Legal Aid Tells NY1 More Court Interpreters are Needed in Queens

The Legal Aid Society is calling for more court interpreters in Queens, a richly diverse borough where more than 150 languages are spoken but language access in the courts is still lacking. Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice’s Queens office spoke to NY1 about the need for more translators.

There are 42 full-time interpreters in Queens courts who are able to speak 74 languages, according to a spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System. Nori said while Spanish interpreters are on hand every day, that was not always the case for people speaking other languages.

An interpreter’s unavailability came with consequences, Nori noted. "If an interpreter is not available, the case is delayed. And in many cases the delay counts against the tenant, even though they didn't do anything wrong," Nori said. Some litigants then try to represent themselves but Nori said “those people get much worse results.”

The story said constituents have complained about the issue to local elected officials and judges have acknowledged the lack of interpreters being a problem. While the lack of court interpreters primarily affected immigrants, NY1 said the issue was also a matter of concern for individuals communicating through sign language.

Advocates Want More Translators in Queens Courts
By Angi Gonzalez
January 18, 2017

Some legal advocates and local lawmakers want the New York Court System to reassess the need for additional translators in Queens courts. NY1's Angi Gonzalez filed the following report.

A Spanish speaking family should find it easier than most to get a court appointed translator in Queens Civil Court, according to Sateesh Nori who is the Attorney in Charge at the Queens Legal Aid Society.

"A language like Spanish there's an interpreter every day," Nori explained about his experience in Queens housing court.

However, Nori told NY1 that the same isn't always true for those who speak other languages.

His opinion is similar to that of State Senator Jose Peralta.

"I imagine languages like Spanish and Mandarin are easily-accessible for defendants and witnesses, but for other foreign New Yorkers getting a court interpreter for their native tongue may be almost impossible. This is why it is important that we put efforts into hiring interpreters for all languages needed, as we speak over 150 languages in this borough," Peralta said.

According to a spokesman for the NY Unified Court system told NY1, there are 42 full time interpreters who serve throughout the Queens court system.

The spokesperson added that those employees can communicate in 74 different languages.

Still, Nori said booking one isn't always easy.

"When an interpreter is not available the case is delayed. And in many cases the delay counts against the tenant....even though they didn't do anything wrong," said Nori.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm said it’s a problem his constituents have brought to his attention.

"I did check with some judges as a matter of fact and the judges have admitted to me that there is a big problem," Dromm said.

While immigrants are the majority of those impacted by the quantity and quality of interpreters available, it's also concern among those who communicate using sign language.

Jana Owen of the NYC Metro Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf said part of the problem is a "low rate of pay doesn't attract qualified interpreters to work in the courts."

Owen added that "the absence of any cancellation pay makes it hard for freelancers to see the local Courts as a reliable client".

While the courts do employ outside translators when needed, Assemblyman Ron Kim told NY1 that some of their people frustrated with waiting and sometimes unfamiliar with the legal process end up in his office seeking help.

"They come in and say what is this letter I am getting from this agency ...this court and from Con-Ed. We can’t even understand it," explained Kim.

A spokesperson for the courts said they are committed to improve access to justice for Limited English Proficient individuals.

Advocates hope that commitment is strong enough for the courts to pursue other options for translation services.