Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Language Access in the Courts. The story continues….

States propose creation of a Court Improvement Program (CIP) for LEP Services
My previous post described  Executive and Judicial branch orders to provide access to the courts, and other public settings, to limited English proficient individuals. The post also described the reaction by states to the various laws and executive orders.
As noted before, the August 16, 2010 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to state court chief justices and court administrators regarding language access for LEP persons generated a wave of reactions; the wake of which is still visible. Of course, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) commended Mr. Perez for his letter, acknowledged that the provision of effective language services is often overlooked, and urged involved parties to take into account the guidance in the letter. Meanwhile, states are cutting back on interpreting services and keeping an eye on court interpreting money to deal with their fiscal and budgetary constraints.  As a result, Limited English Proficient individuals may end up paying for interpreting services.  

In a response to Mr. Perez dated November 24, 2010, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators lay out their views regarding the Language Access for LEP persons initiative.  The letter reflects talks between representatives of the three bodies and follows up on several initiatives states proposed to fulfill their responsibilities.  In this letter, states make their case for two types of support from the Department of Justice.  First, the chief justices request the Department of Justice send a letter urging state legislators to support and fund LEP programs. According to the justices, at the state and local level LEP programs are competing with priorities such as police.  Second, they propose the creation of a $15 million Court Improvement Program (CIP) for LEP Services to fund “innovative programs and approaches to provide access to justice for LEP individuals appearing in state courts.”  With this support, states should be able to increase, not cut, support for language access for LEP persons. They also suggest that LEP individuals who can afford language access services pay for these services, which would liberate “much needed funding.”

Since the obligation for the states to provide language access to the courts comes from the federal level, the states seem to be telling the federal government should share this obligation. Is this a legitimate claim by the state courts or just a way to avoid or delay compliance with their obligation?  Has Mr. Perez reacted to this letter? Is the Department of Justice willing to have LEP people pay for language services provided in the state courts?  This remains to be seen.  In the meantime, interpreting services continue to be needed, and I hope interpreters and translators all over the United State will continue to strive to further their professional skills and contribute to the development of this nascent field. 

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