Message from the Chair
I hope the New Year is off to a good start for all of you. It is amazing to me how quickly the calendar changes. It doesn't seem that long ago that we were wrapping up the conference in Long Beach, California and I was proudly embarking on my first year as your Chairman. These past few months have seen a tremendous amount of activity for our professions, both nationally and internationally. As I have written in past messages, NAJIT has been at the forefront of many of the issues and initiatives that will continue to define our professions for years to come.
The issues of collaboration, inclusion, coordination among associations, a shift toward greater professionalism and the need for “generalist” certification have dominated much of the debate on the national level. While the Board of Directors and I feel that it is important for NAJIT to play a prominent leadership role on these issues - and, in fact, we have and will continue to do so - it is just as crucial that we advocate for members and continue to strive to improve the working conditions and prestige of the practitioners. I am as proud of our work on this front as I am of the role we have played by both participating in and framing the national debate. In this installment I would like to highlight some of our efforts to positively impact our members in their daily work.
Our Bench and Bar committee continues to develop modular presentations to educate the bench and bar. The presentation for attorneys is complete, and the one for judges is well underway. Our newly created Public Relations committee has launched a NAJIT blog to help educate and disseminate information among the general public, stakeholders and practitioners. Our Advocacy committee has been active on various issues including support of our members in Texas who have opposed the watering down of the credentialing process in that state. Although we were not successful in blocking that change, we continue to speak out against it and stand ready to support our members in any way they see fit.
Also in Texas, we have provided an expert witness report, Pro Bono, in the case of John Doe vs. Harris County. The report was on behalf of the plaintiff who is suing the county for failure to provide an interpreter at no charge in a civil case. Representing the Board of Directors I offered recommendations to the American Civil Liberties Union in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in their effort to help create policy on the use of interpreters in law enforcement interrogations -emphasizing the perils of utilizing bilingual employees during those encounters. In South Carolina, we have supported the great work of some of our members who founded the South Carolina Association of Interpreters and Translators. We applaud their endeavors to improve the state of the profession through education, training and implementation of testing standards to improve the quality of court interpreting there.
In my home state of Tennessee, I have continued to serve on several committees of the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission as a NAJIT representative. In the past few months we have achieved changes to the Supreme Court rules governing interpreters that will make it more difficult to circumvent the process of appointing certified interpreters. The Access to Justice Commission has also launched the “Equal Justice for All” web site to better serve and facilitate access to justice in the courts for language minorities and the disabled. In one of the more problematic courts in Bradley County, Tennessee, I have worked with county leaders including the county clerk and the county attorney to root out some of the largest obstacles to access to justice for limited English proficient individuals. More work remains to be done on that front but the true challenges are limited to one court; even there, improvement has been made with the implementation of a Hispanic docket and the use of a certified interpreter on those days.
In March, I will participate in a panel at the Law Library of Congress. I will present on the difficulties involved in competent court interpreting from the language perspective and thus the need for training requirements to achieve competence. My goal there will be to shed light on the complexities of our professions and to raise the visibility and prestige of interpreters, in the hope that other stakeholders take notice and avail themselves of credentialed practitioners across all levels of government. In April, I will participate in a panel discussion at the Mid-America Regional Interpreter Education Center’s Institute for Legal Interpreting conference in Westminster, Colorado. I hope to foster better collaboration with interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing, as I feel we can each benefit from the experience and expertise exhibited by both ASL and spoken language interpreters.
Additionally, I continue to represent NAJIT in an initiative by the California Healthcare Interpreter Association to develop a market study specific to medical interpreters along the lines of the InterpretAmerica survey published last year. Many of our own members interpret in healthcare settings, and as such, a market study will be invaluable. In June, I will participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic of generalist certification hosted by InterpretAmerica at their third annual summit in Monterey, California. Many of our members also interpret in community settings that are outside of court, and a mechanism is needed to qualify and differentiate competent interpreters. A generalist certification exam would go a long way toward achieving that. The NAJIT Board and Certification Commission are exploring how NAJIT might take a lead role in that initiative.
I am also pleased to report that in February, the American Bar Association adopted the Standards for Language Access in Courts developed by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) through its Laying the Path Project. I had the honor of serving on the advisory committee and ensured that the interest of our members and our professions were represented. I am proud of the work our committee has done and I am thrilled that the Standards were adopted. I will continue to serve on that committee and I am very excited to embark on the next step of implementation. In this issue of Proteus, I have provided an update on where the project currently stands, some of the challenges that have been overcome and some that still lie ahead. Also in February, I was pleased to contribute an article on the common misconceptions attorneys have about court interpreters for The Young Lawyer, a magazine of the American Bar Association with a readership exceeding 100,000. The article will be reprinted in an upcoming edition of Proteus.
In December of 2011, NAJIT submitted an Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of the plaintiff in a case before the United States Supreme Court, Kouichi Taniguchi vs. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. The Board of Directors saw this as an opportunity to educate the Supreme Court Justices, attorneys and the general public as to the differences between the professions of interpreting and translation. We enumerated these differences through our brief to address the common misconception that a qualified practitioner in one profession is necessarily qualified to practice in the other. The entire Board felt that such a brief aimed at protecting the integrity of both professions was in the best interest of all practitioners. The Supreme Court heard arguments on this case in February and our involvement certainly enhances the relevance and visibility of NAJIT. That greater prestige will allow us to advocate better in the future. No money was spent on this initiative as we procured legal services Pro Bono. The brief can be found here: http://www.najit.org/documents/amicusbrief.pdf
As a national association, NAJIT has an obligation to play prominent role in the national debates that affect our professions but we also have an obligation to focus on the real and substantive challenges that our members face everyday. I am proud of the work of our Board of Directors, our committee chairs, our members and our administrative staff. However, much more work needs to be done. Our organization continues to look for areas and issues where we can weigh in and make a difference. If you know of these, please bring them to our attention through the “Contact Us” feature at NAJIT.org. It is important to mention and remember that we are an association of volunteers. Many hands make light work. Please consider volunteering so that we may more effectively meet these real and pressing challenges. I am looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our conference in Boston. As always, I am proud to represent all of you and on behalf of the entire Board of Directors and our administrative staff, I thank you for your support.