Arkansas Courts Seek Marshallese Interpreters

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas court officials are looking for Marshallese language interpreters because a lack of qualified interpreters has courts turning to out-of-state help over the phone or video, which officials said isn't ideal in some cases.

The Arkansas Administrative Office of Courts Interpreter Services is holding an orientation Friday and Saturday with the goal of finding Marshallese interpreters, The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. More than 12,000 people from the Marshall Islands live in northwest Arkansas, according to research from the University of Arkansas.

Short hearings can use out-of-state interpreters over the phone or through video, but longer hearings and trials need to have an interpreter present, said Benton County Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz, who also acts as administrative judge for the county's circuit courts.

Local public defender Kevin Lammers said having an interpreter present makes the process smoother. Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith added that some interpretation services just don't work well over the phone.

"I would prefer to have the interpreter there in person," Smith said. "Sometimes things happen that can't be handled by telephone. People may have questions for their lawyers."

The orientation this week will go over the role of court interpreters and explain the state's judicial process, said Mara Simmons, a manager at Interpreter Services. The training will also focus on ethical issues and highlight that interpreters act as neutral parties.

"If a defendant needs help, then that's the responsibility of the attorney," Simmons said. "The interpreter is also not allowed to give advice."

The certification process can take up to a year and includes two assessment exams, Simmons said. Applicants must also pass a background check.

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