FL: Broward County Interpreters telecommute to court
Monday, January 18, 2010
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel
It's not uncommon for a judge to halt a criminal hearing or trial when it turns out a defendant or witness doesn't understand what's going on.
Foregin language interpreters are summoned, but if they must travel from downtown Fort Lauderdale to a satellite courthouse, the delay can last hours or, with scheduling problems, even weeks.
Broward County is about to start a system where interpreters will be able to sit in a room in Fort Lauderdale with headsets and plug into courtrooms to provide interpretation services—immediately and remotely.
"We are interpreting in the courtroom without a body," explained Sunil Nemade, chief information officer for the court's Judicial Information Systems.
The program for misdemeanor and traffic cases, modeled on one Orlando is using, begins Thursday in Broward County Judge Louis Schiff's courtroom in Deerfield Beach. If all goes well, it will expand next week to the two other satellites, in Plantation and Hollywood.
"I see it as not only being efficient, but being effective," Schiff said. "And effective is more important than efficient."
Currently, the system works like this: a judge in the main courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale realizes a defendant or witness needs an interpreter and calls over to the interpreters' office. The 15 on staff, who speak Spanish, Creole and Portuguese, are poised to run out to a courtroom at a moment's notice.
But when judges in the three satellite courthouses find themselves with a sudden need for interpreting help, they must reschedule hearings and trials and delay the process for everybody.
In the last fiscal year there were 22,763 interpreting calls in Broward, according to Cheryl Anderson, the chief deputy courts administrator. The county's budget is $863,000 to cover the full-time staff, plus contract employees who are available for a dozen other languages such as Polish, German, Korean and Mandarin.
With the new, $18,000 remote system, it takes a few mouse clicks to connect a satellite courtroom with the interpreting office in Fort Lauderdale. Three computers are set up--one for each satellite courthouse--and an interpreter can access one courtroom at a time. The interpreter puts on a headset, and can translate between lawyers and their clients who are also wearing headsets, or speak to the court over the intercom system so everybody can hear.
Schiff is optimistic about the new program.
"We'll have the interpreter ready and available," he said, "as opposed to telling people they need to come back another day."
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-572-2008.