Helping the courts find interpreters | By the Partnership for Public Service
Every day, criminal defendants who speak a language other than English appear in federal courts throughout the United States, and have a right to an interpreter to ensure that they are afforded due process under the law.
It is William Moran’s job to help the courts fulfill this responsibility, providing assistance to judges and clerks in finding interpreters fluent in some 120 different languages, ranging from Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Arabic and Vietnamese to Haitian Creole, Nepalese and Portuguese. His role also involves ensuring that services are available to the hearing impaired.
“Criminal defendants have a right to be present in the courtroom for their hearings or trial. If you don’t understand what is going on, you are not truly present,” said Moran, who works for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in Washington, D.C. “Making sure there are qualified interpreters in the courtroom helps give true meaning the Constitution.”
Moran, the deputy chief of the U.S. District Court Administrative Division, helps oversee a National Court Interpreter Database that allows judges and the administrative staff to go online and obtain contact information for certified court interpreters. In recent years, federal district courts have reported using interpreters more than 350,000 times.
Moran said the federal courts in large cities like New York and Los Angeles usually have a sizable pool of interpreters, but he noted that problems arise in rural areas of the country and in cases when an uncommon language is spoken. When a language is rare or an interpreter is not available, Moran said, the court system has a process of allowing qualified interpreters to listen to the judicial proceedings via a telephone hook-up from a remote location, and to provide immediate translation to the defendant in the courtroom.
During the last few years, Moran said the courts in the Southwest have had a problem finding interpreters for defendants who speak dialects of Mixteco, a language used by indigenous people from some areas of Mexico.
Moran said his office responds when the courts run into such problems. At times, he said, his office has sought translation help through contacts with the State Department, the United Nations and other organizations.
“My role is to assist the courts so they can get their work done and focus on true justice,’ said Moran. “We are in the background helping them do their job.”
In addition to the interpretation services, Moran and his staff help oversee a juror management system used by the federal courts. The system performs a random selection of jurors, and facilitates all aspects of jury management from the creation and maintenance of a jury pool, to panel creation and jury selection. The program also generates the information needed to provide complete and accurate payment for service.
Recently, the federal courts have instituted the eJuror system, which gives prospective jurors the option of responding online to their jury questionnaire or summons. The system now operates in 46 federal courts and allows jurors to update personal information. If selected for jury service, the individual can check when they need to report, submit a request for an excuse or deferral and select an alternative time to serve.
Moran and the staff in Washington have worked with the federal courts around the country as well as with contractors and advisory groups to upgrade the electronic jury management systems. His office also is involved in helping the federal court system devise a next-generation electronic filing system.
Katie Simon, a colleague, said Moran started out many years ago working in a district court in Pennsylvania, and is acutely aware of the day-to-day issues and the real-life administrative problems faced by the court clerks and judges.
“He is experienced and brings extreme dedication and integrity to the mission,” said Simon. “He’s been out there and knows the pressures on the people in the courtrooms.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to https://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.