Judicial Council Approves VRI Program and Guidelines


SAN FRANCISCO _ Despite caution voiced by interpreters, the Judicial Council approved minimum technology guidelines on Video Remote Interpreting for California courts and voted to establish a VRI program for the judicial branch during its March meeting.

In response, CFI members are working on legislative efforts to establish strong parameters and oversight for VRI in the courts and other ancillary services.

The adopted guidelines are not a requirement for courts but rather a suggested minimum standard, said David Yamasaki, a member of the VRI Workstream group and Court Executive Officer of the Orange County Superior Court.

CFI is not against the limited use of VRI for brief, non-evidentiary and non-complex court hearings when in-person interpreters are not available or to expand language access outside the courtroom, particularly in the interview processes necessary to later in-court proceedings. 

“CFI is against misuse of VRI. We are against utilizing VRI in a way that diminishes meaningful access for Limited English Proficient court users or violates their due process. We are against using VRI for cutting costs at the expense of effective and accurate communication. We are against using VRI so that courts can avoid sharing interpreter resources,” CFI Representative Anabelle Garay told the Council.

During the meeting Friday, Yamasaki characterized the concerns expressed by interpreters and CFI as bargaining issues and added that other interpreter suggestions would become part of a document on best practices being prepared by the National Center for State Courts.

The recommendations to adopt VRI and related guidelines were based on the findings the VRI pilot project carried out last year in Sacramento, Merced and Ventura courts. San Diego State University Research Foundation evaluated the pilot by collecting short surveys from bench officers,interpreters[MF1] [AG2] , limited-English proficient (LEP) court users, and court staff.

Among the key findings:

·     59% of post-pilot survey respondents[MF3] indicated that VRI allowed for meaningful participation for court proceedings;

·     22% of post-pilot survey respondents were classified as neutral on the question of whether VRI allowed for meaningful participation for court proceedings; and

·     cost savings of using VRI could not be evaluated since employee interpreters were used in the pilot program. 

“A much better use of funds would be to invest in growing a solid interpreter workforce so that in-person interpreters are readily available,” said San Mateo Court Interpreter Carol Palacio, who is part of the Region 2 committee that will meet and confer on VRI. 

Interpreters who participated in the pilot program expressed concerns as to whether there were inaccuracies and omissions. They pointed out that VRI is highly prone to error, takes longer than in-person interpreting, and has many technical problems. VRI also adds another layer of difficulty to interpreters’ work by asking us to operate equipment that otherwise would not exist with in-person interpreting. 

CFI also questions whether the surveys given to interpreters could meaningfully measure a VRI event’s efficacy. During the first week of the pilot a 3-page survey was used but it was later parsed down to 5 questions. Interpreters who participated in the pilot admitted that there was not enough time to fill out the surveys given there was only 5 minutes or less between VRI events.

Region 4 is currently bargaining over VRI and Region 2 is expected to meet and confer on VRI soon. Region 3 Courts have a side letter on VRI with CFI.


 [MF1]There is doubt as to whether the surveys given to interpreters were a meaningful measure of VRI event efficacy; for the first week of the pilot the VRI interpreter was given a 3-page survey, and at some moment thereafter it was parsed down to 5 questions on a sheet of paper. Our members who participated in the pilot admitted that there was not enough time to fill them out, or they simply neglected to fill out the survey … given there was only 5 minutes or less between VRI events. At best, survey completion was hit-and-miss among the interpreters.


 [MF3]According to Tyler Nguyen, Angie Birchfield, and other participants in the pilot, interpreters were not interviewed or surveyed at the end or after the pilot project.