Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Court Interpreters III

On August 16, the Department of Justice issued a letter to all chief justices and state court administrators. A lengthy excerpt:

Language services expenses should be treated as a basic and essential operating expense, not as an ancillary cost. Court systems have many operating expenses -judges and staff, buildings, utilities, security, filing, data and records systems, insurance, research, and printing costs, to name a few. Court systems in every part of the country serve populations of LEP individuals and most jurisdictions, if not all, have encountered substantial increases in the number of LEP parties and witnesses and the diversity of languages they speak. Budgeting adequate funds to ensure language access is fundamental to the business of the courts.

We recognize that most state and local courts are struggling with unusual budgetary constraints that have slowed the pace of progress in this area. The DOJ Guidance acknowledges that recipients can consider the costs of the services and the resources available to the court as part of the determination of what language assistance is reasonably required in order to provide meaningful LEP access. See id. at 41,460. Fiscal pressures, however, do not provide an exemption from civil rights requirements. In considering a system's compliance with language access standards in light oflimited resources, DOJ will consider all of the facts and circumstances of a particular court system. Factors to review may include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The extent to which current language access deficiencies reflect the impact of the fiscal crisis as demonstrated by previous success in providing meaningful access;

• The extent to which other essential court operations are being restricted or defunded;

• The extent to which the court system has secured additional revenues from fees, fine s, grants, or other sources, and has increased efficiency through collaboration, technology, or other means;

• Whether the court system has adopted an implementation plan to move promptly towards full compliance; and

• The nature and significance of the adverse impact on LEP persons affected by the existing language access deficiencies.

DOJ acknowledges that it takes time to create systems that ensure competent interpretation in all court proceedings and to build a qualified interpreter corps. Yet nearly a decade has passed since the issuance of Executive Order 13166 and publication of initial general guidance clarifYing language access requirements for recipients. Reasonable efforts by now should have resulted in significant and continuing improvements for all recipients. With this passage of time, the need to show progress in providing all LEP persons with meaningful access has increased. DOJ expects that courts that have done well will continue to make progress toward full compliance in policy and practice. At the same time, we expect that court recipients that are furthest behind will take significant steps in order to move promptly toward compliance.
Included with the letter were the following links:

Executive Order 13166 Tips and Tools Document

Maine Court Rule and Memorandum of Agreement

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