Interpreter Services Committee

Chaired by Leonard Rivera, Esq., the Interpreter Services Committee’s overarching goal is to improve access among litigants of limited English proficiency to interpreter and translation services in the Commonwealth’s courts and administrative agencies. The Committee’s current initiatives include:

  • education of state court judges on best practices when interacting with immigrant court users;
  • improving language access in the courts; and
  • outreach to limited English proficiency communities.

Jury Service Pamphlet: As one means of increasing juror diversity throughout the Commonwealth, the Committee produced two types of pamphlets (attached at right) that educate limited English proficient (“LEP”) individuals about jury service and the level of English language proficiency needed to serve on a federal or a state court jury. The Committee distributed the federal pamphlets to the three Federal District Courts for dissemination at naturalization ceremonies. The Committee also distributed the state court pamphlets to court administrators throughout the Commonwealth and to bar associations, advocacy groups, and commissions who work closely with immigrant communities.

Act 172 and Interpreter Regulations: Earlier in its history, the Commission played a key role in the passage of Act 172, which established a certification system for court interpreters and mandated that certified or otherwise qualified interpreters be provided in certain court and most administrative proceedings. Since then, the Committee has been working with the AOPC’s Language Access Coordinator to educate Pennsylvania judicial districts about their responsibilities under the law and the state regulations regarding the provision of interpreter services. For more information on interpreter services within the Pennsylvania court system, guidelines for the procurement of interpreters, training sessions, and bilingual court documents, see the website maintained by the Office of Interpreter Services.

On May 22, 2021, the Committee submitted formal comments (attached at right) to the AOPC’s proposed amendments to Act 172’s interpreter regulations and compensation schedules. The Comments supported strengthening language access and honoring interpreters’ hard work by ensuring that they are sufficiently compensated for the skills they perform both on-site and remotely. The finalized version of the amended regulations, which reflect several of the Committee’s suggestions, were published in November 2021 and took effect on January 1, 2022.

Immigrants in State Courthouses: After receiving numerous reports of immigrants being arrested and detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in and around Pennsylvania courthouses when they appeared for trials as witnesses or defendants or were pursuing other court business, the Commission submitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania a Memorandum (1) containing these reports, relevant case law, and recommendations, and (2) requesting that the Court address this unconstitutional interference with the administration of the state’s courts. The Memorandum, attached at right, also included reports of improper involvement by some judges and court personnel in immigration matters in their courts. In response, the AOPC issued a directive entitled Advisory re: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (attached at right), which advised judicial districts that an inquiry by a judicial officer or employee into the immigration status of an individual, based on their language ability or perceived national origin, may be regarded as a violation of Title VI.

Since then, the Commission has worked with the PA Bar Association to draft proposed guidelines designed to reduce ICE’s presence in state courthouses and limit its efforts to arrest and detain immigrants without a judicial warrant in and around these facilities. The guidelines (attached at right) were submitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in March of 2020. The pandemic forestalled the Court’s ability to act on this proposal, but the Committee is following up with the Court now that the courts have reopened.

Education and Outreach: For the past ten or more years, the Committee has collaborated with Widener University’s Legal Education Institute to provide training for interpreters, judges, and attorneys on the proper use of interpreters in court and administrative proceedings. Additionally, following the release of the AOPC’s Language Access Plan, the Committee compiled training materials for language access training seminars to share with District Attorney Offices, police departments, minority bar associations, and other non-profit organizations to encourage them to hold low-cost training sessions.

The Committee’s past initiatives include:

  • a survey of the provision of interpreter services in administrative agency proceedings;
  • translation and publication of key court forms;
  • and other initiatives outlined in Chapter One of the Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System.