Thursday, May 28, 2009
Judge, Groups Back Bill Providing Civil Case Interpreters
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza and representatives of various community legal organizations spoke out yesterday at a press conference in support of pending legislation to provide court-appointed interpreters to indigent parties in civil cases.
Espinoza joined representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center; Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County; and Bet Tzedek Legal Services and Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, in support of Jones’ Assembly Bill 663, scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee today.
The measure has no opposition, Jones claimed, and if approved by the committee, the bill will move to the Assembly floor. Approval by the Assembly then takes the bill to the state Senate and then to the governor.
A similar bill was put forth last year by Jones and the Judicial Council, and it passed the Legislature with bi-partisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September.
Jones said that AB 663, which is backed by the state Judicial Council and State Bar, is “not dramatically different” from the previous measure, again relying on funding provided by a fee of about $15 on telephonic appearances which he estimated would generate close to $2 million.
He said he was hopeful the governor would “give [the bill] real consideration,” since Schwarzenegger had not considered the merits of the legislation in September, having issued a “form letter” to the Assembly stating that he was forced to “prioritize the bills sent to my desk” as a result of the delay in passing the state budget, and would not sign any bills but those he considered the “highest priority for California.”
If the governor signs the measure into law, the bill would require the Judicial Council to establish a working group to identify and develop best practices to provide interpreters in civil actions by September 2010 and select up to five courts to participate in a pilot project to run from July 2011 until 2014.
The Los Angeles Superior Court was likely to be one of those selected, Jones added.
Espinoza, who chairs the court’s Access and Fairness Committee and serves as supervising judge for the criminal departments, said that the Los Angeles Superior Court is “in lockstep” with Jones and the proposed bill.
“It’s a horrible situation when a litigant either can’t be understood by the court…or the orders of the court can’t be understood by the litigant,” Espinoza said.
“It’s a common immigrant experience to have a child translate for the parents, and it does happen here,” he said, which is “completely unacceptable.”
Jones explained that many people assume that interpreters will be appointed to them but that is only true in criminal cases. Espinoza added that the court currently provides interpretive services in over 100 languages for parties in criminal cases, and still struggles to provide language services for all the dialects spoken by litigants.
According to the Los Angeles Superior Court’s 2009 Annual Report, interpretive services in Spanish is the most common request across the county. Other languages topping the list are Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagolog, Cambodian, Japanese, Bengali, Armenian, Arabic, Farsi and Russian.
Tammy C. Peng, supervising attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said that one in three people in Los Angeles County are not born in the United States, and that 63 percent off the Vietnamese population, 59 percent of the Korean population, 57 percent of the Cambodian population and 52 percent of the Bangladeshi population have only limited English proficiency.
For those with such a language barrier, Wendy Levine, deputy director of litigation for Bet Tzedek, insisted the court system is “inaccessible,” while Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County maintained, “We can’t have justice if people can’t communicate…and can’t understand what’s happening to them.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company