Santa Clara County

‘We're So Fatigued': Court Interpreters Claim Severe Staffing Shortage in Santa Clara County

Some court employees claim a shortage of interpreters is creating a two-tier justice system in Santa Clara County and forcing the country into a crisis.

Carmen Ramos, a Spanish-language interpreter for Santa Clara County Superior Court, said the staffing shortage of interpreters is so severe the caseloads sometimes become overwhelming.

"The defense attorneys and DA, they have to wait for us because we're not staffed in each courtroom or we need to take breaks because we're so fatigued," Ramos said. "We can't adequately interpret."

Court interpreters in response have sent a scathing letter to the presiding judge and everyone else in the criminal justice system. 

Legal analyst Steven Clark said adequate court translation is critical.

"The ability to understand what is going on in court with your case is a fundamental constitutional requirement of the due process clause," Clark said. "What you have to be careful is there's not a two-tier system of justice: People that speak English and people that don't speak English."

The California Federation of Interpreters said Santa Clara County needs at least seven certified staff interpreters daily at the Hall of Justice to deal with caseloads.

On Monday, Ramos said there were only five interpreters, forcing her to rush from courtroom to courtroom.

"It doesn't effectively let me be able to communicate whatever message needs to be conveyed during proceedings as effectively as if I had the time to be able to do it," Ramos said.

Court officials said on Friday they were going to find someone to respond to the allegations on Monday, but have not returned numerous messages from NBC Bay Area.

"My concerns are that every day I see many delays," Ramos said.

And those delays cost the court, the defendant and prosecutors time and money.

Clark said in many cases, a mono-lingual defendant will win his case on appeal, claiming he, or she, did not adequately understand the case against them.

The court sometimes hires interpreters on a contractual basis. But Ramos said those contractors work at-will and charge three times the standard rate.

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