BBA hosts CLE on language access and working with court interpreters

May 8, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar titled “What Every Judge and Lawyer Needs to Know About Language Access and Working with Court Interpreters” in Brooklyn Heights last Tuesday.

The seminar offered practical advice for judges and lawyers working with court interpreters and addressed real-life challenges that may arise during court proceedings. The session also covered best practices for promoting cultural fluency and avoiding common pitfalls.

The esteemed panel of speakers included Hon. Lizette Colon, Justice of the New York State Supreme Court; Hon. Jacqueline Deane, Judge of the New York City Family Court; and Hon. Raja Rajeswari, Chair of both the NYC Criminal Court Equal Justice Committee and the NYS Unified Court System Advisory Committee on Language Access.

Ann Ryan, Statewide Coordinator of the NYS Unified Court System Office of Language Access, also spoke. The event was moderated by Kwok Kei Ng, associate court attorney and vice chair of the BBA Diversity Committee.

Kwok Kei Ng, vice chair of the BBA Diversity Committee, moderated the event.

During the seminar, the panelists addressed various policy questions, practical situations, and best practices related to language access and working with court interpreters. They discussed the unique challenges faced by limited English proficient (LEP) litigants in family court, the differences in practice between sign language interpretation and other spoken language interpretation, and the importance of ensuring LEP litigants are aware of their right to a court interpreter.

The seminar also touched upon the qualifications of court interpreters, the challenges that interpreters face when working with judges, and the potential consequences of not having a competent interpreter. Furthermore, the panelists shared examples of common mistakes arising from cultural misunderstandings and discussed ways to create a more inclusive courtroom environment for LEP litigants, witnesses, and other participants.

In addition to the panel discussion, the seminar delved into several specific questions, scenarios, and recommendations for judges and lawyers, covering topics such as the best ways to gauge court users’ language access needs, the use of family members as interpreters, and how to address potential cultural and linguistic differences between the hearing-impaired individual and the interpreter.

Hon. Lizette Colon joined via Zoom.

The panelists also shared insights on how to prepare for a case requiring court interpreter assistance, how to handle mistranslation claims, and the significance of out-of-court translation in decision-making processes in family court or criminal court cases involving investigators or police officers.

New York State courts offer free interpreting services for court users, regardless of their English proficiency level. Pursuant to Part 217 of the Uniform Rules for NYS Trial Courts and Judiciary Law section 390 regarding sign language interpreters for the deaf or hard of hearing, interpreting services are provided at no cost in both criminal and civil matters for all participants, including defendants, parties, witnesses, victims and users of non-courtroom services.

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