Pilot program in Kane County aims for better court interpreters at a better price

Updated 10/16/2020 9:28 AM

Kane County has the only judicial circuit in the state that uses a third-party contractor for all language interpreting services, and that's raised concerns among judicial officials about the costs, quality of interpreters and fragility of case rulings that go to appeal.

But judges in the circuit say they have a plan to amp up the service while also slashing the price.


Circuit Judge Rene Cruz told the county's board's judicial and public safety committee Thursday the state is now reimbursing local courts for online-based interpreting services. Cruz said this is a huge savings compared to the way Kane County gets its interpreters.

For example, a recent need for a Hindi interpreter at a traffic court case for disobeying a traffic signal cost the county nearly $600. The interpreter charged what Cruz described as a standard hourly rate of $105, plus $413 in travel costs and another $61 in mileage reimbursement. The interpreter was needed for 10 minutes.

All that stems from Kane County not having any full-time interpreters on the payroll like surrounding judicial circuits.

While $600 seems like a big price, Cruz said the cost is even greater if an interpreter does a poor job. He referenced an Indiana case in which a man in prison for 15 years on drug trafficking charges had his conviction overturned because an interpreter botched the explanation of the man's constitutional rights.

"Everything had to be undone," Cruz said. "Think about the cost of prosecuting someone, the cost of now having to reinvent this prosecution. But the greater cost is they start looking at every single case that the interpreter was involved with to figure out whether or not the same errors occurred. The possible consequences can be staggering."

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A new online service called Interprenet is providing online access to interpreters with the highest level of certification.

Kane County is among a handful of jurisdictions piloting the service. It bills the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts directly, making the service free to Kane County during normal business hours. Outside those hours, the administrative office is reimbursing up to $60 per hour whenever the county uses an online interpreter with the highest certification.

In limited test use so far, the county has cut costs for interpreter services and received $50,000 in reimbursements.

Judges want to use some of the reimbursement money to hire a full-time coordinator to do all interpreter selections and reimbursement paperwork.

Records show the county spent $441,000 on interpreters in 2019, and $313,000 this year.

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