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Litigants without English deserve interpreters

Published December 21, 2010 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators is a professional organization of some 1,200 members nationwide that advocates for equal access to justice and due process for limited-English proficient, or LEP, individuals in state and federal courts.

We were dismayed to learn of the intention of the Utah Judicial Council to endorse a statewide plan that ignores the clear guidance provided by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez regarding the provision of interpreting services free of cost to LEP individuals in the court system. This guidance is based on the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Executive Order 13166.

The Utah Judicial Council is well aware of the guidance and is no doubt familiar with its legal foundation. The members must also be aware that ignoring the rights of LEP individuals to be linguistically present in judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings, as indicated by Title VI, can lead to loss of federal funding.

If the constitutional rights of persons whose English proficiency is not adequate to deal with the court system are not important to the Utah Judicial Council, or to the courts they advise, perhaps the very real prospect of losing federal funds might catch their attention.

Additionally, members of the Judicial Council and citizens of Utah should be mindful that the costs of defending possible civil rights actions brought as a result of this decision could quickly exceed the costs currently being incurred for interpreter services. NAJIT is hopeful that the Utah Judicial Council will reconsider this unconstitutional and fiscally shortsighted decision.

NAJIT applauds The Salt Lake Tribune for its Dec. 9 editorial, "Language service: Litigants should not pay interpreters," and urges the Utah Judicial Council and Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham to follow the guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the law.

Rosemary Dann is chairwoman of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.