As one of only 10 legal/court certified sign language interpreters in Georgia, Paul Panusky (J.D.’19) has helped mitigate communications barriers for Deaf people in police interrogations, doctor’s appointments, prisons, operating rooms and courts, as well as at political speeches and rallies.
His specialized certification is a rarity—less than 3.5 percent of American Sign Language interpreters have the specialized legal certification according to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. As a legal/court certified sign language interpreter, he sees the effects of the limited access to justice for those who are Deaf.
“Case delays lengthened incarcerations, because the prison couldn’t secure an interpreter and attorneys were unable to speak to their clients,” said Panusky. “Potential clients couldn’t understand why attorneys wouldn’t take their cases because there was no communication. It was a driving force behind my decision to go to law school.”
Prior to earning his legal certification, Panusky was in the Army working in military intelligence and as a recruiter. He later earned his undergraduate degree and started a real estate investment company. Sign language interpretation surfaced as a career path after he met a Deaf couple and found himself fascinated by the complexity of their communications. Panusky worked as a legal interpreter, but thought he could make a bigger impact as an attorney.
“As an interpreter, you’re invited into the most complicated, private, joyous, stressful and important moments of people’s lives,” said Panusky. “A lawyer who can communicate directly with the Deaf, understand the culture and be involved with an underrepresented community can make a huge impact.”
In 2015, Panusky enrolled in Georgia State Law’s part-time J.D. program and hit the ground running. At the beginning of his second year he served as an interpreter for a trial attorney from the Department of Justice (DOJ). His experience led to invitations to speak about representation of people with disabilities at the DOJ and at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association annual conference in Washington, D.C. He recently spoke to the Georgia Supreme Court’s Commission on Interpreters about the need to regulate sign language interpreters.
More than developing his passion for helping others, Panusky says that the College of Law helped him find a place where he belongs. Upon graduation, he plans to focus on criminal defense and family law, while working as a general practitioner for the Deaf community.