January 14, 2014
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, NWB
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Re: Complaint No. 17 l ~12C—31, U.S. Department of Justice Investigation of the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County and Judicial Council of California
Dear Ms. Jang,
Although incorporated only in May of last year, the Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California (AIJIC) is a trade association that represents the voice of independent court interpreters in California in matters that have, or could have, a significant impact on the independent interpreting profession in the private sector.
In this regards, we are concerned about the position that the U.S. Department of Justice has adopted on the guidelines that should govern the policies, practices and procedures associated with the provision of language assistance services in the courts.
The U.S. Department of Justice argues that as recipients of federal aid, the California courts must provide interpreters for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals in order to fully comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that this access must include all court proceedings, including civil matters.
The California courts appropriately provide free interpreter services for criminal proceedings and for certain family law matters such as domestic violence. Low income parties representing themselves can also request a fee waiver for interpreters if they meet certain requirements. However, AIJIC joins the voices of those who strongly believe that free interpreting services should not be provided to Limited English Proficient individuals who are able to afford the services of an interpreter, or for litigants who have retained attorneys, even if on a contingency basis.
Lawsuits are actions freely undertaken by individuals who believe they have been wronged, the last legal option for parties who could not settle their differences in private. They should therefore bear all the litigation expenses related to their actions, namely attorneys, investigators, expert witnesses, interpreters and court reporters among others. It is difficult to find the rationale behind the argument that it is a litigant’s responsibility to pay for all these aforementioned professionals but not interpreters. Furthermore, as impartial and independent venues in which private citizens can air out their disputes, our civil courts must abstain from favoring litigants in any way, including paying any of the costs related to their legal actions.
We ask ourselves how litigating attorneys –including those from the Legal Aid Foundation, the entity that filed the original complaint on this matter– would react if tomorrow somebody were to start advocating for the courts to provide attorneys free of charge for civil litigation in the name of people’s equal access to the courts. It is not difficult to imagine the huge backlash that such a thing would generate in the legal community. If implemented, such a questionable proposal would annihilate thousands of law firms across the country since litigants would have no reason to spend money retaining an attorney if free attorneys were to be provided by the courts. Nonprofits such as the Legal Aid Foundation would eventually disappear too, and along with it the jobs of every attorney that it employs. This hypothetical situation would be unthinkable in our society, yet the expansion of free interpreters for civil litigation is seriously being explored.
Unlike interpreters who are employees of the courts, independent interpreters who work in the private sector do not have the stability of a fixed salary to bring home every month. We do not have paid vacations or sick time either, or the benefits of group medical insurance or employer contributions to a 401(k) plan. We only work whenever we are hired for various legal proceedings, and a significant part of the work that we do is for private parties involved in civil litigation. A vast majority of us are minority owned small businesses too, and our livelihoods would be seriously affected if an unrestricted expansion of interpreter services for civil proceedings is implemented.
We doubt that all these factors were taken into consideration while this debate was taking place in New Hampshire, where the state’s judicial branch recently approved expanding free interpreter services for all litigants regardless of their ability to pay. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Lynn objected to “saddling the taxpayers of our state with yet another economic entitlement,” and added that “the justice department has not offered a convincing explanation how failing to provide free interpreters to those who could afford to pay would deny them meaningful access to the courts.” We agree with Justice Lynn and respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Justice revisit its position regarding this issue in light of all the arguments that we have presented.
Last, but not least, we would also like to point out that the federal courts do not provide free interpreters for civil matters, so why the U.S. Department of Justice would expect the state courts to implement a policy that has never been in place in its own judicial realm is beyond our comprehension.
We hope that our concerns are taken into consideration and that your office agrees to meet with our board of directors in order to discuss this further.
Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California
Mariana Bension-Larkin, President (310) 650-2410
Paul Yi, Vice-President
Marina Camarero, Secretary
Carolina Núñez, Treasurer
Alejandro Franco, Director
Mark McCaffrey, Director
AIJIC mailing address: PO Box 812091, Los Angeles, CA 90081
Honorable Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice California Supreme Court
Honorable Steven Jahr, Administrative Director of the Courts, Administrative Office of the Courts
Honorable David S. Wesley, Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court
Ivette Peña, Counsel for Los Angeles Superior Court
Linda Foy, Counsel for Administrative Ofﬁce of the Courts
Sarah Chang, Counsel for Administrative Office of the Courts
Robyn-Marie Lyon Monteleone, United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California
Richard Park, United States Attorney’s Ofﬁce, Central District of California
Anna Medina, Attorney at U.S. Department of Justice
Honorable Ronald B. Robie, Associate Justice, California Court of Court of Appeal, 3rd Appellate District & Chair, California Commission on Access to Justice
Amos Hartston. Chair, Los Angeles County Bar Association Access to Justice Committee
Robert Cruz, Chair of National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
Joann Breeze, President of California Court Interpreters Association
Joann H. Lee, Counsel, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Silvia Argueta, Counsel, Executive Director Legal Aid