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Embracing Change: Virtual Remote Interpretation at the 11th Judicial Circuit Interpreter and...

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Embracing Change: Virtual Remote Interpretation at the 11th Judicial Circuit Interpreter and Translation Department

 

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, Miami-Dade County, is a multicultural and diverse community. Ensuring the availability of certified court interpreters is one of the many ways this circuit is committed to providing access to, and participation in, the justice system process for all residents who have business before the Court, regardless of the language spoken.

The US Census Bureau (as of July 1, 2019) estimated the population of Miami-Dade County at 2,761,581 with 69.1% of the population being of Hispanic origin.  In 2019, the interpreter’s staff of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit provided services in approximately 96,971 events across Miami-Dade County. Despite the recent pandemic, there have been approximately 23,514 service events, the majority through remote hearings via video conferencing platforms.

In response to the growing need for interpreter services, in February 2019, Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) technology was installed in branch court facilities throughout Miami-Dade County to assure interpreter services for defendants, respondents, victims, witnesses, plaintiffs, and attorneys. Before the implementation and use of VRI, certified court interpreters were required to report to 7 branch court locations, spread over the 1,946 square miles of the county, to provided interpreting services. These interpreter services were in addition to the coverage provided at the 4 main courthouses. The circuit said ‘adieu, adios, arrivederci, aloha, ciao, sayonara, bon voyage, vale, au revoir’ to the scheduling of standby interpreters and welcomed request-specific-usage of service.

Since the inception of VRI, certified court interpreters work from a centralized location with the capability to be dispatched to courtrooms virtually throughout the county as needed.This process provides a different method of ‘in-person’ interpreters to the courtroom with the same level of excellent service. Of course, this change in service did not occur overnight.In the planning stages, meetings and trainings were scheduled with stakeholders i.e., judges and judicial staff, court personnel, court clerks, attorneys, and others, to fully understand, adapt, and appreciate the streamlined VRI process.With the use of the VRI system, coordination of interpreter services has been maximized throughout the circuit and by December 2019 six out of seven branch courts were VRI operational!

With the devasting impact of COVID-19, it was abundantly clear by April 2020 that this pandemic was going to influence and disrupt typical court operations for a longer period than previously anticipated. The circuit continued to hold essential court hearings such as first appearance and bond hearings, arraignment hearings for in-custody defendants (waiving presence), Baker and Marchman Act petitions, juvenile shelter and detention hearings, emergency petitions, injunctions (domestic violence, dating, stalking, repeat and sexual violence and risk protection orders) and filings with certified court interpreters present to support the functions of the court.

Subsequently, in order to better serve the community, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, following the directive from the Supreme Court and the Office of State Courts Administrator, set up virtual courtrooms using a video conferencing platform (Zoom).Through video conferencing meetings and trainings, certified court interpreters quickly learned how to use the Zoom platform.With use and experience, valuable feedback was provided to the circuit team about how to simplify the process and how to tweak the platform to maximize its versatility for use by the judiciary, court personnel, and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) persons.Fortunately, the Zoom platform also has a feature that allows the LEP person to hear the interpretation in real time (simultaneous), in their language, as opposed to aloud after every sentence (consecutively). This functionality assists to minimize lags, increase the case flow, and reduce delays. The Interpretation and Translation Department created guides, and offered online virtual training sessions to judges, judicial staff, and court personnel. The judiciary further extended assistance to LEPs at the beginning of each hearing by allowing the interpreters to briefly provide instructions on system use, further ensuring that the technology was utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible.

It isn’t easy to imagine all these moving parts coming together in one centralized location in a courthouse. However, with testing, training, and coordination all occurring in the virtual world, a great challenge became an incredible team accomplishment.Throughout these efforts, the Interpretation and Translation Department continues to receive translation requests that are also being completed remotely.Notwithstanding the innovation of holding court hearings virtually, several certified court interpreters still report onsite to handle certain due process matters such as bond hearings, jail arraignments, and other matters which occur safely through the collaborative efforts of the judiciary, Administrative Office of the Courts personnel (administration, technology, budget office, interpreters, and others) and court stakeholders (government and local agencies, attorneys, etc.). These measures taken have been critical in reducing the spread of the COVID-19 guaranteeing physical distancing and use of personal protective equipment while continuing to serve the community.  

For further information on these efforts, please reach out to Ailene Concepcion, Supervisor, Interpretation and Translation Department at aconcepcion@jud11.flcourts.org or Sandra Lonergan, Trial Court Administrator, at slonergan@jud11.flcourts.org.

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