Tuesday, March 14, 2006

U.S. D.O.J. Developes Language Policy Planning Tool

The Coordination and Review Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights division has developed a language assistance policy planning tool for law enforcement and corrections. You can view the planning tool at www.lep.gov and click on "Federal Agencies"


Planning Tools for:
Creating a Language Assistance Policy and Plan in a Department of Corrections
Creating a Language Assistance Policy and Plan in a Law Enforcement Agency
General Guidance
Executive Order 13166 Limited English ProficiencyResource Document: Tips and Tools from the Field

Lawyers cite ''instances of insensitivity and intolerance'' on part of Broward judges

BY BETH REINHARDbreinhard@MiamiHerald.com
Seven lawyers' groups representing minorities and women are calling for Broward County judges to undergo training to be more sensitive toward black and Hispanic defendants.
Representatives of the Cuban, Hispanic, Haitian, Caribbean, Asian Pacific, black and women's bar associations met with Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross last week to air their concerns. In one case cited at the meeting, Circuit Judge Lawrence Korda insisted that a battered wife seeking a restraining order speak in English instead of her native Spanish.
''She doesn't need any translation,'' Korda said at the Dec. 1, 2005, hearing. ``She has been here 19 years. She's watched ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? for 15.''
He later apologized.
Thursday's meeting between minority leaders and Ross came two days before The Miami Herald reported that Broward County Judge Lee Seidman repeatedly asked traffic court defendants whether they were here illegally. In at least one 2003 case, Seidman turned over to law enforcement an illegal immigrant who came to court for a traffic ticket.
''These are not isolated instances,'' Cori Lopez-Castro, president of the Cuban-American Bar Association, said Monday. ``There is a problem in Broward County with judges not being culturally sensitive. . . . Things have to change.''
Ross said Monday that he favored sensitivity training and would seek funding.
''We're a very diverse community,'' he said. ``I think [the training] would be another tool that judges could use.''
Seidman was accused of turning in illegal immigrants two years ago, but the spotlight at that time turned on his accuser. County Judge Robert Diaz hid behind an online identity he created for a nonexistent Hispanic voting group, and sent a vaguely threatening e-mail questioning Seidman's courtroom practices. Diaz was later suspended for two weeks without pay and fined $15,000.
Recalling a meeting with the two judges at the time of the incident, Ross said: ``Judge Seidman assured me that he wasn't asking these questions of aliens, so I am a little disappointed in that regard.''
Ross' suggestion that Seidman misled him about his treatment of illegal immigrants has been echoed by some members of the Judicial Nominating Commission, who interviewed Seidman in recent months and put him on the short list for a promotion to the Circuit Court. His nomination is pending before Gov. Jeb Bush. Seidman has denied any wrongdoing.
Judges are supposed to notify all defendants that pleading not guilty or no contest could lead to deportation if they are not U.S. citizens, according to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. But the rules say judges don't need to ask defendants about their citizenship. That question could force them to incriminate themselves, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
''I don't ask defendants if they are here illegally,'' Ross said. ``I think the rule is pretty straightforward.''
In the domestic violence case cited by minority leaders last week at their meeting with Ross, Judge Korda addressed a plaintiff in Spanish after the court interpreter had left.
''After 19 years, you don't speak any English?'' he asked. ``Please, it's a lot of time to learn a little English.''
She responded in Spanish: ``I speak it. I understand, but not perfectly.''
Korda said in Spanish: ``In this case, you will speak in English after 19 years.''
Korda did grant her request, extending a restraining order against her husband for 30 days. But the woman's attorney, Kathleen Achille, said she felt mistreated.
''My client said she felt demeaned and humiliated, especially in front of her husband,'' Achille said. ``This is one of the reasons that victims of domestic violence are afraid to come forward.''
Achille alerted leaders of the Hispanic Bar Association, who confronted Korda about the incident. He wrote the woman a letter of apology.
Referring to the Qué Pasa U.S.A. remark, he said Monday: ``I made that flippant comment, which was embarrassing. . . . I don't like that I was curt. People in a vulnerable circumstance need your attention.''
That was not the only time Korda has reprimanded people in his courtroom for not speaking English well, according to Lisa Metellus-Hood, past president of the Haitian Lawyers Association. ''He's an equal-opportunity offender,'' she said.
Metellus-Hood cited a hearing about two years ago in which she said Korda lectured her client, a women with a heavy Haitian accent, who was asking for a court order to pick up her runaway son.
''When my client left the courthouse, she was in tears,'' Metellus-Hood said. ''She said she never thought it would be like this in a courtroom.'' Korda said he did not recall the incident, which was not taped.
Korda and Seidman are among a few Broward judges who have recently faced racially tinged complaints.
Last year, a complaint was filed against County Judge Leonard Feiner for saying of the courthouse cleaning crew: ''The people that -- that they hire may live in hovels, but they don't have to leave courtrooms and the places they work looking like a slum.'' The Judicial Qualifications Commission did not find probable cause of racial bias.
Allegations that Circuit Judge Eileen O'Connor failed to disclose bias complaints in her judicial application are still before the commission.
Miami Herald staff writer Jerry Berrios contributed to this story.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Murder fuels anger in Burundi

The Sunday Indepenent
March 5, 2006By HANTI OTTO

Bujumbura, South Africa:
The court martial in Burundi of a South African soldier charged with the murder and rape of a teenaged prostitute has raised local tension against other members of the South African military trying to bring peace to the country.Air Force Sergeant Flippie Venter is standing trial before three South African military judges - all colonels - for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Therese Nkeshimana on the night of September 19 2004. It is the first time that a South African is being tried by a South African court for murder outside the country's borders, court officials say.Venter was working as a protector of Burundians at the time of the crimes. Under an agreement between South Africa and Burundi, South African soldiers were sent to the country to protect politicians returning to participate in the peace process and the transition to a representative government. The case has dissipated much of the goodwill towards South Africa. Locals have threatened to rape South African women and have threatened white South African men especially, South African sources here have said. Their anger has even been directed at a court interpreter who has been performing the difficult task of translating testimony between English, French and the local-language Kirundi interpreter.A local radio station allegedly claimed she was interpreting in favour of the accused. The following days she did not arrive for work, fearing for her life, and had to be replaced.But some Burundians, including members of the murdered girl's family, have expressed appreciation for the way South Africans are co-operating to bring the murderer to justice.Venter's court martial started last Saturday. Since then the court has sat until late at night because of interpretation problems, power failures and tight security. The case stood down yesterday as the state was still searching for another witness.As soon as the state closes its case, the defence plans to apply for a discharge, on the grounds that there is no strong evidence against Venter.Venter is now based at the Hoedspruit Air Force base in Mpumalanga. His wife, Millie, also works there. She has not attended the trial, as she might be called as a defence witness.
Venter has been charged for raping and killing Nkeshimana; for assaulting Georges Ngendakumana, a security guard, when Ngendakumana refused to give Venter and Nkeshimana a room that night; and for trying to bribe a taxi driver, Claude Damacene, to provide him with an alibi. He also faces a charge of non-attendance under the Military Act, as he allegedly did not report to his base in time for the curfew that night.Venter has pleaded not guilty to all charges. During the week the court heard how Venter allegedly asked a taxi driver that night for someone "to fuck". The driver helped him find Nkeshimana at the Source de Nil hotel and then to search for a room. At one hotel Venter apparently did not have enough money for a room. When the hotel guard therefore refused to let him in, Venter hit him in the face, the court heard. En route to another lodge, the taxi driver drove his car into a ditch at the side of the road. Venter and Nkeshimana left the taxi and walked off. Three witnesses testified that they saw Venter on the following days with scratch marks on his body and face.Lieutenant Colonel Kevin O'Brien, a fellow South African soldier, and Warrant Officer Hennie Pretorius, testified that Venter had admitted to them weeks later that he had strangled the girl."We agreed to sex. While walking she touched me as I had shown her. When I wanted to do the deed she refused. I forced her and strangled her," Venter apparently told them.However, Venter denied he had ever said this, claiming he had left the broken-down taxi alone that night.When the South Africans became involved in the investigation, Nkeshimana's body became the first that anyone could remember being exhumed in Burundi, diplomats said. Parts of the body were sent to South African forensic experts. One found the parts to be that of a 17-year-old, while another determined the age at 32,5 years.The discrepancies in the forensic testimony have forced the state to rely on witnesses who saw Venter with a girl on the night of the murder and also saw the body that was found the next day on the side of the road. - Foreign Service

Bridging the Language Barrier

By Geoff L. Roblnson
California Court Review, Winter 2006, Page 14.

The vast disparity between the number of litigants with limited English proficiency and the availability of qualified interpreters is restricting access to justice for a growing segment of California’s population. The problem is beyond solution at the local level. Unless it’s addressed as part of a comprehensive, statewide plan, it will continue to threaten the integrity of the judicial system and undermine the quality of justice in our courts.

These stark warnings appear in a report by the California Commission on Access to Justice, a statewide body with representatives from the three branches of government; the State Bar; and business, labor, and community groups. The commission’s report, Language Barriers to Justice in California, documents the acute need for language assistance in our courts.

Almost 7 million Californians have limited English proficiency. Without significant language assistance, they cannot comprehend court forms and documents, communicate with court staff and judges, or understand or participate in court proceedings. Those unable to pay for a lawyer face the daunting task of attempting to present their cases without the ability to communicate effectively with the court.

The report also highlights the unenviable position in which courts find themselves. The shortage of qualified interpreters and the absence of funding for language assistance make it impossible to provide adequate interpreting in the vast majority of civil proceedings. As a result, courts often must rely on untrained interpreters—in some cases, even children. This can lead to erroneous translation and threaten the court’s ability to ensure justice. Moreover, most forms and pleadings provided by California courts—critical to many court proceedings—are provided only in English.

How can this be the case? The surprising reality is that there is no legal right to an interpreterin most civil cases in California,1 and no right to court documents in languages other than English. As the report illustrates, even if such rights existed, the current numbers of qualified interpreters could not meet even a small fraction of the need, and no funding is available for additional interpreters or translators of forms. The problem is only getting worse: despite extensive efforts by the courts to recruit and train interpreters, the number and availability of skilled interpreters have actually declined over the past decade. The largest single decrease has been in Spanish-language interpreters.

Please go to the link to download the full article. http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/ccr.htm