Arizona Courts Roll Out Interpreter Credentialing Program

All interpreters on staff at the Arizona Supreme Court―plus those contracted across the State―will now need to pass a credentialing program to continue working as court interpreters, according to the Arizona Judicial Branch website. The credentialing program aims to give court interpreters a basic knowledge of legal concepts and ethics, aside from interpreting skills, to help them better to do their job.

According to an article by Phoenix-based radio station KJZZ, the new credentialing rule will apply to the court’s 100 interpreters on staff and the 500 more contracted across Arizona.

The US court system classifies interpreters under three categories: certified interpreters, professionally qualified interpreters, and language skilled interpreters; with the latter category allowing the hiring of ad hoc interpreters to interpret court proceedings as long as they can show competence “to the satisfaction of the court.”

However, early this year, Arizona adopted its own credentialing program where court staff interpreters will be required to have so-called Tier 3 or Tier 4 Arizona credentials by June 30, 2019. After the deadline, any new court employee who provides interpreting services will be required to be a Tier 3 or Tier 4 interpreter.

In case no credentialed candidate is available during recruitment, the new hire must gain Tier 3 or Tier 4 credentials within 24 months of their hiring date. Furthermore, as of July 1, 2017, Arizona courts are “expected to show a preference” for credentialed interpreters when hiring freelancers.

At Tier 1, the candidate must register, undergo online ethics training and an overview on Arizona courts, then must pass an English written exam and oral proficiency interview. But Tiers 2 to 4 are non-progressive and the candidate only needs to sit for an oral interpretation exam. The exam score determines which tier is achieved: Passing at 60-69% is Tier 2 (Expires in 24 months), passing at 70-79% is Tier 3 (Permanent), and passing at 80% or higher is Tier 4 (Permanent).

The Arizona Court recognizes credentials earned from similar programs in other states. Fees are charged for such a reciprocity, as for classes and exams taken to achieve the Arizona tiers. The State also provides credentials just for spoken-language interpreters.

Requirements vary across states, as do minimum passing rates for exams. The Texas courts, for example, require passing a criminal history background check by the Department of Public Safety and the FBI. The Nevada courts, aside from a criminal background check, also require court interpreters to undergo 40 hours of Nevada courtroom observation.