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Historic Agreement Leads to Better Access for Limited English Proficient Speakers in Los Angeles Superior Court

LOS ANGELES, September 21, 2016 — An agreement between the Department of Justice and Los Angeles Superior Court that expands interpretation services and other language access will mean greater civil court access for plaintiffs and defendants who speak limited English.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, stipulates that the court must provide free interpretation services for all court proceedings, provide language services outside the courtroom at counters and other public areas, translate court documents and other materials, post signs notifying litigants of the availability of interpretation, translate key pages on the court website, provide training for court staff and monitor complaints. Some of these steps have already been taken by the court.

The agreement stems from a 2010 complaint that the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles filed with the U.S. Department of Justice against the Los Angeles Superior Court. The complaint alleged that the Los Angeles Superior Court had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discriminating on the basis of national origin by denying access to the courts to the court system to those who did not speak English. The complainants in the case were two Korean-speaking women, one a single mother seeking sole custody of her son, the other an elderly grandmother seeking a restraining order against her apartment manager who had assaulted her.

Providing interpretation in court is crucial for a litigant to understand the proceedings and seek justice. “The agreement is a great step in the right direction and much progress has been made. There is, however, much more work to be done, and we look forward to working with the courts to ensure that limited English proficient individuals are provided true and meaningful access to justice,” said Joann Lee, directing attorney of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Outreach Project at LAFLA.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of Los Angeles County residents speak a language other than English at home.

The DOJ launched an investigation in 2011 and made recommendations in 2013. Early last year, the Los Angeles Superior Court announced a significant policy change, offering free interpreters in expanded civil proceedings for all litigants in family law, civil harassment, eviction, conservatorship and guardianship cases. This was expanded to include small claims cases in June 2015, and limited jurisdiction civil cases (disputes involving $25,000 or less) in July 2016. The California Judicial Council also adopted a Strategic Plan for Language Access in the California Courts in January 2015, to provide full language services statewide.

LAFLA has long been a leader in advocating for language access to courts, asserting that understanding court proceedings in one’s own language is a civil right. It now serves on the California Judicial Council’s Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force, which is overseeing the implementation of the Strategic Plan, to ensure that all of California’s courts provide meaningful language access to limited English proficient litigants.

About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA)

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles is the frontline law firm for poor and low-income people in Los Angeles. It provides legal representation and other legal assistance to low-income people in civil legal matters. It has five offices in Greater Los Angeles, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics and helps over 80,000 people each year.