Courts seek qualified interpreters for Marshallese

BENTONVILLE -- The last Marshallese court interpreter in the state has quit, leaving courts like those in Benton County dependent on out-of-state telephone or video interpreters.

Benton County Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz, who acts as administrative judge for the county's circuit courts, said using interpreters by telephone or video is good for short hearings, but interpreters need to be present in the court for longer hearings and trials.

Some interpretation services simply can't be provided over the phone, Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith said.

"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."

Benton County Circuit Judge Robin Green recently had two cases involving Marshallese men in which the proceedings used a phone interpreter. Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren recently brought a Marshallese interpreter into his courtroom by video.

More than 12,000 Marshallese live in Northwest Arkansas, according to research from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Kevin Lammers, a deputy public defender in Benton County, said the office uses Marshallese interpreters in court and when they need to talk with their clients. Lammers prefers to have an interpreter present rather than one by telephone because it makes the process smoother, he said.

Spanish and Marshallese are the two most common languages needed, Smith said. Spanish interpreters for court proceedings are plentiful, he said. Marshallese interpreters have been harder to find and certify.

The Arkansas Administrative Office of Courts Interpreter Services is trying to address the problem. The office is holding a court interpreter orientation in an effort to find Marshallese interpreters. The orientation will be Friday and Saturday at Shiloh Museum at 108 W. Johnson Ave. in Springdale.

Anyone interested in attending the orientation must fill out and return a registration form and personal information forms. Interpreter Services can be contacted at (501) 682-9400 or email at

Mara Simmons with Interpreter Services said the orientation introduces people to the role of the court interpreters and how the judicial system works in the state. Simmons said the training also focuses on ethical issues and stresses that interpreters are 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 orientation includes a multiple choice language assessment test, Simmons said. The test is in English and the purpose of the test is to make sure English is understood at a certain level, she said.

Simmons said the orientation is only the beginning of the process before someone is a court-certified interpreter. The process can take up to a year and certification includes two assessment exams -- one in English and the other in the foreign language. Applicants must pass a background check and an oral proficiency examination.

Interpreters on the registry are paid $50 for the first hour with a guaranteed one hour minimum and $40 for each additional hour, according to the state's compensation policy.

Simmons said a certified interpreter will be able to assist in courts throughout the state, along with some jurisdictions in other states.

Metro on 01/22/2019