Budget cuts cut court interpreters

on September 25, 2012

[Editor’s note: this story replaces an earlier version that incorrectly described the court’s use of interpreters.]

After the Contra Costa Superior Court decided last month to adopt a plan that cuts $7 million from its annual budget, it will no longer pay for interpreters in domestic violence cases beyond this fall.

The cut means that domestic violence interpreters will only be provided until grant funding given to the Contra Costa Superior Courts from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts runs out, a court spokesperson said.

Mimi Lyster, the Contra Costa Superior Court’s public information officer, wrote in a statement, “The amount of grant funding available for these services has never been adequate to meet the need each year, and while resources were available, the court has chosen to absorb the cost over-runs from its own budget.”

With the budget cut, Lyster wrote, the court will no longer pay out of its own budget. The grant money will run out sometime this fall, Lyster said. The courts are still looking for additional grants, she said.

Michelle Davidson, the acting chief executive officer of STAND! Against Domestic Violence, a group centered in Richmond, said the cuts will be detrimental to domestic violence victims.

“Interpreters provide a critical service in domestic violence cases, ensuring that victims truly understand proceedings and that their voices are heard by the Court,” a written statement from the group read.

The budget was originally proposed after meetings in August, where government officials, legal consultants, and the public met to discuss how to handle a recent state-ordered budget cut of more than $7 million dollars, with an additional $8 million to be taken out of the court’s reserves.

David Sweet-Cordero, a union representative for the California Federation of Interpreters who has worked in the Contra Costa court system for five years and as an interpreter for 17, said that the courts aren’t  complying with a federal mandate to provide interpreters in all cases.

“People who don’t speak English or have trouble speaking it have a constitutional right to interpreters,” Sweet-Cordero said.

Sweet-Cordero pointed to a 2010 letter written by Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, to state court administrators that says federal civil rights law requires all court proceedings to be accessible for people involved in the case who are “limited English proficient.”

“DOJ expects that meaningful access will be provided to LEP persons in all court and court-annexed proceedings, whether civil, criminal, or administrative including those presided over by non-judges,” Perez wrote.

“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 letter continued. But, it said, “Language services expenses should be treated as a basic and essential operating expense, not as an ancillary cost.”

But Lyster, the Superior Court spokesperson, said the superior court sees it differently. County courts are “not currently mandated to provide interpreters in domestic violence cases,” she wrote.

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