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Durango hires Spanish interpreter for municipal court proceedings

Providing accurate translation services part of city’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts
The city of Durango now has a municipal court interpreter who can help Spanish-speaking residents with their court hearings. (Durango Herald file)

The city of Durango has a new municipal court interpreter to provide on-site translation services for Spanish-speaking residents who have court appointments. Now, the city must get the word out.

Faye Harmer, city clerk, said the city has long had translation services, with conference calls available in around 100 languages, but the problem when it comes to municipal court is that many interpreters, as skilled as they may be, aren’t court certified.

That means they don’t necessarily have a strong understanding of court and legal terms, such as “deferred judgment,” a certain kind of plea agreement that can be used to avoid a conviction, she said.

Using the long-standing translation services, people at a municipal court hearing would wait on hold for up to 30 minutes at times just to be put in touch with a court certified interpreter, she said. It wasn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time.

“We wanted to make sure all of our defendants have the full scope of everything that’s available,” she said. “We don’t want them to simply come in and pay the ticket because that’s the easiest thing to do. There are other options. Deferred judgments or other things that we want to make sure they understand are available.”

She said Durango resident Jean Lyle, who works in federal immigration court in Denver, was hired as the city’s new Spanish interpreter for the municipal court, but Lyle’s case load is small right now.

Harmer said she expects Lyle to get more work opportunities as residents become aware of the interpretation services she provides.

Lyle made her first appearance in municipal court on June 16 when she provided interpretation services for a defendant, she said. The defendant had a deferred judgment and will be back in court on July 5, which Lyle will also attend. After that, she is scheduled to again provide interpretation services on July 28.

It is up to residents to request Spanish or other language interpretation services for their court appearances, and they can do that by filing a request with the city clerk’s office at City Hall, she said. The clerk’s office will reschedule their days in court to dates that work with Lyle.

Scheduling is a little “ad hoc” while Lyle settles in, but the city hopes to have dedicated court dates – the third Friday of every month, for example – for cases requiring interpretation services, Harmer said.

“We’ll be scheduling those dates on a month-by-month basis initially until we kind of figure out what works for (Lyle),” she said.

She said the search for Lyle was challenging because most interpreters in the Durango area aren’t court certified. But the city budgeted for a dedicated Spanish-language interpreter as part of its ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

And, the city has a multilingual group that was put together by its human resources department to assist in general translation or interpretation services.

“There are various people around the city that speak multiple languages, and that program is great for the people that come into the lobby at City Hall or River City Hall that come in for general city services,” she said.


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