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Complaints against interpreters

Wisconsin Interpreter Program - Disciplinary policy and complaint procedure

The opportunity to provide interpreter services to the courts under the direction of the Director of State Courts office is at the Director's complete and continuing discretion because of the critical reliance the courts must have on the skills, performance, and integrity of the interpreter in performing duties for the court. This discretion applies to any person who appears on the Director's roster of court interpreters, whether the interpreter is certified or otherwise.

Possible reasons for discipline

Complaints may be filed against interpreters who have been certified by the Director through the CIP or who are listed on the Roster and who are actively working in court. Possible reasons for discipline include:

(a) Violation of the Code of Ethics for Court Interpreters
(b) Conviction of any felony or misdemeanor; in particular, crimes involving moral turpitude, fraud, corruption, dishonesty, misrepresentation, or false statements
(c) False or deceptive advertising after receipt of notification to discontinue
(d) Knowing and willful disclosure of confidential or privileged information obtained while serving in an official capacity
(e) Gross incompetence
(f) Non-compliance with the program's policies and procedures
(g) Incapacity to perform the duties of a court interpreter which may include but is not limited to medical incapacity or incarceration
(h) Engaging in action that calls into question the interpreter's ability to work effectively in court

Complaint procedure

Any person may initiate a complaint against an interpreter by filing it with a Judge, Clerk of Court, District Court Administrator (DCA) or CIP. All complaints must be in writing, must be signed, and must describe the alleged inappropriate conduct. Within twenty (20) days of receipt of a complaint, the CIP manager will commence review of the complaint to determine its merit. If further review is required, the interpreter will be provided with written notice of the allegation(s), and will be asked to provide a written response to the complaint within twenty (20) days of receipt of notification of the allegation(s).

Upon receipt of the interpreter's response, the CIP manager will forward the complaint, response and any supporting documentation to the Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee shall confer within twenty (20) days to determine whether further action is required. Members of the sub-committee may consider information obtained from sources other than the complaint and response. If the complaint is found to be insufficient, the complaint shall be dismissed and the complainant and interpreter shall be notified in writing that no further disciplinary action will take place.

If it is determined by the Sub-Committee that an ethical violation probably occurred, or if no response is filed by the interpreter, members of the sub-committee may determine what further action is required. The sub-committee may set a hearing to review the complaint, or review the matter by considering all information as submitted. If no hearing is set, the sub-committee will issue a recommendation to the Director as to a possible disposition and proposed sanctions, if any.

If a hearing is set, the interpreter shall be notified by mail of the time and date of the hearing, which shall be set no later than thirty (30) days after a determination that probable cause exists. The interpreter shall receive a copy of any additional materials the sub-committee may have considered in making a determination that an ethical violation probably occurred. While a disciplinary proceeding is pending, the Director may suspend the interpreter's certification or appearance on the roster if it appears the interpreter's continued practice as an interpreter poses a substantial threat or harm to the public or to the integrity of the court system.

While it is not necessary to use this specific format, a grievance form is available for your convenience.

Grievance form MS Word (fillable format)

Informal resolution

Efforts to resolve the complaint informally may be initiated by the interpreter and the complainant at any time. Any resolution reached must be submitted in writing to the sub-committee for approval. Upon approval of any resolution reached informally, or subsequent to any review without a hearing, the sub-committee will notify the complainant and the interpreter of its written approval of the informal resolution.

Voluntary resignation by the interpreter

An interpreter who desires not to contest or defend himself/herself against an allegation of unethical conduct may at any time voluntarily resign his or her certification in lieu of further disciplinary proceedings. The allegations against the interpreter are presumed to have been proven for purposes of considering reinstatement.

Hearings

All hearings will be recorded and shall be private and confidential. The sub-committee may, in its discretion, call witnesses, consider or clarify any evidence presented, giving such evidence the weight it deems appropriate. The interpreter may be represented by counsel, and shall be able to testify, comment on the allegations, and call witnesses. All testimony taken shall be under oath.

Recommendation by the Sub-Committee to the Director

Within thirty (30) days of the hearing, the Sub-Committee will issue a recommendation to the Director as to a possible disposition and proposed sanctions if members find the interpreter committed any of the actions described in previous section.

Final determination by the Director

Upon receipt and review of the sub-committee's recommendation, the Director will issue a final determination as to whether the interpreter committed any of the actions described in previous section. A written letter shall be sent to the interpreter with the decision and proposed sanctions if applicable along with all supporting material the sub-committee or the Director may have considered in making their decision. The complainant will receive a copy of the decision letter.

Possible sanctions

Possible sanctions the sub-committee and the Director may consider include but are not limited to one or more of the following:

  1. Private or public reprimand (see Notification to the Courts)
  2. Imposition of costs and expenses incurred by the sub-committee related to the proceeding
  3. Restitution
  4. A requirement that specified education courses be taken
  5. A requirement that one or more parts of the oral certification examination be retaken
  6. A modification of or suspension from the list of interpreters eligible to work in court
  7. A requirement that work be supervised or monitored over a period of time
  8. A suspension of certification for a specified period of time
  9. Permanent revocation of certification
  10. A refusal to confer certification to a non-certified interpreter for a specified period of time or under certain circumstances, permanently
  11. Denial of state reimbursement to county or counties where interpreter's services are used for a specified period of time or under certain circumstances, permanently
  12. Notice to the affected court for possible contempt action
  13. Referral to law enforcement or district attorney for prosecution where appropriate

The specific disciplinary action and the degree of discipline to be imposed should depend upon factors such as the seriousness of the violation, the effect of the improper activity on others or on the judicial system and the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.

Aggravating factors may include prior disciplinary action against the same interpreter; experience as an interpreter; intentional, premeditated, knowing, grossly incompetent or grossly negligent act; bad faith or obstruction; a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses; failure to cooperate during disciplinary proceeding; refusal to acknowledge conduct; vulnerability of victim; or illegality of conduct.

Mitigating factors may include absence of prior disciplinary action; good faith effort to rectify consequences of misconduct; nature of conduct and likelihood of reoccurrence; isolation of event; experience as an interpreter; implementation of remedial measures to mitigate harm or risk of harm; self-reporting; voluntary admission of violation; or temporary circumstances outside of interpreter's control.

Reinstatement by the Director

A court interpreter whose certification or roster status has been suspended or revoked may apply in writing to the Director for reinstatement pursuant to any timeframes established in the final decision. This request shall explain why the applicant believes reinstatement should occur. The Director shall have the sole discretion whether to grant or deny reinstatement or to impose conditions upon reinstatement as deemed appropriate.

Notification to the courts

If an interpreter has been disciplined for an ethical violation, the CIP manager may notify all clerks of circuit court and District Court Administrators of the results. The CIP manager may also notify municipal courts, federal courts or any other agency deemed appropriate by the Director of the results.

Duty to self-report

An interpreter who has been sanctioned for discipline by the Director has a duty to report the disciplinary outcome within 30 days of the imposition of the sanctions to all other jurisdictions where the interpreter's certification may be recognized. Failure to self-report may be considered by the Director when determining if reinstatement is appropriate.

*Under CIP Program Policies Sec. 13.2 the Character and Fitness Sub-Committee (the Sub-Committee) is a permanent sub-committee consisting of three (3) rotating members of the Committee to Improve Interpreting and Translation in the Wisconsin Courts. The composition of the Sub-Committee at all times will include at least one judge. The Sub-Committee's charge is to consider all relevant information presented and to make a recommendation to the Director as to whether the interpreter's character and fitness are sufficient to ensure the integrity and competence of interpreting services and the maintenance of high standards in the administration of justice.

Results of disciplinary complaints against interpreters

Date Summary of complaint Outcome Relevant rule(s)
03/13 Two interpreters filed separate complaints against another interpreter for allegedly violating various canons such as scope of practice by engaging in duties that exceed what is appropriate for interpreters; professional demeanor as it relates to team interpreting, double-booking, and double-billing; and accuracy and completeness regarding grammar and questionable terms used by the interpreter in the non-English language. None of the allegations against the interpreter could be substantiated therefore no significant ethical breaches were determined. Interpreter was directed to read a practice paper on Team Interpreting developed by the National Association or Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and was encouraged to work with other colleagues to foster a professional and collegial environment. SCR 63.01 Accuracy and Completeness; SCR 63.04 Professional Demeanor; SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
08/12 Party filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly breaching confidentiality regarding information obtained during an interpreting assignment and for not disclosing the interpreter's familiarity with the parties and family members. No merit was found regarding the breach of confidentiality allegation. A review of the court transcript determined that the interpreter did violate the Code of Ethics by not disclosing to the court on the record the interpreter’s familiarity with the parties. Interpreter was required to retake the Ethics portion of orientation. SCR 63.03 Impartiality and Avoidance of Conflict of Interest
01/11 Advocate filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly providing an opinion to the pro se party receiving interpreter services that may have been construed as legal advice. Conduct of the interpreter did not rise to the level of an ethical breach, however, interpreter may have overstepped role by providing information to the court directly as opposed to interpreting what the speakers were saying. SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
11/10 LEP party filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly remaining silent and not providing information to the party. No significant ethical breaches by the interpreter. It is likely party was confused by the interpreter's role and expected more guidance to be provided when the interpreter was abiding by the Code of Ethics. SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
09/10 Interpreter filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly summarizing statements of LEP party's testimony, not seeking clarification with unfamiliar terms, and speaking in the third person. Upon review of an audio recording of the proceedings, Eenough evidence was produced to determine a finding that significant ethical breaches were committed by interpreter. Revocation of interpreter's certification was imposed and stayed. Interpreter was required to re-take sessions on Code of Ethics and small group discussion at an interpreter orientation, re-reading the SCR 63.01 and 63.08 along with the accompanying comments. The district court administrator who works in the courts where the interpreter is frequently assigned should randomly monitor the interpreter's performance during proceedings. SCR 63.01 Accuracy and Completeness and SCR 63.08 Reporting Impediments to Performance
07/10 Consumer filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly sending an e-mail communication to the LEP litigant and attorney regarding legal advice. No merit was found to this complaint as the alleged e-mail communication was never produced. SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
05/10 Attorney filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly leaving an out-of-court assignment without notice to the attorney and for questionable billing practices and unprofessional conduct. No significant ethical breaches were committed by interpreter. While there is concern about unprofessional conduct of an interpreter who apparently left an assignment without notice, there appeared to be pre-existing issues concerning payment to interpreter by attorney. Not enough verifiable evidence regarding questionably billing practices was produced by complainant. SCR 63.04 Professional Demeanor
12/09 Attorney filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly commenting about the language abilities of the litigant which may have caused a negative chain of events for the attorney's client. No significant ethical breaches by the interpreter but more likely a misunderstanding by the recipient of the information (in this case the judicial assistant) whereby the interpreter's statement was conveyed inaccurately to the judge. Interpreter was reminded, however, that the interpreter's job is to interpret and not to provide comments on the language abilities of the parties and the need for an interpreter. Determining the need for an interpreter is the responsibility of the court. SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
07/07 Interpreter filed complaint against another interpreter for alleging complainant was misrepresenting qualifications. No merit was found in this complaint. SCR 63.02 Representation of Qualifications
07/07 Interpreter filed complaint against another interpreter for allegedly accepting an assignment for a sign language case where interpreter was not qualified to do so. Enough evidence was presented to substantiate complainant's claim that interpreter accepted an assignment in which interpreter did not hold the requisite linguistic competency for the job. Interpreter held no credentials from any agency or entity to qualify interpreter as a sign language interpreter but did hold credentials as a certified Spanish interpreter. Interpreter was strongly discouraged from accepting any assignments for sign language interpretation in any court in Wisconsin. This finding did not affect interpreter's certification status for Spanish. SCR 63.02 Representation of Qualifications
11/06 Interpreter filed complaint against another interpreter for allegedly using threatening remarks; for interfering in a confidential conversation between attorney and client in a crowded hallway; and for a general lack of professionalism towards colleagues. No significant ethical breaches had been committed by interpreter. No corroboration of either interpreter's story was presented so both interpreters' versions of the situation were plausible. In a busy hallway, the expectation of privacy may be compromised. The motivation for filing the complaint was questioned since it was interpreter against interpreter. Interpreters may be asked to work together in the future and should be mindful if this incident affects their ability to do so, either interpreter must not take assignment. SCR 63.04 Professional Demeanor;
SCR 63.05 Confidentiality; SCR 63.08 Assessing and Reporting Impediments to Performance
09/06 Consumer filed complaint against interpreter for allegedly giving out legal advice regarding presentation of witnesses at an injunction hearing; and for making consumer change her reply by refusing to interpret what consumer said during hearing. Enough evidence was presented to substantiate consumer's complaint and interpreter's explanations were not credible. Interpreter was removed from roster for a 12-month period and required to attend Code of Ethics lecture and small group discussion at court interpreter orientation training. SCR 63.01 Accuracy and Completeness;
SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice
01/06 Interpreter for petitioner (who was also a relative of petitioner) filed a complaint against interpreter for allegedly trying to dissuade party from filing petition during a private conversation held prior to harassment injunction hearing; and for trying to influence testimony of petitioner by using hand gestures. No significant ethical breaches had been committed by interpreter but more likely a misunderstanding. Interpreter should be mindful of conversing with parties without a third party present and for using hand gestures to indicate “slow down” during interpretation. Motivation for filing complaint was also questioned since it was interpreter against interpreter. SCR 63.07 Scope of Practice;
SCR 63.03 Impartiality and Conflict of Interest

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