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american lawyer media news service Atlanta-Mam, a Mayan language, is spoken by only about 400,000 people in the highlands of Guatemala. Lisa B. Chao has until mid-June to find someone who can translate it into courtroom English for the Cobb County, Ga., Juvenile Court. Chao, a special programs coordinator for the Cobb County courts, said it’s been a fruitless search. “It’s really hard to find someone,” she said. “I’ve been looking all over.” Chao’s problem is indicative of the demographic and linguistic changes that courts around the country have undergone during the past decade. Spanish is spoken so frequently in Georgia courts that finding qualified, competent interpreters is rarely a problem. But Atlanta-area courts increasingly are prosecuting defendants whose primary, or only, language is Korean, Vietnamese-or Mam. Census figures say that in the Atlanta metropolitan area in 1990, 158,907 people-about 6% of the area’s population then-above the age of 5 spoke a language other than English at home. The 2000 census showed a dramatic shift, with 13.3%, or about 505,400, of the area’s 3.8 million people above age 5 speaking another language at home. And the census may underestimate the number of non-English-speaking immigrants. Responses to the changing demographics have varied from county to county in Georgia, and sometimes between different courts in the same county. Judge Wayne M. Purdom said DeKalb County State Court, an intermediary trial court that handles many civil suits, has three part-time Spanish interpreters on staff and contracts for other languages. The DeKalb Superior Court, on the other hand, contracts all of its interpretation work. In criminal cases, the state pays for the interpreters. In civil cases, the parties generally provide their own. ‘Two separate worlds’ Purdom said that about twice a month his court must provide interpretations for a party who speaks a language other than English or Spanish. These requests include Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Amharic and Arabic. “There’s generally two separate worlds: when you’re talking about Spanish and then everybody else,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with the best interpreter you can get.” Chamblee, Ga., lawyer Dean A. Williams was approached recently by a Cambodian Buddhist monk to handle a complaint against his temple. All of the parties spoke Khmer, and few spoke English fluently. Williams relied on the friends and family members his potential client brought to translate. Family members are not permitted to translate for the parties in court. And though parties to a suit frequently split the cost of interpreters, sometimes, Williams said, each side hires its own. The results are not always pretty, he said. “Sometimes one interpreter is very critical of another’s translation-right in the middle of the courtroom-and they’ll interrupt and contradict each other and say the other person’s translation is bad,” he said. In an effort to build confidence in the quality of interpretation, in 1999 the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Commission on Equality made Georgia a member of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification. The consortium promulgates a code of ethics for court interpreters and administers tests for interpreters. The guidelines include rules about favoritism, accuracy and payment. For example, the rules require that an interpreter refrain from summarizing proceedings and that an interpreter “shall interpret the exact response of a witness, even if it is nonresponsive.” The commission now maintains two tiers of interpreters. “Qualified” interpreters have attended the commission’s two-day course on the courts and ethics. A much shorter list of “certified” interpreters must pass a rigorous national exam that includes ethics, real-time interpretation and vocabulary tests in the language.

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