Commentary:Interpreting Justice

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 28, 2006

Imagine yourself in court because you've been sued or you're embroiled in a child custody battle. No one in the courtroom speaks English. They speak Spanish or Chinese or German - languages you don't understand.

Sound like a nightmare? For millions of foreign born residents of California, the nightmare can be all too real.

Under law, interpreters are provided for all parties who need them in criminal courts, but not for civil proceedings, in divorce or child custody disputes, or if you've been sued. Recognizing the urgent need, the Legislature this year appropriated $10 million to pay for expansion of interpretive services in civil courts.

But the governor vetoed the funding. He conceded in his veto message that interpreters are needed to provide meaningful access to our justice system, but that courts should use existing resources to pay for them. That's impossible, and the governor must know that.

California courts are struggling to provide enough judges and courtrooms within existing resources. There is no extra money for interpreters. The real message in the governor's veto: If you don't speak English, don't expect to find justice - at least not in California's civil courts.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.