of representation (for example, $10,000 for felonies, $2,900 for misdemeanors, and $7,200 for appeals). These maximums may be exceeded when higher amounts are certified by the district judge, or circuit judge if the representation is at the court of appeals, as necessary to provide fair compensation and the chief judge of the circuit approves. CJA attorney appointments are made by the Court on a rotating basis among members of the panel. Freelance federal court interpreters are paid with the same system, but with an additional step: Before their invoice goes to the judiciary, it must be reviewed and approved by the CJA panel attorney who requested the interpreter’s services. I guess interpreters are officers of the court of a lower tier, so they must be policed by the CJA panel attorney, apparently an officer of the court of a tier higher than the interpreter.
This process, not required when interpreters work directly for the federal courts interpreting court hearings or out-of-court interviews for public defenders or probation officers, created a burden on freelance interpreters who now devote a considerable, uncompensated time to the paperwork and its unavoidable eternal follow up process, that often takes many months and even years. Interpreters are billing for the time they worked as interpreters in a case, but that time represents but a fraction of the hours interpreters spend on paperwork, and follow up telephone calls, emails, and in-person visits to the courthouse, trying to discover the status of a payment for a service provided long before. This time goes uncompensated, and interpreters cannot work somewhere else, and generate income, while they are tied up in bureaucratic nonsense and begging for payment of rightfully earned professional fees. For all these reasons, and to keep my health, sanity, and dignity, as soon as the system started I decided not to take any CJA panel cases, and I have taken none.
I suggest you do the same. Once you do it, you will be surprised at the money you will save just by rejecting these cases. Those of you who know me, or have read this blog for years, know that I am always suggesting diversification in the profession among freelancers so you can keep steady income, and a stream of interesting assignments instead of a boring monotonous routine. Dear colleagues, there are plenty of options even if court and legal interpreting is your thing and you do not want to step outside your field.
The most desirable practice would be civil cases with well-established high-profile law firms. They generally handle interesting cases, have clients who understand and appreciate your work as interpreter, and pay excellent, professional fees when you negotiate correctly. Smaller civil law firms and solo practitioners are also a good alternative.
Next, you have the criminal defense private attorneys. They have time to handle their cases and they usually retain you for the entire case. Here your interpreting services are well paid, and you are exposed to challenging, but interesting cases. It is rare to work in a case involving white collar crimes when you spend your time providing services to public defenders and CJA panel attorneys.
Foreign law firms are also a very good choice. Globalization has generated a big multinational litigation practice, and those top-notch attorneys coming from countries where they do not speak English may need the services of a local court interpreter team. Fascinating topics, including intellectual property, foreign trade, mining, hazardous materials, are common with these clients. Family Law practitioners from these countries are also looking for interpreting services in cases of divorce, child support, international child abduction, and others.
If you want to fill in the rest of your agenda with more court/legal work, you can also provide interpreting services to the Office of the United States Attorney in your jurisdiction. Witness preparation, proffers, transcriptions, and other services are required by the AUSA. An added benefit: They are not bound by the (every-day lower) federal fees, so you can negotiate a much better compensation for your professional services.
If you like working with the federal prosecutors, then you must offer your services to the United States Trustee Program (USTP) for their exams and interviews in federal bankruptcy court cases. This is another source of legal/court interpreter income that pays well when you negotiate your fee correctly.
Finally, you can still work with the federal public defender and, if you want to interpret hearings instead of interviews, negotiations, and depositions, you can interpret for the federal courts. You will only make the set half –a-day or full-day fee, and you will usually get the same type of cases, but you will stay away from the long, demeaning, and never-ending invoice procedures associated with CJA panel attorney cases. As a less desirable option, but in many ways better than dealing with the CJA system, you could always work at the state-court level.
Dear friends and colleagues, there are plenty of alternatives to CJA assignments, even within the court/legal field. I believe that if you all were to do what I did from the beginning, the CJA system would have no choice but to change and become more interpreter-friendly. I do not believe on “fantasyland solutions” such as talking to chief judges and court clerks; it was tried in some districts and they accomplished nothing. We cannot continue to lose income, health, and dignity backing up a system that proved ineffective. I now ask you to share your comments with the rest of us.
Procrastinating federal judges hurt justice and interpreters.
March 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
If you are a federally certified court interpreter in the United States you have surely provided interpretation services at the request of private attorneys, who are part of a panel kept by that district, according to the United States Criminal Justice Act, commonly referred to as the CJA (18 U.S. Code § 3006A) These attorneys, and I will refer to them as CJAs in this posting, are private lawyers appointed by a federal district court judge, or a federal magistrate, to represent a party who cannot afford his own private attorney in cases where representation by the Office of the Public Defender is not possible because of the physical location of the defendant or due to a conflict of interest. In other words, when there are codefendants and one is represented by the federal public defender, all others must be represented by private counsel or by a CJA panel attorney. CJA attorneys are known to most court interpreters because they are always at the courthouse, just like the public defenders. They have a big caseload, and many of their clients do not speak English. Because of defendants’ constitutional rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 these non-English speakers have the right to an interpreter that is also furnished under the same Criminal Justice Act: “…Representation under each plan shall include counsel and investigative, expert, and other services necessary for adequate representation…” (18 U.S. Code § 3006A) Federally certified court interpreters are asked to interpret during client-attorney office interviews, trial preparation, jail visits, and similar services requested by the CJA attorney. After the service is performed, the interpreter must prepare and submit to the District Court a CJA invoice form that the panel attorney signs. Once the form is submitted and verified for accuracy and completeness by the court’s financial department, it is sent to the federal district court judge or magistrate who has been assigned to that case for approval and signature. It is only after the judge signs the form and returns it to the court’s financial department that the interpreter gets paid. This process can take, depending on the district court, from one week to a month in average. All interpreters know this and accept it as part of the life of a freelancer. I should mention that this seemingly bureaucratic process is attractive to the freelance interpreter because of volume. In fact, in districts where there are several staff certified court interpreters this may be the bulk of the freelancers work for the courts.
Unfortunately, there are certain cases where this simple and straight forward payment process is unconscionably delayed. There are federal district court judges in the United States who hold back payment for incredibly long periods of time and there is no apparent reason or justification for this delay.
Dear colleagues, I am not talking about late filings or incomplete voucher forms; I am talking about withholding of invoices for no cause. I am afraid that there may be more that one judge following this practice; there is one among them, who shall remain anonymous in this blog, who has generated comments from colleague interpreters such as: “…Oh, that judge! One time it took well over a year to get paid for a half a day interpretation…he just didn’t approve the form any sooner…” And this one depicting the interpreter’s feeling of impotence: “…it always takes many months to get paid, but nobody dares to say anything because…well judges are appointed for life…” Finally, an interpreter summarized it very graphically in these words: “…the judge doesn’t care. There may be other priorities, but unlike federal judges, we cannot afford to go months without payment. We have to put food on the table for our families…” This particular judge has been on the bench for many years, by all accounts seems to have a good grasp of the law, but when it comes to other judicial skills, this judge has received poor reviews from a judicial evaluation commission such as: “…(the judge has exhibited) slowness when it comes to ruling on motions…” or: “…lack of punctuality to convene proceedings…” and even “…(having) poor judicial temperament while on the bench…” The judge was described as: “impatient,” “a yeller from the bench,” “mean spirited,” and “angry.”
I want to make it very clear that most judges and court clerical staff do a very good job at processing invoices and making sure interpreters are paid on a timely manner. Judges like the ones described above are the exception to the rule; but they exist and will continue on the bench.
Faced with this reality what can interpreters do to get paid on time? First the interpreter needs to make a distinction between those cases where the interpretation services have been rendered and the judge is procrastinating, and the cases where no service has been rendered yet.
For the first scenario there are the usual remedies that we all know: Talk to the chief staff interpreter once again, write to the clerk of the court, file a duplicate form with the court’s financial department; even talk to the judge’s clerk and explain your situation. This may accomplish the objective in some cases, but unfortunately it will fail most of the time because the approval of the form is not being delayed by any of these people. It is the judge who created the problem. So what is there left to do? Well, there may be a legal answer: The American legal system contemplates situations when the authority does not comply with its duty of doing or abstaining from doing something: The Writ of Mandamus. This may be an option available to the interpreter. The request for a Writ of Mandamus can be filed with the Court of Appeals having jurisdiction over the procrastinating district court judge asking the higher court to order the approval or denial of the interpreter’s invoice. “…(Courts) may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law…” [28 U.S. Code §1651(a)] Of course, before the interpreter decides to take this step, he must consider the consequences: (1) Because this blog is not giving any legal advice to anybody, the interpreter must consult with an attorney to see if a writ of mandamus is possible in that specific case; (2) The district court judge may simply deny the invoice. The writ can order that the authority take action but not the outcome of this action. Of course this may open other channels to the interpreter to appeal the judge’s decision on the invoice and that way get paid; and (3) The practical consequences of filing the petition including the possibility of being branded as a “troublemaker” by others, which could result in the loss of business and therefore the loss of income.
When the interpreter has not provided any interpretation services yet, that is, when interpreters are first contacted by the CJA attorney (or by the district court depending on the district) to request the interpretation services, the interpreter should always ask who is the judge in that particular case, and if it turns out to be a procrastinating judge’s case, the interpreter should refuse the assignment. Remember, you are a freelancer. Freelancing means that sometimes you may have to wait forever to get paid on a CJA voucher, but it also means that you are free to ban all procrastinating judges if you want to. The best way to avoid late payments is to avoid those clients who are always late. In fact, the interpreter should explain to the CJA attorney the reason for declining the assignment and reassure him that cases from all other federal judges will be accepted as usual. This should solve that interpreter’s problem. It may be very difficult to fix this procrastinating judges situation for all interpreters in all cases, but at least you will get paid on time.
Finally, I remind you again that this posting is not giving any legal advice to anybody, and I ask you to share with the rest of us your experiences and solutions to this terrible problem, and please do not mention any names.
Si ustedes interpretan para los juzgados federales más vale que lean esto.
December 7, 2012 § 4 Comments
Una noche leyendo mi correo electrónico me enteré de ciertas cosas, en mi opinión preocupantes, que estaban sucediendo en ese momento en el estado de Colorado. Resulta que los intérpretes que trabajan en ese distrito judicial federal prestando servicios a los abogados del panel, conocidos como “CJA” por las siglas que tiene ese programa en el idioma inglés, tuvieron muchas dificultades para que les pagaran sus honorarios. Aparentemente, hay algunas abogadas de este panel de Colorado, y al menos una juez en ese distrito, que no consideran que sea legítimo el pago de gastos y honorarios a los intérpretes que se desplazan a los centros de detención, por más lejos que estos se encuentren, a interpretar para los abogados CJA. Una abogada se negó a autorizar el pago por las millas y el tiempo que le llevó a una colega intérprete trasladarse a un centro de detención. La abogada argumentó que solo debería pagarse por el “tiempo de interpretación” y nada más. Este asunto tan absurdo llegó a una audiencia ante una juez federal del distrito de Colorado y ¿Qué creen ustedes? ¡La juez estuvo de acuerdo con la abogada del panel! Es más, esa juez trató de lograr que este criterio obtuso se convirtiera en regla general en todo el distrito judicial. Afortunadamente la crisis terminó con una decisión en que prevaleció la opinión de la mayoría de los jueces y en este momento los intérpretes reciben compensación por el tiempo de viaje. Lo lamentable es que para alcanzar este “final feliz” pasaron meses y requirió de un gran esfuerzo por parte de nuestros colegas que afortunadamente terminaron por recibir el apoyo del presidente del juzgado y de la mayoría de los jueces vitalicios. No me quedó claro si la juez que inició toda la controversia finalmente entró en razón o simplemente perdió a la hora de contar los votos.
Ahora, debo explicar algo que yo sé por haber vivido un tiempo en Colorado. Por muchísimos años los intérpretes judiciales de ese estado han trabajado bajo un sistema que les resuelve todo. No tienen que buscar trabajo ya que tanto el estado como el gobierno federal programan a sus intérpretes y les asignan días para interpretar. El resultado de esta costumbre ha sido que muchos de los colegas en Colorado no saben buscar clientes o negociar con ellos ya que están acostumbrados a depender del juzgado en este sistema de clientela medieval. De tal suerte que el juzgado, actuando como dueño de tienda de raya, determina el pago por los servicios de interpretación y los días en que alguien trabaja. Los intérpretes están tan acostumbrados al sistema que siempre están de acuerdo y siguen aceptando las condiciones que se les impongan en estos contratos de adhesión. Obviamente el resultado es que Colorado tiene algunos de los intérpretes más mal pagados en todo el país.
Ese sistema tan viciado dejó de aplicarse en el distrito judicial federal a fines del año pasado y desde entonces, y hasta que los jueces votaron a favor del pago por el tiempo de viaje, se había trabajado con el panel CJA bajo una política de negociación caso por caso. El resultado fue que en un lugar donde la gente no estaba acostumbrada a negociar sus honorarios, donde hay colegas (y me duele llamarlos colegas) que están prestando sus servicios por una miseria de pago, y hay otros que están tratando de cobrar como se debe, estos últimos enfrentan a un monstruo de dos cabezas: el cliente que quiere pagar poco y el intérprete miedoso que gustoso acepta las migajas..
No digo que debamos determinar aquí lo que hay que pagar a los intérpretes de ninguna parte, eso es cosa de ellos. Mi preocupación fundamental y mi única motivación para escribir este artículo tiene que ver con la idea de no pagar por el tiempo de preparación, de viaje, los gastos incidentales de la prestación del servicio profesional, y el tiempo que el intérprete deja de ganar dinero en otro trabajo debido a que está sentado en la cárcel con el abogado esperando que traigan al preso, o está jugándose la vida en una tormenta de nieve tratando de cumplir con su cita en un centro de detención, o está investigando terminología, etcétera.
Que quede bien claro que los intérpretes, al igual que todo aquel que presta servicios profesionales, incluyendo los abogados, venden su tiempo. No pueden estar en dos lugares al mismo tiempo, y si se les contrata para un trabajo de dos horas, pero eso significa que debido a la distancia, o a la hora del día en que se va a prestar el servicio, no pueden trabajar en algo más ese día, o ese medio día, o sea, van a dejar de ganar dinero para poder satisfacer la necesidad de ese cliente que los necesita por dos horas, al igual que los abogados, esos intérpretes deben cobrar por su tiempo dedicado a un caso, deben ser remunerados por su tiempo desde el momento en que dejan su casa u oficina y hasta que regresen a la misma, deben ser remunerados por el tiempo que dediquen a la investigación y preparación de un trabajo, y deben ser reembolsados por los gastos que conlleva la prestación de sus servicios, millas viajadas, cuotas de puentes y carreteras, boletos de avión, hoteles, viáticos, etcétera. La manera en que el intérprete decida cobrar esos gastos y honorarios es cosa suya: un honorario por hora contado desde que sale de la oficina hasta que regresa, cobrando únicamente por las horas de interpretación pero a un honorario más elevado que incluya los gastos y el viaje, a una tarifa por el día o medio día de trabajo…en fin, eso es cosa de cada uno.
Si yo estuviera en una situación como la que sufrieron los intérpretes de Colorado, trataría de convencer a mis colegas para que no cedan ante la presión y cobren por aquello a lo que tienen derecho, además, yo simplemente me negaría a aceptar trabajo con esas abogadas cuenta-chiles del panel (que por cierto generalmente nunca se convierten en buenos clientes ya que rara vez tienen la pericia y conocimientos para tener clientes particulares que son los que pagan bien) y antes de cada trabajo prepararía una carta de condiciones que pediría que el abogado firmara, y si no la firma, simplemente no aceptaría el trabajo. Asimismo, jamás volvería a aceptar trabajo ante jueces como la que se menciona en este artículo, y que como dato curioso es hispana y “habla” español. Hay que recordar que somos contratistas y como tales tenemos el derecho a aceptar o rechazar todo el trabajo que nos ofrezcan. Yo estoy convencido que cuando un abogado se encuentra sin opciones porque nadie quiera trabajar con él o ella, y cuando los jueces poquiteros no puedan celebrar una audiencia por falta de intérprete, sus actitudes cambian, y si no, al haber establecido mi política de no trabajar con ese tipo de clientes, por lo menos yo ya no tendría que preocuparme de lo que pase, ni tendría que perder mi tiempo en litigios y cartas tratando de convencer al olmo para que dé peras. Ya les dije lo que yo haría en esa situación, ahora me encantaría escuchar sus opiniones que tal vez ayuden a nuestros colegas que en estos momentos enfrentan este tipo de circunstancias dondequiera que se encuentren.
Something bad is happening with the federal courts in some states.
July 17, 2012 § 6 Comments
Not long ago I had dinner with some colleagues that work in the federal court system. As it always happens with interpreters, we ended up talking shop. Of course, as you all know, this is pretty standard in our profession; however, I was shocked by some of the comments I heard. I learned that despite the fact that the state has over 20 court certified interpreters, the federal courts in Colorado are now hiring non-certified interpreters for all services with the exception of court hearings; and that is not all, I also heard that the CJA attorneys are only approving vouchers for the time “actually worked” by the interpreter. Forget about the full day and half a day rates. I also found out that, ignoring the fact that Chicago has around 15 certified court interpreters, the state of Indiana is hiring non-certified interpreters for hearings, and they are even pairing them with certified interpreters. We all know that each district is its own world, and they set their own policy, but somebody told me that this is happening with the blessing of higher authorities. This is worrisome. I support the idea that if you want to like our profession for a long time, and if you want to make a good living, you need to diversify and interpret conferences, legal, medical, and everything else you can think of.
I oppose the position of some independent contractor colleagues who only see themselves as court interpreters and refuse to step outside the box; however, I am very fortunate to live in a place where the court only allows certified court interpreters, but if what I heard is true, I am saddened and frustrated by this information because the certification exam is not easy, because there is a huge quality gap between the interpretation level of certified and non-certified court interpreters, and because the attorneys and judges are going along with the budget guys, giving up the quality of a certified court interpreter in order to save a few bucks. I ask you to tell me if this is what is happening in your area, and if so, what in your opinion can be done to educate the defense bar, the federal bench, and the U.S. Department of Justice so they stop calling all these non-certified interpreters, and let me be very clear that when I say non-certified I am including the consortium certified interpreters because there is no distinction between them and those with another certification or without any certification, they are not certified to work in the federal system. It is that simple.