22 new language interpreters recently earned Mississippi court credentials

Published 11:30 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

Twenty-two new language interpreters recently earned their credentials to work in Mississippi courtrooms.

The record number of successful applicants increased the availability of credentialed language interpreters in the state by nearly a third. Newly credentialed interpreters include 19 Spanish speakers, two Portuguese speakers and one Vietnamese speaker.

There are now 70 credentialed interpreters on the roster of the Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts, up from 48. They include 55 Spanish speaking interpreters, four who speak Portuguese, two each who speak Vietnamese, Arabic and French, and one each who speak Mandarin Chinese, German, Hindi, Haitian Creole, and Yoruba and Pidgin English.

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The newly credentialed interpreters were part of a record turnout for an Ethics and Skill Building Seminar presented by the AOC on May 30-31 in Jackson. Forty-one people participated in the seminar. A legislative appropriation to the AOC Interpreter Credentialing Program allowed the program to be offered at no cost to participants for the first time.

Deenie Miller, Director of Language Access, said being able to offer the program at no cost made a big difference in participation. The largest previous attendance at one of the seminars was 18 people.

“I am thrilled with the interest and excitement for the Court Interpreter Credentialing Program,” Miller said. “It is wonderful that I am receiving phone calls and emails from bilingual individuals who are being told about our program and encouraged to apply and pursue certification.”

Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge David N. McCarty spoke to the interpreter candidates on the first morning of the seminar, emphasizing the importance of language access. Judge McCarty said, “Our Constitution of 1890 guarantees that our courts shall be open to all people.  As Mississippi grows ever more complex, the court system is faced with the challenge of ensuring we honor the requirements of due process. That’s why interpreters play such a vital role within our courts. Their meticulous work breathes life into our Constitution by ensuring every person has meaningful access to our court system.”

The 2023 Mississippi Legislature revised laws regarding language interpreters to provide broader language access assistance for people of limited English proficiency. The law mandates court appointment of a qualified interpreter in all cases, criminal and civil, at no cost to the limited English proficient participant in litigation, with the cost borne by the county or municipality. Revisions to the statutes clarified that limited English proficient individuals are entitled to use an interpreter in any instance arising out of or pertaining to the individual’s involvement in litigation. See Miss. Code Ann. Section 9-21-73 (4).

One of the ways to improve limited English proficient people’s awareness of the right to an interpreter is through signs posted in courthouses. Miller said, “One of the biggest projects has been getting signs translated for courthouses, courtrooms, and clerks’ offices. The signs have all been translated and we are working on getting them printed for delivery.” The signs will include messages in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Arabic, Tagalog, German, Korean and Gujarati.

Written materials used during court proceedings are also being translated. Miller worked with the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, the Mississippi Judicial College, the Public Defender’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office to obtain pamphlets, forms, brochures and sample forms for translation.  “We have completed a sample guilty plea translated into Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Arabic,” she said. Sample Justice Court criminal forms produced by the Mississippi Judicial College have been translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, the top two foreign languages spoken in Mississippi.  Work is underway to translate into Spanish and Vietnamese sample Municipal Court forms, domestic abuse protection forms including important informational brochures, eviction sample forms, several criminal forms and ‘know your rights’ documents.

“We have been hard at work utilizing the funds appropriated to our program,” Miller said.

For more information, contact Miller at deenie.miller@courts.ms.gov.