Spanish-speaking population hike creates more need

April 16, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD


Dino Flores can tell when his phone will ring.

Flores, a defense attorney who practices in Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties, is a rare commodity here: He speaks Spanish fluently, an advantage only a few criminal defense attorneys in the region can claim.

"When I see cases in the newspapers in one of the areas I practice in, with Spanish-speaking people involved, I know my phone is going to ring," he said.

In Washington County, those cases have become more frequent.

As the Spanish-speaking population in the county has increased, so has the demand for people to translate for them in District and Circuit courts.


In 2005, Spanish-speaking interpreters were used in Washington County District Court 71 times and in Washington County Circuit Court 30 times, according to Sandy Gladhill, District Court administrative assistant, and Eunice Plank, Circuit Court administrator for Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

In 2000, Spanish-speaking interpreters were used in District Court maybe once every other week, but now they are used at least once a week, Gladhill said.

Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr., who until February was a judge in District Court, said that although the demand for interpreters for Hispanics has increased, it has not reached the point that a full-time interpreter is needed to staff either court.

A former prosecutor in Frederick County, Flores said that when he started there about 10 years ago, "it was pretty rare" that an interpreter was needed, but now Frederick County District Court has an interpreter just about every day.

"Washington County is really not that far behind Frederick," Flores said.

Long agreed that the need for interpreters is increasing.

"I think that as our community becomes more diverse and people who speak other languages come to live here, some consideration will have to be given" to hiring a full-time interpreter, Long said. "We're not at that point now. I can see it's coming."

Interpreters also are needed in Washington County for people who speak other languages. In 2005, interpreters for Mandarin Chinese, Albanian, French Creole, Russian, Romanian, Vietnamese, French, Urdu, Korean, Haitian Creole and Ukranian were used in District Court, Gladhill said.

Russian-speaking interpreters were needed three times and a Korean-speaking interpreter was needed once in Circuit Court last year, Plank said.

Deaf interpreters were needed 18 times in District Court and two times in Circuit Court, Gladhill and Plank said.

Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said his office adjusts to the increased number of defendants who aren't fluent in English.

"I think it is a recognition that we are a more cosmopolitan county," Strong said. "That cosmopolitan fact of life is spreading into our community."

Maryland spent nearly $1.7 million in the last fiscal year to pay interpreters to translate for non-English speaking residents in the state's courts, said Linda Etzold, assistant administrator in Program Services for the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. Etzold said she could not break that number down by county.

Each year, the use of interpreters statewide increases by about 10 percent, she said, and smaller jurisdictions, such as Washington County, are calling on them more than in the past.

Etzold said state law requires that an interpreter be provided for a defendant who does not speak English. Long said defendants who speak English as a second language still have the right to have an interpreter.

"In order for someone to have a fair trial, they really need to have an understanding of what the trial is all about," he said.

"If they want to tell their version, if they can't communicate that to the court, then they're not getting due process," he said. "We need to have interpreters available to provide those services."

Strong said prosecutors face an increased need for interpreters to help them communicate with victims, too. The cost for interpreter service to help prepare cases comes from a different state budget than the budget used to pay for court interpreters, he said.

Plank said court interpreters are paid $50 an hour if they are certified, and $35 an hour if they are not. Interpreters are guaranteed pay for at least two hours each time they are called, she said.

To obtain certification, an interpreter must pass a state test. Uncertified "doesn't mean unqualified," Plank said.

"Interpreting is very difficult, and court interpreting is probably the most difficult form there is," Etzold said.

Not only do interpreters have to have "a very good vocabulary" of the language they're translating, but they also have to be able to translate legal jargon precisely.

"Just because you're bilingual doesn't make you an interpreter," she said.

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