Arnold is hard to interpret


California is often in the forefront of the fight to open the justice system to everyone.   Therefore, it wasn’t at all surprising to see that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently wrote to the State Assembly, asserting “it is essential to provide non-English speaking litigants with interpreters in order to provide meaningful access to our justice system.”  However, the rest of his message was indeed surprising: he vetoed Assembly Bill 2302, which would have required the courts to provide an interpreter in civil cases for the seven million Californians who cannot “proficiently speak or understand the English language.” [Litigants would have been expected to pay for the services, in accordance with their financial ability.] 


California The Bill’s Legislative Digest correctly described the plight of those appearing in court without adequate English language skills — especially those appearing pro se: “For Californians not proficient in English, the prospect of navigating the legal system is daunting, especially for the growing number of parties who do not have access to legal services and therefore have no choice but to represent themselves in court, which is a virtually impossible task for people who are unable to understand the proceedings.”  Gov. Schwarzenegger tried to justify the veto by saying that California is attempting to eliminate its $5 billion dollar structural deficit and the extension of the interpreter requirement had a $10 million-dollar price tag. Nonetheless, if your English reading skills are better than your aural and oral abilities, the California court website does suggest how to ask for an interpreter (getting one is not guaranteed) and provides an e-brochure on how to best use a translator in court.    


OKHandOn a much more positive note, we are pleased to say that the D.C. City Council has earmarked $3.2 million for civil legal service providers working with poor and underserved District residents.   In particular, we note that a portion of the funds are to be used to create “a shared legal interpreter bank for all service providers to draw on when assisting non-English-proficient clients.” (D.C. Bar News)
p. s. The above stories were both covered in the Legal News Roundup section of the newest HALT eJournal, Oct. 27, 2006; you can sign up at HALT’s HomePage for the bi-montly eJournal.)  

1 Comment

  1. Usefulinfo

    November 3, 2006 @ 11:10 pm


    To say, as the Legislative Digest does, that the court system is daunting for those “not proficient in English” belies the much bigger language problem: the system is daunting linguistically even for those who *are* proficient in English.

    A study cited by a federal district court in an interpreter case found that fourteen years of education are necessary to understand the language used in a civil trial (and even more for a civil trial). That court quoted parts of the study that said that “the language of the law was not common everyday English and that it was something unto itself,” and that “words used in simple hearing never appeared or appeared three times or less in a normal million words of print.”

    (This is found in Seltzer v. Foley, 502 F. Supp. 600, 604 (S.D.N.Y. 1980).)

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