Monday, October 1, 2007
Court Says It Will Not Negotiate While Interpreters Are on Strike
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court will not negotiate with striking interpreters until they return to work, the court’s chief spokesperson said Friday.
Although interpreters said that they remained hopeful that a resolution could be reached, court spokesperson Allan Parachini said the interpreters would have to end the now-four-week-old walkout before the court will return to the bargaining table.
The interpreters went on strike Sept. 5 after the court rejected their demands for a graduated pay scale based on seniority, and unilaterally implemented a 4 percent salary raise that the interpreters had previously rejected.
The parties said somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all certified interpreters are on strike.
Parachini said that the raise was the best deal the court’s budget allowed and laid blame for the strike on the interpreters, saying that other court employees had previously accepted the same raise.
Eric Valdéz, a certified interpreter, disagreed, saying that the state budget allocated $12 million which could be used to fund a graduated pay scale.
The court has remained operational throughout the strike due to its provisional certification of 36 replacement interpreters, Parachini said. “All cases have gone forward that needed to do so,” he told the MetNews.
However, Valdéz, who has 15 years of experience as an interpreter with the court, dismissed this statement as untrue and claimed that the strike had caused massive disruptions to the court. He said the court was repeatedly delaying proceedings, and accused it of continuing some proceedings’ dates to as far off as December.
He also alleged that the court had dismissed criminal cases and released defendants when replacement interpreters were unavailable or could not keep up with proceedings. He said that, while cases involving Spanish-speaking defendants went forward or were continued, cases involving less widely-spoken languages where interpreters could not be located, such as Ethiopian or Russian, were being dismissed.
Parachini admitted that the court had experienced some delays, but emphatically denied this charge. “That is incorrect,” he said. “Not a single case has been dismissed.”
Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office told the MetNews that she was not aware of any cases being dismissed or defendants being released as a result of the strike,
Robert E. Kalunian of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office also said he was unaware of any dismissals or releases, and that, while the strike had affected operations, it had not crippled the court.
Valdéz also accused the court of systematically violating defendants’ due process rights. He said that he had received reports of judges approving replacement interpreters who had repeatedly failed certification examinations over attorneys’ objections, pressing criminal defendants into service to serve as interpreters for other defendants, and allowing defendants to plead guilty to ‘strike’ offenses when defendants did not understand the ramifications.
He said of the replacement interpreters that, “they may have good intentions, but they are not capable,” and opined that the method used for provisional certification was not legal.
Parachini said that he was unaware of any defendants being required to act as interpreters, and said that the court wanted to know if they had indeed occurred.
When asked about the long-term impact of the strike, Valdéz predicted that the full impact will not be seen for a number of months. He did note, however, that he expects the strike to become the subject of numerous appeals and a large amount of future caselaw.
Valdéz also pointed out that the strike does not only affect the rights of criminal defendants – it affects the whole community. “The lack of certified interpreters doesn’t just affect defendants,” he said. As long as the strike continues, “victims are not being heard.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company