Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Presiding Judge Czuleger Says:
Court Prepared for Permanent Loss of Striking Interpreters
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Presiding Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger yesterday told a joint legislative hearing that he has instructed his staff to begin preparing for a permanent reduction in the number of court interpreters.
Czuleger disclosed that fact during a hearing at the Ronald Reagan State Building downtown on the impact of the 6-week-old interpreters’ strike. The hearing chaired by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, was punctuated by tense exchanges between legislators and court representatives, which had one point prompted Romero to summon sergeants-at-arms to flank Czuleger and others.
Admitting that the strike has caused some inconvenience and disruption to court operations, Czuleger cited improvements in the court’s efficiency and the continuing addition of provisionally certified interpreters to support his contention that the court could carry on without the striking interpreters if necessary.
“The court has withstood earthquakes, riots, floods, fires, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears,” Czuleger said. “It will do the same here.”
He was joined by Court Executive Officer John Clarke, who cited an increase in replacement interpreters, expanded use of alternative programs and a reduction in inefficiencies to rebut Romero’s assertion that the court was “in chaos” and argue that the court has continued to meet the community’s needs.
Replacement Interpreters Increased
Clarke said the number of interpreters currently working had increased from approximately 30 to 100. He said that some 400 interpreters were working prior to the strike.
Clarke also said that programs such as telephonic translation services and the movement of cases to accommodate interpreters, rather than of interpreters to accommodate cases, were allowing to the court to compensate for the effects of the strike, even if it was not operating at a pre-strike level.
The hearing grew tense when legislators and witnesses both began trying to speak over one another, but after Romero summoned the sergeants-at-arms, Clarke suggested that they call a momentary “time-out” and the hearing resumed without further incident.
Czuleger’s testimony came after a number of other witnesses described multiple delays and backlogs they attributed to the strike.
Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said that he had serious concerns about the impact of the strike, noting that the large number of continuances was hurting his office’s ability to prosecute cases and wasting resources.
Janet Moore, director of the bureau of central operations for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and Ramon Quintana, division chief of the central felonies division of the Office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, agreed, saying that the strike had disrupted the court’s operations and caused their offices inconvenience.
However, all three advised the panel that, although they expected the delays to ultimately result in case dismissals, no felony cases had been dismissed. Moore advised that a “handful” of misdemeanor cases had been dismissed when replacement interpreters could not be located for defendants who spoke Mayan, and Pacific Island languages, but that these cases could be re-filed.
Romero called the informational hearing on behalf of a number of Senate committees and caucuses after allegations were made by striking interpreters and others that the walkout had resulted in violations to the due process and speedy trial rights of defendants.
She was joined at the hearing by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles; Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, and Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park. Aides to Sen. Ron S. Calderon, D-Montebello, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, were also present.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company