Department of Industrial Relations
1515 Clay Street – 17th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612-1464

RE: Fee schedule for interpretation services

To whom it may concern:

The Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California enjoys a strong following among certified and registered independent court interpreters in California. Among its goals, AIJIC aims to protect the legal interpreting profession in the private sector.

We strongly oppose the proposed fee schedule for interpreters for Workers’ Comp proceedings, recently announced by the Department of Industrial Relations.

First of all, the suggested fees don’t take into consideration the role of the agencies as intermediaries in the hiring process. Attorneys and insurance companies tend to hire interpreters for litigation through agencies, so if the suggested fees are implemented, it will result in much lower fees for interpreters than the ones that are being proposed by DIR.

Even if we consider the suggested rates by themselves, and assuming that interpreters contract directly with attorneys and insurance companies, the rates that have been proposed are inconsistent with current billing practices of court interpreters who work in the private sector, and do not reflect the value that interpreters bring to legal proceedings at all.

Also disconcerting are the lower rates proposed for Spanish-language interpreters, vis-à-vis all other languages. Does the DIR perhaps consider that the preparation, studies and skills of Spanish-language interpreters are less valuable than those for other languages? Or is this discriminatory proposal based on the law of supply and demand? Because if this is the case, then no government entity should be setting limits to what independent contractors can earn in the private sector.

Furthermore, the DIR continues to define the duration of a half day deposition up to 3.5 hours, and a full day up to 8 hours, something which is also inconsistent with current billing practices of private sector court interpreters. In Southern California for example, a half day consists of up to 3 hours, and a full day, up to 6 hours.

When taking all the above into consideration, even if an interpreter is offered the full $210/240 for 3.5 hours of work, or $388/$418 for 8 hours of work, that would be significantly less than what the interpreter could bill currently in the private sector. Also, although the DIR states that the suggested rates for Spanish ($210 and $388) are based on federal court rates, they are not. Current federal rates are $223 and $412.

If the rates and terms that the DIR is suggesting are implemented, many court interpreters will stop taking Workers’ Comp assignments, leaving the Workers’ Comp system with a limited pool of interpreters willing to work for lower rates. It is also highly likely that a significant percentage of court interpreters willing to work for lower rates will not be the most experienced and qualified, perhaps not even certified.

Access to justice is a constitutional right. Denying proper, competent, impartial interpretation would mean that all parties would be denied their right to due process. Could this be grounds for appeals? Is this a risk all the parties are willing to take?

There seems to be a misconception among many that because they sort of understand, or sort of speak a language other than English, the work done by professional court interpreters is not really work, but more of a interesting knack. That is offensive.

We put in long hours of study in order to pass California’s certification examinations. Many of us also studied for the very rigorous examinations by the U.S. Federal Courts and the American Translators Association. Many of us have college degrees and many have the accumulated mastery – in interpretation as well as translation – that comes with 15 or 20 years of experience, and the required Continuing Education courses.

Yet, the proposals submitted by the Berkeley Research Group to the Department of Industrial Relations are inadequate and ignore the true worth of court interpreters. The only way for the DIR to address those deficiencies is by meeting with interpreters and agencies to analyze, review and take into account all the factors that have been ignored in this initial proposal.

Aside from the fee schedule, the Department of Industrial Relations also needs to urgently revisit the provisions that allow a physician or a claims administrator to use the services of a provisionally certified interpreter for medical treatment appointments and medical-legal exams. Where this idea that anybody can provide interpretation services stem from? Physicians and claims administrators do not have the capacity to determine who is qualified to interpret. Not only is this concept insulting to those of us who trained and passed exams, but it also leaves in doubt the quality and accuracy of the interpretation.

Please reconsider your position and give court interpreters the respect they deserve.

Sincerely,

AIJIC Board of Directors 2015, in alphabetical order:
• Mariana Bension-Larkin, Spanish State and Federally Certified Court Interpreter (President)
• Marina Camarero, Spanish State and Federally Certified Court Interpreter (Secretary)
• Nataliya Kharikova, Russian State Certified Court Interpreter
• Lijuan Ma, Mandarin State Certified Court Interpreter
• Carolina Núñez, Spanish State Certified Court Interpreter (Treasurer)
• Jesús Rivera, Spanish State and Federally Certified Court Interpreter
• Anabella Tidona, Spanish State and Federally Certified Court Interpreter