Court Pays Tribute to Interpreters for Providing Fair and Equal Access to Justice



PHOENIX (May 1, 2024) –Grand jury warrant, supervening indictment, motion in limine – court interpreters are expected to recall complex legal terms in a split second and know how to flawlessly convey them in a different language, in real time, during a court proceeding.

To show appreciation for this unique skill, the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County is celebrating Court Interpreter’s Appreciation Day. A national celebration that takes place on the first Wednesday in May.

“Interpreters play a vital role in promoting equal access to justice by ensuring everyone from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds can fully understand and participate in court proceedings,” said Dr. Chris Bleuenstein, administrator of Court Interpretation and Translation Services (CITS). “Without court interpreters, individuals with limited English proficiency would be at a significant disadvantage. This would have serious consequences for the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system.”

Interpreters must maintain a high level of concentration while possessing the ability to communicate between parties who speak different languages. In court hearings, they are required to simultaneously interpret every word spoken in real time for judicial officers, witnesses, victims, family members, defendants and plaintiffs while remaining impartial and unbiased.

“Because of this, court interpreters are held to a high standard and must be credentialed by the Arizona Supreme Court and maintain yearly continuing education credits,” said Dr. Bleuenstein.

For Martin Hernandez, an interpreter with CITS, court interpreting gives him the opportunity to work with some amazing people to bring about the ends of justice.

“Being a court interpreter means that you have an understanding of the languages you work with on a level that allows you to navigate formal and colloquial speech and, that you possess enough cultural awareness of the languages so that you are able to make sense of, and work with, the jargon of the different groups that use those languages so that through you, both parties are able to communicate effectively across the language barrier that would otherwise exist,” Hernandez said.

Court interpreters are required to be fluent in at least two languages and understand legal terminology and concepts. They must also convey meaning accurately and effectively while maintaining the tone of the speaker.

“Court interpreting is an amazing career, but you need to have certain skills to be able to interpret at the court level. To check if this is something you would like to do, you can register at the University of Arizona Interpretation and Translation Program, apply to one of the companies that provide over the phone interpretation services, or else, offer your services as a volunteer in clinics and/or offices, so you can see if you have the skills needed,” CITS Interpreter Roberto Wilson said.

The CITS department supports the fourth largest general jurisdiction court in the United States. CITS has a team of 24 Spanish interpreters, one Arabic interpreter and two Spanish translators. They also oversee a contract system responsible for interpreting more than 100 other languages.

“As an interpreter, I help people gain access to the judicial system, and I never stop learning,” said CITS Interpreter Ofelia Hernandez. “So, get certified and join the team; it's a great career!”

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