Friday, September 19, 2008
Judge, Groups Back Bill Providing Interpreters in Civil Cases
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza and representatives of various community legal organizations called for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation to provide court-appointed interpreters to indigent parties in civil cases during a press conference yesterday.
Espinoza joined representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, known as MALDEF; the Asian Pacific American Legal Center; Neighborhood Legal Services of Los angeles County; and Bet Tzedek Legal Services gathered in support of Assembly Bill 3050, authored by Assembly Member Dave Jones, D-Sacramento and sponsored by the Judicial Council.
The governor has until Sept. 30 to act on the bill, which was passed by the Legislature with bipartisan support last month.
Jones explained that the courts do not currently provide interpreters for civil cases, and that AB 3050 would allow the Judicial Council to develop pilot programs to test different approaches for deploying court interpreters.
The pilot programs would be self-funded by a fee of about $15 on telephonic court appearances, Jones said. He estimated that the bill would generate close to $3 million statewide while also providing uniformity for telephonic appearance fees.
Espinoza, who chairs the court’s Access and Fairness Committee and serves as assistant supervising judge for the criminal departments, explained that the high volume of self-represented litigants in the civil courts “is an initial barrier, and the language problem adds an additional barrier.”
“People are coming to litigate vital self interests and the court can’t communicate with them, and they can’t communicate with the court.”
Jones said that an estimated seven million Californians cannot access court services without “significant language assistance.” The United States Census Bureau has reported that 26 percent of Californians are foreign-born and more than 39 percent speak a language other than English at home.
Wendy Levine, deputy director of litigation for Bet Tzedek, described instances where people were “literally pulled from the halls to translate” for a civil litigant, or a young child had to translate for her parents. “We can, and we should do better than that,” she insisted.
In a letter to the governor requesting support for the bill, California Chief Justice Ronald M. George opined that it is “fundamental to California’s judicial system that litigates are able to meaningfully participate in the legal resolution of civil grievances regardless of their primary language.”
Karin Wang, vice-president of programs for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center opined that the “fundamental values of equality and fairness are put at risk” if language assistance permitting immigrant communities access to the court is not provided.
Levine cautioned that the lack of translators to assist litigants “affects the court’s ability to function properly, causing inefficient and costly delays in proceedings for all court users, hampering compliance with court orders, leading to miscommunication that can ultimately subvert justice.”
Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County maintained “everybody needs to have the right to walk into a courtroom and be heard.”
Jones said that “the governor has spoken very movingly about ensuring equal access to the courts.” He suggested “in the past, the governor’s concern was using general fund dollars…when presented with similar proposals,” and because AB 3050 would be self-funded and faced no opposition he said he was “very hopeful” the bill would pass.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company