FW court enhances interpreter services

The Federal Way Municipal Court’s interpreter services will get a nearly $30,000 boost for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, thanks to the Legislature and a grant from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.

The court has acquired $27,863 of a $249,725 grant from the AOC for the services. In applying for the money, the Federal Way court also joined a group of nine other South Sound courts. The grant money is expected to help the Federal Way Municipal Court improve its interpretation services and possibly keep it from overextending its budget in this respect.

The partnership, and others like it statewide, will result in a sharing of resources and efficiency in acquiring an interpreter.

“The whole goal of this whole effort is to improve language access for non-English speaking court users,” AOC court services manager Chris Ruhl said.

The grant stemmed from state legislation. The state mandates courts provide in-court interpretation to non-English speaking customers. But the service is paid for out of each court’s personal budget. In applying for the grant, the AOC encouraged jurisdictions to group together and apply in a joint effort, Ruhl said.

Seattle, Federal Way, Kent, Auburn, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Maple Valley, Pacific, Renton, Tukwila and Sea-Tac formed a partnership. Among the partners, next to Seattle, Federal Way was awarded the largest dollar amount for interpretation services.

Each Tuesday, an arraignment hearing for Spanish, Russian and Korean-speaking court participants is held at Federal Way Municipal Court, said court administrator Rae Iwamoto. Usually 30 to 40 people who rely on the interpreter to understand the legal proceedings are in attendance, she said. Additionally, each time a person who does not speak English, Spanish, Russian or Korean is scheduled for a court hearing, an interpreter is hired.

“It’s amazing how many types of languages we have requests for,” Iwamoto said.

Prior to the grant being awarded, hiring an interpreter cost the Federal Way Municipal Court roughly $40 per hour, Iwamoto said. But as part of an agreement between the 10 courts, each will now pay $50 per hour for a minimum of two hours for language interpreters, Iwamoto said. Still, each month Federal Way will see half of its total expenditures in this area reimbursed.

The 2008 Federal Way Municipal Court budget allows for roughly $52,000 to hire interpreters, Iwamoto said. Usually the court annually exceeds its budget in regards to offering interpretation services, she said.

“Our interpreter budget is kind of bursting,” Iwamoto said. “Typically, the interpreter line in our budget is over and it grows (larger) every year.”

In the past, courts have competed to land an interpreter. Scheduling conflicts existed. The partnership between the 10 South Sound courts is expected to open doors to better communication between the entities, Iwamoto said. The courts will be able to use one another to tap into a pool of services and to better schedule interpreters so they can appear in multiple nearby courts in one day.

“Each court has established a network of interpreters, but now that we are sharing more, it really does increase the availability,” Iwamoto said.

The legislation required the courts to form a Language Assistance Plan. It will track what languages are being spoken in the courts and where interpreters are needed, Ruhl said.

“Basically, what that does is identify what the current needs for language assistance in that area are and how well the court is meeting those needs and what they need to enhance to fill in the gap,” he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.

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