Language Access Program Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Language Access Program Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Goal:  The SOPs will drive the provision of language assistance for the Nebraska Judicial Branch’s trial courts and probation.   
Guiding Principles:  Consistency, Efficiency, Stewardship, Transparency and Education.
Audience:  Judges, Clerk Magistrates, Clerks of the District Court, and Court and Probation personnel.  
 

AGE OF MAJORITY 
If a party is an English-speaking minor, the Language Access Program will schedule an interpreter for the parent or legal guardian.  Once a party reaches the age of majority, interpreters are only provided for parties in a case.

BILINGUAL ATTORNEYS/ATTORNEYS WHO KNOW SIGN LANGUAGE
An attorney is prohibited from representing a client in a court proceeding and also serving as the client’s interpreter during the court proceeding (See Giraldo-Rincon v. Dugger, 707 F.Sup. 504 (M.D. Florida 1989) and State v. Kounelis, 258 N.J. Super 420 (New Jersey 1992). Interpreters shall be provided by the Language Access Program.

BILINGUAL EMPLOYEES
As Nebraska becomes more diverse, the need for bilingual individuals who can communicate with Deaf, Hard of Hearing (HoH), and Limited English Proficient (LEP) court and probation users will continue to grow and diversify.  To efficiently meet this need at all points of contact, having a robust bilingual employee pool is a must.  When a bilingual employee expresses interest in utilizing their language skills, their Supervisor should fill out the Request for Bilingual Employee Testing form.  Click here for the time commitment, testing overview, and pay rate increase.  

BILINGUAL COMMUNITY MEMBERS
The employees of the Judicial Branch are our best recruiters!  The public is always watching so creating a culture of welcome, camaraderie, and support is crucial to attracting candidates.   As Nebraska becomes more diverse, the need for qualified interpreters who can communicate with Deaf, HoH, and LEP court and probation users will continue to grow and diversify.  To efficiently meet this need, having a qualified and robust interpreter pool is a must.  Bilingual community members who express an interest in becoming an interpreter are encouraged to contact the Language Access Program Director for next steps. 

BILLING OUTSIDE THE COURT
Due to the complexity of the courts, interpreters bill a myriad of entities for their services.  Below are some of the most common entities and the processes to bill outside the court.  If more clarification is needed, please email the Language Access Program’s Operations Team and put the county name in the subject line. 
  • The interpreter will bill the Public Defender and the County Attorney’s office directly. 
  • Depending on the county and the court that appointed the attorney, the interpreter will:
    • Bill the court directly.
    • Bill the attorney directly and the attorney will include that expense in their itemized bill to the court.

BLOCK SCHEDULING
Block scheduling is designating days and times each month that courts and probation offices can count on an interpreter being available for scheduled cases.  It allows for the delivery of a service model based on value, efficiency, and experience.  If interested in having a block schedule, email the Operations Team to find a mutually convenient day and time.

Block Scheduling Expectations for Court and Probation staff
  • The interpreter will be available for District, County, Juvenile proceedings and probation meetings.
  • Blocks are for scheduled cases.
  • Staff will cancel block 1 week ahead of time if there are no scheduled cases.
  • Staff will notify the Operations Team for any schedule changes – i.e., weather related closures, courtroom remodeling, cancellations, state holidays, etc.
  • Block modality (remote or in-person) will depend on available resources and case volume.  Modality may be changed at the last minute.
  • Blocks will be re-evaluated for interpreter use on an as needed basis.
  • Provide quiet workstation for interpreter to support the Judicial Branch during downtime.
Block Scheduling Expectations for Interpreters
  • Be available for District, County, Juvenile court proceedings and probation meetings.
  • Connect 5 minutes early if interpreting remotely.
  • Notify the Operations Team of any issues or changes in real time.
    • Running late, can’t connect, LEP does not appear, finishes early, continuance, downtime, etc.
  • Support the Judicial Branch during downtime by interpreting remotely and working on translations.
  • Have a quiet, secure, and professional environment if interpreting remotely.
COMMUNICATION
While there might not be a Language Access Program representative physically at each location, judges, clerk magistrates, clerks of the district court, and court and probation personnel should know that the Operations Team stands behind them ready to assist throughout the day.  Court and probation personnel should contact the Operations Team as soon as they are aware of:
  • The need for an interpreter as they are independent contractors and work throughout the community.
  • Any changes to their original request, including needing additional time.   
  • Technical issues.
  • The interpreter not showing.
  • Add-on interpreting needs that were not pre-scheduled.  The Operations Team will accommodate short notice requests if resources allow. 

COMPLAINTS
The Language Access Program strives to meet the needs of its stakeholders and welcomes the opportunity to continually improve workflow and processes.  Contact the Operations Team with issues in real time.  Issues can include things such as LanguageLine, interpreter unprofessionalism, technical issues, etc.  

IN-PERSON INTERPRETING
In-person interpreters are a limited resource and frequently scheduled to interpret for LEP individuals in multiple courtrooms on the same day and often back-to-back. If you have an interpreter scheduled for a proceeding(s), then please consider facilitating their ability to appear timely in other courtrooms by calling their cases first when practical.  To make in-person assignments more attractive when travel is involved, please have 2+ hours of work for the interpreter. 

Attorneys should have met with their client to prepare for the hearing, prior to their court date.  As such, the bulk of communication should have already taken place.  If the attorney needs the brief assistance of the court-appointed interpreter to discuss a few points with their client, they can ask for a recess.  However, if it is anything more extensive, they should plan on bringing their own interpreter. 

INTERPRETER CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Nebraska Judicial Branch interpreters follow the Code of Professional Responsibility for interpreters.  Since they are freelance contractors, it is common that they may have worked with the case parties in other settings.  When interpreting, they are Officers of the Court who are neutral to all proceedings and will recuse themselves if they feel a real or perceived conflict.   

INTERPRETER PREPARATION
To maximize accuracy, efficiency, and experience, interpreters need to know as much about the proceedings beforehand as possible.  Court and Probation personnel should provide any needed preparation materials for the interpreter to review before they arrive for the interpretation.

On-demand telephonic and video interpreters also need a briefing before they begin to interpret.  Prior to conferencing in the Deaf, HoH, or LEP individual, brief the interpreter on any background information and what the call will be about.  

In-person, video, and telephonic modalities
When a request for an in-person interpreter is made, every effort will be made to fill it, however there is no guarantee that an in-person interpreter will be secured.  Therefore, it is vital that court and probation staff be comfortable with all modalities to communicate with Deaf, HoH, and LEP individuals. 
 

Court staff, Probation staff and Court-ordered mediation
If an interpreter is needed during business hours, court and probation personnel need to email all interpreter requests to the Operations Team with the county name in the subject line.  Court and probation personnel should not be contacting the interpreters directly and scheduling interpreter services. The only exception is for unplanned probation needs outside of normal business hours.

The initial request needs to contain all the following information:
  • Language
  • Date
  • Start time of all court ordered meetings/hearings or probation activities
  • Name
  • Case Number
  • Charges
  • Courtroom #
  • Hearing Type
  • Judge's Name
  • Attorney's Name and/or PO's Name
  • Meeting Type (PSI, PDI, FTM…)
  • Expected Duration
  • Address where the interpreter needs to go
  • Contact person info

Court personnel should follow this formal request process even if the judge or clerk magistrate asked the interpreter on the record if they are available for the next court date.  This will ensure the Language Access Program can confirm an interpreter has been scheduled and ensure they are paid for their services. 

Attorneys
The Language Access Program does not pay interpreters used to facilitate communication between an attorney and client outside of the hearing.  Interpreters can assist with brief conversations if time allows.  As a rule, attorneys should contract with interpreters when they need to meet with their clients to discuss their case, court processes, and strategy.  Use the Statewide Register of Interpreters to reach out to the interpreters for their current rates and availability. 

“To address these needs, the Nebraska Legislature, under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 and LB1014, set aside $500,000 in federal funds for Fiscal Years 2022-23 and 2023-24 to reimburse expenses incurred in the provision of qualified, licensed sign language interpreters (whether on-site or remote) throughout the state (including Lincoln and Omaha) to provide effective communication access services between attorneys and deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing individuals outside of the courtroom.”  Click here for more information or contact the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.   

Mental Health Board hearings, non-Court ordered mediation and State agencies
The Language Access Program does not pay for the interpreter when they are needed for Mental Health Board hearings, non-court ordered mediation or by other state agencies.  Use the Statewide Register of Interpreters to reach out to the interpreters for their current rates and availability.
 

Work Comp Court
The Language Access Program will pay for the interpreter, but it is the employer’s obligation to schedule the interpreter.  Use the Statewide Register of Interpreters to find and secure an interpreter.  Please note that the Nebraska Supreme Court rule on interpreter payment rate must be adhered to, otherwise payment may be denied.     

LANGUAGELINE
LanguageLine is the Judicial Branch language access vendor and supports 250+ languages telephonically.  Language access vendors charge per minute for their services and for conferencing in the LEP individual.  To better steward our financial resources, LanguageLine should be used to make short calls – i.e., at the counter, to set up appointments, to communicate date/time changes, during field visits, and when the Operations Team indicates this option is appropriate.

NUMBER OF INTERPRETERS
Interpreters provided by the Language Access Program are officers of the court and neutral to any proceeding.  Standard protocol dictates that if there is more than one Deaf, HoH, or LEP individual, the number of interpreters scheduled will be based on the length of the hearing, not the number of parties.  Additional standards include:        
  • 1 foreign language interpreter for proceedings that are less than 2 hours in length.
  • 2 ASL interpreters for proceedings that are more than 1 hour in length.
  • 2 interpreters when a hearing is longer than 2 hours and for trials.

Interpreting teams will generally switch off every 15-30 minutes but will vary based on the individual interpreter and the content being interpreted.

OPERATIONS TEAM
The Operations Team consists of Interpreter Coordinators and Justice Language Access Coordinators who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Language Access Program.  They receive and fill interpreter requests, troubleshoot issues, and coach interpreters.   

PROBATION PAPERWORK
The Language Access Program does not provide interpreters to assist Deaf, HoH, or LEP individuals to fill out paperwork one-on-one. If assistance is needed, the probation officer should have the English document in hand to review with the probationer and the interpreter will interpret. 

SHORT NON-EVIDENTIARY HEARINGS
To assist the Language Access Program in meeting the statewide need for language assistance, it is recommended that short non-evidentiary hearings that involve travel be scheduled as remote hearings, barring any special circumstances that are communicated to the Operations Team. 

TRANSLATIONS

General requests
Document translation requests should be sent to the Language Access Program Director.  Please send the document in Word and include the language to be translated into and the date it is needed by.  Since interpreters work on translations between hearings, as much lead time as possible is appreciated.  

Court Documents
Pleadings, documents, or filings taken to District Court to be filed inside an existing case are only accepted in English.  Anything evidentiary and meant to be testimony or an exhibit would have to be translated prior to being submitted.  However, if a non-English letter is received in the mail, personnel will take it to the judge for direction.      

Probation Forms
There are currently many translated forms in Zequel to support LEP individuals while on probation. Please review the Language Translation of Forms policy in Zequel for further information on how to request documents to be translated.

Probation Investigation and Supervision
If the need for a translation arises during investigation or supervision, interpreters can work on them only within the timeframe they were reserved for.  If not able to complete it during their reserved time, do not send it home with the interpreter to complete.  Instead, send the document to the Language Access Program Director and include the language to be translated into and the date it is needed by so it may be assigned for translation. 

Probation Victim Statements
The Language Access Program translates Victim Statements into English for Probation Officers to submit to the court. Email the Deputy Probation Administrator at least 2 to 3 weeks ahead of time requesting approval. Case details to be included in the email: defendant’s name, court case number, sentencing date, and the date the translation is needed by. If the request is approved, it will be forwarded to the Language Access Program Director to assign it to a translator. When done, the translation will be emailed to the probation officer directly.

VIDEO INTERPRETING
Many short non-evidentiary hearings can be handled effectively via video.  To assist the court to run on time, the interpreter will connect 5 minutes before the hearing if their schedule allows.  If the parties don’t appear on time, the interpreter will log off after waiting 15 minutes past the scheduled hearing time.

WORKFLOW
To ensure that court, probation, and the Language Access Program run smoothly each day, the following workflow must be adhered to:
  • Interpreters are to be scheduled by the Language Access Program, not by court or probation personnel.  
  • Interpreters may be scheduled back-to-back and will communicate with court and probation personnel if they can assist with additional hearings. 
  • Pre-scheduled hearings will take precedence when add-ons occur.

 

Approved by State Court Administrator [November 2023]