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Translator costs up for northern Ill. courts

By KEVIN HAAS
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) – Winnebago County is spending more money this year on courthouse translators to accommodate those who speak Asian, Middle Eastern and European languages and communicate via sign language.

Interpreters are called into courtrooms thousands of times each year, mostly for defendants who speak Spanish. This year, however, about 25 percent of court interpreters have been called to help those using sign language or other foreign languages, including Burmese, Arabic, Laotian, Russian, French, Vietnamese and Mandarin.

“It reflects the more diverse society we live in,” said Todd Schroeder, trial court administrator. Any reason for the increase beyond that would be speculation, he said.

Costs associated with finding translators for these more exotic languages have contributed to a budget-busting year for the 17th Circuit Court. Court leaders have asked the County Board to approve a $164,000 budget amendment to account for cost overruns this fiscal year, which closes Sept. 30.

Board members denied the request two weeks ago and challenged court leaders to find efficiencies and move cases through the judicial system faster. But court officials brought the budget amendment back to the board this week, saying they had already spent the money. The board will reconsider the budget amendment Sept. 29.

The courts have spent more than $63,000 on interpreters through June – $7,000 more than was budgeted this year, according to Schroeder. Interpreter costs were less than $60,000 two years ago.

Courts are required to provide a translator for criminal cases. They also must provide sign language interpreters for criminal or civil case visitors to the court who request the service in advance.

The requirement is significant because sign language has made up 30 percent of the translator services needed this year, compared with just 13 percent last year and 11 percent two years ago.

Courts have averaged 2,700 cases in which a Spanish interpreter was needed in each of the past three years and are on pace for the same this year. That accounted for 77 percent of total interpreters needed back in 2008, but just 45 percent of translators so far this year.

The courts typically use La Voz Latina or staff for Spanish translations. Other languages, which can be more costly because translators aren’t often available in Rockford, have been needed more frequently this year.

Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com

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