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Jefferson hosts court demonstration

By Staff | Apr 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of Michael Switzer Judge David Sanders observes the interpreter demonstration held at the Jefferson County Courthouse last week.

Jefferson County welcomed state court officials and language program managers from eight states and Washington, D.C., last Thursday to a court technology demonstration that showcased West Virginia’s cost-effective way to provide long-distance federally required foreign language interpreters.

The multi-cast videoconferencing demonstration was part of the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators. Held at the historic Jefferson County Courthouse, the event was hosted by the National Center for State Courts and the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. It’s the first time West Virginia has hosted the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.

“I think it’s very exciting,” said West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis. “This is a first, so I think it’s a big feather in our cap … West Virginia is becoming a show place for the nation in terms of our judiciary, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

In August 2010, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Perez issued a language access guidance letter to state courts emphasizing the duty of state courts to provide interpreters for persons of limited or no English proficiency. It requires certified court interpreters to be provided in all court proceedings, including administrative hearing proceedings under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1998, West Virginia was the first state to have a statewide video arraignment system linking every courthouse with every regional jail, as well as other such systems internationally. The network for live remote broadcasts was launched by then Chief Justice Davis.

The system, showcased Thursday, was later adapted for foreign language interpretive services. As a result, West Virginia, one of the most rural states in the nation, is able to provides interpretation services in all criminal and civil settings during all hearings, trials and motions and in important interactions with court personnel.

“I thought it was fascinating. I think it’s going to be a great benefit as we, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, convene this fall to discuss how to develop plans to provide language access to those individuals who are limited English proficient,” said Chief Judge Eric T. Washington, of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and president of the Conference of Chief Justices, after Thursday’s demonstration. “…There are a lot of states that have courthouses in rural areas who don’t have ready access to interpreters … Setting up something like this is certainly much less expensive, and we are all facing, as you know, dramatic budget cuts in most state court systems.”

West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Sanders presided over two mock hearings that were held during the demonstration. Interpreters appeared via live remote broadcast from North Carolina. Actors portraying court litigants and witnesses appeared from other locations via broadcast.

“I think the wonderful thing from our state’s perspective is the ability to host the regional meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices here in West Virginia and to let them learn from our technology,” said West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin. “This is a technology that’s very important. It’s also a technology that’s needed in a lot states, and we’ve been able to do it in a very efficient way here.”

West Virginia’s video conferencing system has resulted in a dramatic reduction in costs for providing foreign language interpretation services. Davis said in a speech Thursday that an estimated $3 million has been saved by the state per year since 2000 thanks to the technology.

“I bring up the costs because that’s at the heart of the language access issue for all of us,” Davis said. “… No use has proven more valuable to us in our rural state than the use of the video system for interpretation. I believe that there is a lesson here for those of you struggling with providing interpreter services, especially for the rural parts of your states.”

The Jefferson County Courthouse was chosen for the demonstration because it is representative of many rural courthouses across America. West Virginia is one of 43 members of the National Center for State Courts’ Consortium for Language Access in the Courts.

The consortium promotes and supports court language interpreting programs.

“It would be much less expensive to put this in today than it was in 1998,” West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Director Steve Canterbury said of the state’s video system. “I think other states will replicate this, and our system will continue to improve as the technology improves.”