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Authorities on the Responsibility of Municipal Courts to Pay for Court Interpreters

Introduction

This document is a verbatim compilation of all statutes, court rules, case law, directives, and actions taken by the Supreme Court in response to recommendations of task forces and committees on the subject of the responsibility of the Judiciary to pay for court interpreters. While the authorities do not universally agree, all of the recommendations that the Supreme Court has approved make it clear that it is the policy of the Judiciary to provide equal access to courts for linguistic minorities, which means paying for whatever interpreting services may be necessary.

The standards as set forth in this plan apply to all state and municipal courts. While applicable to municipal courts, it must be emphasized that New Jersey’s municipal courts are not state funded; rather, they are funded by the local municipality, which is the appointing authority. Legal responsibility for providing language access services consistent with federal and state law is the sole responsibility of the municipality. Assignment judges act as the Supreme Court’s constitutional designee for oversight of municipal court judges and judiciary personnel employed by the municipalities within their vicinages; they may advise, consistent with all applicable statutes and court rules, the municipal courts and guide, but not direct, each and every one of the day-to-day responsibilities of the municipal courts. The employees of the municipal courts are employees of the local municipalities, not state employees. While the municipal courts have made great strides in providing interpreting and related services, some continue to have difficulty providing the requisite services due to funding and other resource limitations. Assignment judges, pursuant to their authority under R. 1:33-4, shall be responsible for monitoring overall vicinage compliance, which shall include determining whether each municipal court is meeting its obligations to the best of its ability. Where a court is not fully meeting its obligations, the assignment judge should work with the judge, court staff and municipal leaders to develop a plan that moves the court toward full compliance.

Municipal Court Bulletin Letter #176(1)

Municipal Court Budgets

The judge of each municipal court should annually prepare and submit a budget for the expense of operating the court. Included should be such items as:

...3. Payment of interpreters where experience has indicated the need for such services.

Directive #10-84(2)

Interpreters for Hearing Impaired Persons

...7. At the present time, the costs of these interpreting services, when rendered in the Superior Court, shall be paid by the county in which the services are provided and, when delivered in the Municipal Courts, shall be paid out of the budget of the Municipal Court in which the services are rendered.

Report of the Supreme Court Task Force on The Improvement of Municipal Courts (3)

Position 5.4, Language Interpreters and Translators

The courts must be equally accessible to all persons regardless of their ability to communicate effectively in English. It is the responsibility of the court to seek to provide qualified interpreters where necessary.

Supreme Court Task Force on Drugs and the Courts (4)

Recommendation 8: Standards on Interpreting and Translation

Defendants' rights to understand the proceedings against them are critical in the criminal justice process. Improvements need to be made in the services provided defendants who do not speak English. Interpreter and translation services should be routinely available in the courts....

Press Release Re: Supreme Court's Response to the
Final Report of the Supreme Court Task Force on Interpreter Translation Services (5)

In its review of the report by its Task Force on Interpreter and Translation Services, the Court endorse the Task Force's "guiding principle" that the Courts should be equally accessible to all persons, regardless of their ability to communicate in English.

Municipal Court Budgets Joint Memo (6)

Barry Skokowski, Deputy Commissioner and Director, Division of Local Government Services, and Robert D. Lipscher, Administrative Director of the Courts, issued this memo summarizing the results of a meeting held to provide an understanding of what municipal court expenses our offices consider to be appropriate in light of the enactment of Chapter 95, Laws of 1990" (at 1). The memo indicates that appropriations for municipal court budgets are to be outside the cap established by the legislation and that the category Salary and Wages should include salaries for municipal Judiciary employees who are directly employed by the municipal courts [which would include anyone on staff who interprets, although they are not specifically named in the memo] and Other Expenses which includes appropriations for court interpreters... (at 2).

Supreme Court Action Plan on Minority Concerns (7)

The Court reiterates its position that the courts and their support services shall be equally accessible for all persons regardless of the degree to which they are able to communicate effectively in the English language. Linguistic barriers to access shall be overcome by providing qualified interpreters and bilingual court support personnel.

To reach these goals, the AOC shall expeditiously develop and submit to the Court for its consideration a comprehensive set of standards for assuring equal access to courts and their support services for linguistic minorities. The Judiciary shall also continue to seek adequate funding for full implementation of the goals of (1) providing qualified interpreters to all persons needing them, (2) expanding its program for training court interpreters, and (3) compensating interpreters adequately.

Title 2B, Court Organization and Civil Code

Chapter 8. Interpreters and Translators

2B:8-1. Interpreters. Each county shall provide interpreting services necessary for cases from that county in the Law Division and the Family Part of the Chancery Division. A county may provide interpreting services through the use of persons hired for that purpose. If interpreters are employed, they shall be appointed and shall perform their duties in the manner established by the Chief Justice, and shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. For the purpose of determining their compensation, these employees shall be considered county employees. Source: N.J.S. 2A:11-28 to N.J.S. 2A: 11-30. L. 1991, c. 119

EDITOR'S NOTE: While this statute applies only to Superior Court and not Municipal Courts, the legislative intent that the Judiciary is responsible for providing interpreters in Superior Court out of public funds is a noteworthy precedent.

State v. Rodriguez (8)

To summarize this court's ruling:

  1. A non-English-speaking municipal court defendant has a right to a court interpreter if the charge(s) against him is such as to threaten imprisonment or any other consequence of magnitude;
  2. The decision as to when a court interpreter is necessary rests within the sound discretion of the trial court, although public policy and federal law suggest that an interpreter should be called upon whenever a party's understanding of the proceedings or ability to communicate is inhibited due to a lack of proficiency in English; ...
  3. If the municipal court defendant requires and rightfully merits a court interpreter but can not afford to pay for one, the court should provide a court interpreter at public expense. at 143-144.
  1. (November 1970) at 1. This provision has subsequently been reiterated as follows: NEW JERSEY MUNICIPAL COURT MANUAL 83 (February 1972); NEW JERSEY MUNICIPAL COURT MANUAL 93 (January 1977); MUNICIPAL COURT BULLETIN LETTER #9/10-80 1 (September & October 1980); MUNICIPAL COURT BULLETIN LETTER #7/8-81 2 (July & August 1981); MUNICIPAL COURT BULLETIN LETTER #9/10-82 1 (September & October 1982).
  2. At 2 (April 12, 1985).
  3. At 151-152 (June 28, 1985). When the Supreme Court reviewed the recommendations of the task force, the Court approved this recommendation as modified by the addition of "to seek." Minutes of the March 30, 1987 SCAC at 14.
  4. FINAL REPORT 33 (April 1991).
  5. At 1 (June 19, 1986).
  6. November 28, 1990.
  7. The Action Plan was published by the Supreme Court on August 16, 1993.
  8. State v. Rodriguez, 294 N.J. Super. 129 (Law Div. 1996).
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