Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican will recognize Luis Sanchez of Alliance with a "Friend of the Court" award on Wednesday, August 15, during the Chief's visit to the Box Butte County Courthouse. The award is being given to Mr. Sanchez for his contributions to the Court's On-Call Interpreter Program.
Luis Sanchez passed exams to become a Spanish language Certified Court Interpreter in 2009. Given the scarcity of available certified interpreters and limited funding, he quickly recognized how hard it was to provide interpreting services to courts that needed interpreting services. He also noted the undesirable expenses the state incurred for travel and mileage when he was assigned to drive from Alliance to Sidney, Kimball, or Chadron, for brief interpreting assignments. From 2009 to the current day, certified Spanish interpreters – those who have passed exams to demonstrate their ability to provide accurate interpreting for the courts – have been scarce in the Panhandle, residing only in Lexington, Scottsbluff, and Alliance. Due to their scarce nature and the high demand for their services, those certified interpreters were required to drive long distances to reach the counties where they were needed to appear in court. When Mr. Sanchez heard that the Supreme Court was considering a program to make certified Spanish interpreters available by phone or video-conferencing, he volunteered his time to help with the project.
Luis Sanchez came well equipped to assist with both the technical and practical aspects of developing a new program. In addition to being a certified Spanish interpreter, Mr. Sanchez has an associate’s degree in computer science and graduate degree in agricultural engineering.
Mr. Sanchez recommended using an online calendar to schedule interpreters and worked with the Supreme Court's Information Technology department to link the calendar to the Supreme Court's website. Trial Court Services Director Sheryl Connolly recruited the initial interpreters for the program, which was implemented in November 2009. Since then, Mr. Sanchez has provided most of the administrative support for the On-Call Interpreter Program on a volunteer basis. His activities include: scheduling interpreters, coordinating the online calendar, sending e-mails to all courts and probation offices to inform them of the interpreter(s) who are "on call" for the day, designing a reporting process for services, compiling monthly statistics, and serving as a resource for interpreters and courts who are interested in working with the On-Call Interpreter Program. Mr. Sanchez has provided all of those services free of charge, accepting payment only for shifts that he takes providing "on call" services for courts across the state.
The On-Call Interpreter Program provides access to certified Spanish interpreters Monday through Thursday, four hours each day, and two hours on Fridays. Courts and probation offices in all 93 counties can phone or video conference the on-call interpreters for short court hearings or to help communicate with Spanish-speakers in their offices.
Since it was established in November 2009, the On-Call Interpreter Program has provided services to over 1,700 Spanish-speaking court users and has saved the state over $80,000.