Court interpreters push
for equitable pay rate
A group of interpreters who work in the state court system are lobbying hard for their first pay raise in 20 years.
Yesterday, about a dozen members of the Interpreter Action Network delivered a letter to Chief Justice Ronald Moon asking that pay raises approved by the Legislature this year be implemented.
"Without interpreters there's no access to justice for non-English-speaking defendants," said Alohalani Boido, a court interpreter since 1989 and spokeswoman for the group.
"After 20 years we truly deserve a pay raise."
The Legislature appropriated $91,000 toward court interpreter salary increases this past session.
The money was to be made available July 1, but John Hays and other court interpreters who formed the Interpreter Action Network last year are not confident they will be seeing those raises anytime soon.
Hays left his Makiki home one morning for a 9 a.m. assignment at Wahiawa District Court. After waiting all morning, the hearing finally got under way in the afternoon.
His pay for what was considered by the courts as a half-day of work? Forty dollars, minus gas and parking fees.
To make it worse, he did not get paid until three months later because court staff lost his voucher. He has since taken his name off the list of interpreters willing to translate in Wahiawa.
"It's just so bad -- they've treated us worse than janitors," said Hays, a Spanish and Portuguese interpreter in Hawaii for the past 20 years.
The group has rejected an hourly fee schedule proposed by the Supreme Court Committee on Certification of Court Interpreters, calling it "fundamentally unworkable."
Currently, uncertified court interpreters -- which most of them are -- are paid by a half-day or four-hour period at a rate of $50 for trials and $40 for all other proceedings. A vast majority of interpreters are working at the $40, half-day rate, Boido said.
Under the new schedule, interpreters would be paid $50 across the board regardless of the proceedings for the first two hours, then $25 an hour up to eight hours.
But Boido said if interpreters work at the $50 rate now, there is no increase unless they work past the two hours. Very few hearings last more than two hours, and they already make $40, so a $10 raise is little, especially if interpreters have to pay for parking, gas and other out-of-pocket expenses, she added.
Their group is asking that the half-day, full-day fee schedule be retained, but to pay them at least $60 for the $40 proceedings and $75 for the $50 proceedings.
Boido said the hourly system is unworkable because there is nothing in place to track the hours they actually work. A court clerk signs off on an invoice showing time worked in the courtroom. But interpreting duties for a defendant extend outside the courtroom and include interpreting phone calls to the Public Defender's Office, accompanying a defendant to the cashier's office for bail, to the Driver's Education or Adult Probation Office.
"Who's going to account for that time?" Boido said.
The court interpreters committee decided to go with the hourly system because it compensated the interpreters for time they actually worked and would reward them if they wanted to work longer proceedings, said Dew Kaneshiro, project director for the Office on Equality and Access to the Courts, which oversees court interpreters.
She acknowledged that there are administrative systems that need to be set up to implement the fee schedule.
Under the new schedule, interpreters who work a four-hour day would make $100 vs. the $40 or $50 they are currently making, Kaneshiro said. In Hays' case, he would be paid for the time he checked in until he finished interpreting.
A decision on the proposed fee schedule will be made soon, according to Rick Keller, who took over recently as administrator for the courts.