New Program Lets Interpreters Telecommute To Court - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

New Program Lets Interpreters Telecommute To Court

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by Adam Ghassemi

GALLATIN, Tenn. Tuesday's docket started off like any other. Sumner County General Sessions Judge James Hunter was before a packed crowd, but faced the same problem that plagues judges across the state. How do you hear cases with defendants who don't speak English?

"If we can't communicate with each other it's impossible to conduct the case," he said.

Interpreter Kurt Snyder was in the courtroom, but electronically, even if he was physically 30 miles away sitting in his home office in Robertson County.

"I'm just going to plead guilty for driving without a license," Snyder said while translating for a Spanish speaking defendant.

Major cities, like Nashville, Memphis or Knoxville, have dedicated interpreters, but statewide there are only 90 registered or certified interpreters, court officials said.

They must  complete a combination of oral exams, written tests and background checks, as well as be able to speak English, a target language and navigate legal terms at the speed people speak.

The state recently launched a pilot program allowing interpreters to telecommute into the courtroom over a secure network. It could one day stop cases from being delayed while suburban or rural courts wait on an interpreter to drive out for just a few minutes of work.

"Does it make sense cost wise? And can we replicate it across the state in other places that have needs?" said Tennessee Courts Technology Director Ann Lynn Walker about the pilot.

The Skype-like program allows Snyder and other translators to bounce from case to case in any corner of the state with a click of a mouse.

"It can definitely open up opportunities, especially in some of the more remote, outlying counties that I maybe would not have been able to accept cases in before," he said via the program Tuesday.

That hopefully means judges can communicate faster with anyone who comes before them.

"I do believe this is going to work very well for us," Hunter said.

The pilot program will continue in Sumner County through September 2014 when Tennessee State Court officials will determine if it should go statewide.

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