In many court cases where the defendants do not speak English, they hear the words of the judges and attorneys through interpreters, who are simultaneously listening and translating.
Some court interpreters in Massachusetts are not working this week as they participate in a walkout to demand higher pay.
"It's a matter of fair pay, but to me, and for a lot of us, it's a matter of due process," said Ester Serra Luque, a Spanish-language interpreter who often works at the Roxbury Municipal Court. "There is no due process and no equal access to the courts without interpreters."
She says they have not received a pay increase in 17 years.
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"There's been a shortage of interpreters for a long time, precisely because of the lack of pay," said Serra Luque. "I will see that they need an interpreter for another language and there is nobody and the cases get postponed."
Currently, per diem court interpreters make about $300 for a full day of work, $200 for a half day.
Mercy Cevallos is also an interpreter who wrote a petition calling on the state for pay increases.
"We had an economist help us out, according to the Labor Department, of what we should have been earning throughout the 17 years, that there were no increases or adjustments," said Cevallos.
She said they calculated over $500 per day.
In a statement, Jennifer Donahue, a trial court spokesperson said, "The Trial Court Office of Language Access has made arrangements for substitute coverage and expects to accommodate all requests for interpretation. Court interpreters are critical partners in ensuring access to justice and the Trial Court values their service. Over the past several months the Trial Court has been reviewing the current compensation rates for per diem interpreters and we anticipate a new rate structure to be announced in the next 30 days. Any increase in the new rates that are based on the credential status of each interpreter will be retroactive to January 1, 2023. In addition to addressing the per diem rate, the Trial Court has responded to other concerns raised, resulting in previous increases for mileage and parking reimbursement."
"It is critically important to represent our clients and give the access to due process to have a skilled trained qualified interpreter that understands the challenges of criminal defense," said criminal defense attorney Christian Williams.
He said before the strike, he's noticed court interpreters stretched thin.
"Almost every time I'm in court, I see other attorneys and their clients seeking an interpreter who is not available, is not in courthouse and is waiting," he said.
"It came to the breaking point," said Norma Mann, president of the Massachusetts Association of Court Interpreters. "It's detrimental not only for the court, but for the defendants."