Economy Impacts California Access to Justice

Budget cuts in California cause the state’s Judicial Council to decide to close the third Wednesday every month from September 2009 to June 2010, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by a press release from the California Courts.

While many of us in South Carolina may not tend to notice what happens in California (after all it’s on the “other” coast and several hours away by plane), this signals a tough time for us as well.  We look to California for trends; and for those of us in access to justice, we often rely on California for these trends. They provide the fertile classroom from which the rest of us glean ideas and then adapt them to fit our own state’s needs.

(Aside to the Other 49 States:  We learn from you as well and occasionally you learn from us, but c’mon, truthfully, don’t many of us look to California for ideas? Really?)

California has been a national leader in working with self-represented litigants (SRLs); creating a vast library of plain language forms, working on unbundled legal representation, and developing information in multiple languages. Additionally JusticeCorps has taken off in California, and has been successfully providing information to SRLs in five counties for some time.

California has offered bilingual court service for many years;  and information in many languages for a while as well.

And, according to the press release, the California Courts are the largest court system in the nation.

So how does this impact ACCESS TO JUSTICE?

By closing the courts one day per month, the third branch of government will close itself to its constituents. According to the LA Times, Chief Justice Ronald M. George noted that “the closures would result in delays in trials and more crowding in jails. Inmates who might have been released on the third Wednesday of the month will have to wait until the next day.” The hope is that the one-day closing will prevent additional closings.

California Courts – the nation’s courts are watching. We wish you the best!

-RFW

Quetzaltepec Mixe in the courtroom?

At the past year’s ATJ public hearings, I learned  how pervasive the language-barrier can be in a courtroom.

South Carolina law mandates foreign-language interpreters in court proceedings. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters were two of the most needed within the South Carolina court system.  Court interpreter certification, compensation and procedural mechanisms for obtaining a court interpreter are several of the issues that have been raised in working towards the goal of creating easy access to much-needed court interpreters.

Another issue that arises in the context of court interpreters is when a party to a proceeding does not speak English, it is useful to have multiple interpreters in the courtroom to ensure a fair proceeding.

The state of California also mandates foreign-language interpreters in courtroom proceedings.

California’s court interpreter assignment operation has over 100 languages represented by its interpreters.  The court has less stringent standards for more unusual languages, but this article I found in the L.A. Times illustrates the great lengths some CA courts have gone to in order to provide the appropriate interpreter to a litigant.

The article also does an excellent job of highlighting many problems faced by litigants who are not provided with the appropriate interpreter in courtroom proceedings. Not only are these litigants unable to articulate answers to questions and fully present their side of the story, but judges and attorneys can become impatient when litigants have problems answering simple questions, and court transcripts are usually only in English, so the potential for a miscarriage of justice because of a simple translation error increases.

Nonetheless, no case in CA has been thrown out because an interpreter was unable to be found.

While it is unlikely that a litigant in a South Carolina courtroom will need a Quetzaltepec Mixe interpreter anytime soon, SCATJ, in conjunction with court administration and other players have taken the need for courtroom interpreters seriously and have been working diligently to resolve many issues surrounding the provision of court interpreters.

-Alex

Latte and the Law

LATTE -n- LAW: legal assistance for middle class

java-and-justice-3

While many of the posts here have focused primarily on people living at, below or slightly above federal poverty guidelines, there are many more people unable to adequately access legal assistance or the civil court system due to prohibitive costs. And the numbers are rising.

According to a Los Angeles Times article “an estimated 60% of Americans find themselves in the gap between those poor enough to qualify for publicly funded Legal Aid and those wealthy enough to afford an uptown lawyer.”

And at storefront law offices like Santa Monica’s LegalGrind, a cafe-legal clearinghouse, those facing court dates to deal with divorce, custody matters, driving offenses and debt can find out for $45 how best to tackle their problems without plunking down a $5,000 retainer and $400 an hour for a lawyer.

One of the proffered solutions is unbundled legal services. Another is additional online resources. Yet another is more Pro Bono service.

Latte and the law – a solution for all of us?

-RFW