Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Deal on language access reached

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

State labor officials and immigrant advocates have reached agreement on a bill that would ensure those with limited or no English skills gain access to state and city services.

House Bill 2778, dubbed the language access bill, has advanced out of three Senate committees and is poised to win approval from the full Senate next week.

The bill requires state agencies and non-government agencies receiving state money to "take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access" for individuals with limited English proficiency to services, programs and activities.

Exactly which agencies must provide oral and written language services is not specified in the bill's current language. Considerations, however, include the percentage of limited English proficient people using a service, the nature and significance of the service and the resources available. Agencies would work with a proposed language access office to determine whether steps should be taken to assist individuals with limited English skills.

Advocates maintain that the bill is sorely needed in Hawai'i where about 17 percent of the population is born outside of the United States, and 27 percent of the state's residents speak a language other than English at home.

Nelson Befitel, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, had raised objections to a different bill addressing the matter that proposed allowing lawsuits against state agencies for failing to provide proper language access. But Befitel supports HB 2778, worked out with Na Loio, the Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center, according to James Hardway, a spokesman for the labor department.

"From our point of view, the main sticking point was the issue of allowing persons to come in and sue state agencies (and those receiving state funding) for not providing either an interpreter or vital documents translated," Hardway said.

Despite the department's support, however, the agency continues to have concerns about the bill's cost implications.

"The issue now is whether the Legislature is willing to commit large amounts of money to ensure that language access services are provided," Hardway said.

Besides establishing a new language access office, additional money would be needed for each government agency required to provide services that may result from a new law.

Financing concerns were echoed earlier this week by Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), who, along with Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), voted against the bill in the Ways and Means Committee.

"We don't know what exactly (the bill) is going to do. We don't know what languages specifically are going to be involved, and we don't know how much it's going to cost," Hemmings said.

Hemmings also questioned the approach to the issue.

"What I suggest is to do everything necessary to teach immigrants coming into America and who become legal citizens to speak English so that we're all speaking one language and work together constructively," Hemmings said.

He said attempting to accommodate "every single language seems like an impossible task — where do you draw the line?"

Jennifer Rose, program development director for the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline, countered, "Many immigrants want to acculturate, and helping them to get the benefits and services they're entitled to helps them to acculturate."

She added, "The less that a battered immigrant woman, for instance, is disenfranchised or is isolated, the more she is able to acculturate into the mainstream."

Pat McManaman, Na Loio's chief executive officer, said language accessible services are guaranteed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"At its core, this is about ensuring that everybody in America has access to services at an equal level. It's a core civil right," she said.

"This bill would truly open the doors to limited English proficient people and enable them to participate."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at

House, Senate bills propose performance standards for court interpreters

By Jennifer Peltz
tallahassee bureau

From Spanish to Serbian to Creole, the law speaks many languages in Florida. Some South Florida legislators want to make sure they are spoken accurately.

Proposals (HB 849, SB 1128) to set statewide standards for court interpreters are making their way through the state Legislature.

If they pass, the state Supreme Court will have to lay out training requirements, rules of conduct and disciplinary procedures for interpreters in a wide range of court settings, from murder trials to will proceedings. The standards would apply throughout the state's network of circuit and county courts; federal courts have their own requirements.

Supporters say statewide rules would help standardize and professionalize a low-key but high-stakes job.

"It's a big step up for us ... [that would] certainly add to the credibility of what we do," said Broward County Court Administrator Carol Ortman. Broward's 13 full-time interpreters and more than 50 freelancers translate proceedings into as many as 41 languages each year, according to supervisor Bill Marold.

Court rulings and Florida law call for providing court interpreters when needed. They are considered part of constitutional guarantees of fair treatment in court, especially in a state where the U.S. Census found 1 in 10 people do not speak English very well.

But for now, there is no statewide test, credentialing or guidelines for court interpreters. It is up to the various court circuits to decide who qualifies as an interpreter and their standards vary.

So do the results. Questionable interpretation recently upended a felony theft case in central Florida, after the Spanish-speaking defendant said he was stunned to be sentenced for stealing a $125,000 dump truck when he thought he had admitted to taking only a toolbox. An expert concluded the court interpreter had provided confusing translations and a judge threw out the guilty plea and started the proceedings from scratch.

The Florida court system offers court-interpretation tests in several languages but they are not mandatory. Still, courts in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties look to them as crucial qualifications, according to local officials.

The exams, crafted by court officials in Florida and 29 other states, are likely starting points for any potential statewide qualification. They include written and oral components and cover language skills, legal terminology and professional ethics.

Interpreters are expected to be accurate, impartial and unobtrusive, and to do all of that at up to 150 words per minute. Those words can veer rapidly from legal Latin to street slang, firearms to lobster traps.

"Many people make the mistake of assuming that because you speak both languages, you can interpret and translate," said Broward County court interpreter Nancy Valladares, a U.S. citizen who was raised in Mexico, went to college in Puerto Rico, and has more than two decades of experience interpreting in various contexts. "There's a lot to learn."

No kidding, said Rep. Anitere Flores. She and a fellow Miami Republican, Sen. Alex Villalobos, are spearheading the push for court-interpreter standards.

Flores, an attorney, is fluent in Spanish and the law. Still, she said, "I would never try and interpret someone's legal case for them."

Jennifer Peltz can be reached at or 850-224-6214.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Some words are painful to translate

A doctor must tell a man and woman that their 3-year-old son has brain cancer. The doctor does not speak Spanish. The parents do not speak English.

And so Diana Macias tells them. The doctor looks at the parents and says the words in English: "Your son has brain cancer." And Macias repeats what he has said, word for word, but in Spanish.

She does not say, "The doctor says, 'Your son has brain cancer.' " Her job, as a translator, is to simply repeat, exactly, what the doctor has said, nothing more and nothing less. Even an attribution is too much interference.

His words go into her ears, pass through her brain and come out of her mouth, transformed into another tongue.

But she doesn't own the words, not even a little. They are not hers.


And if the words, in passing through her, break her heart, well, that is her business. Nothing is to be lost in the translation, but her.

She is a window. She does not expound, interpret or explain. What is said is said, and it passes through her. Her obligation is to be precise and clear.

Perhaps the parents are dumbfounded. They might stutter and ask, "¿Qué?" Macias does not repeat the doctor's words, even if the question is directed at her. She can only say to the doctor what they have said. She can only turn to the doctor and say, "What?"

Macias was born in Michoacán, a state in central Mexico. Growing up, she spent her summers with her father in Chicago. She moved to Chicago when she was 18, then moved to Milwaukee a few months later. She is 34 and has worked as a translator for about a decade.

Her work takes her into hospitals, courtrooms and people's homes. Her services are required in critical moments, and these moments are frequently dark.

A child witnesses a murder. A woman loses custody. The chemotherapy didn't work.

Macias has an 11-year-old son. The suffering of the people she speaks to and for is not an abstraction. The words pass through her, and sometimes no matter how hard she tries, they catch in her throat.

She has been invited to the parties of those who have gotten well, and to the funerals of those who have not. She can never go. No matter how deeply she wishes to celebrate, no matter how deeply she wishes to mourn, she can never become anything more to her clients than a voice.

The parents of the boy with cancer: Their faces may haunt her for months. She may worry about the fate of their son. But she can never ask, not even the doctor, what ultimately happened. It is none of her business.

She wishes the words didn't cling to her, but they do. Often, she finds a bathroom and weeps, and that helps. But words cling. Words never quite vanish.

Macias says she thinks in English, but when she dreams, she dreams in Spanish

Session to teach adults the basics about birds

ORDINARY COURT INTERPRETER NOTE: I am always thrilled to find unique fields that involve interpreting. The following article has nothing to do with judicial interpreting... it is still neat.

Tribune Staff Writer

When Michaele Klingerman, events coordinator and St. Joseph County Parks and Recreation Department interpreter, began getting calls about an "unusual bird" that turned out to be a female cardinal, she realized it was time to offer the program "Learn How to Bird," which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bendix Woods, 32132 Indiana 2, New Carlisle.

Klingerman explains that some folks just don't realize that the bright crimson male cardinal is actually the mate of the dull brown-colored female cardinal.

"Some (adults) don't know the basic birds," says Klingerman, who's equally surprised to learn that adults are shy when it comes to learning about bird watching.

"Some adults have said they're intimidated. I don't know why. Birders are a friendly group."

Klingerman has designed an introductory class so adults can get comfortable with the basics, including bird identification, bird behavior, and tips on purchasing binoculars and bird guides. One such book she recommends is "The Sibley Guide to Birds" by David Sibley.When it comes to observing birds, Klingerman says, "You can start in your own backyard, and it doesn't have to be scary."

Cost for the program is $2 per person. Call (574) 654-3155 to register by Tuesday.

To extend the bird-watching experience, Klingerman suggests the park's Warbler Weekend Getaway, May 19-21 at Kelley's Island and Magee Marsh in Ohio. The group will be limited to 16 persons. Cost of $165 per person includes transportation, lodging and more. Reservation deadline is April 19.

Deaf Woman Sues Schools For Not Providing Signer


TAMPA - A deaf Brandon woman who wanted to take an adult education class on motorcycle riding is suing the Hillsborough County school district for not providing a sign language interpreter.

"They are discriminating against me, which I felt is not right," Merrie Carol Paul said in an interview conducted through a telephone relay system. "One of my dreams is that I wanted to ride my own motorcycle. ... I love to ride motorcycles because I can do it. It doesn't matter if I am deaf or not. I love to feel the spirit. It is me."

Paul, 46, claims in a federal lawsuit that the district violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when officials refused to provide the interpreter when she signed up to take the class last year. The lawsuit, filed by Coral Gables lawyer Matthew Dietz, states that school officials told Paul they didn't provide interpreters for recreational and voluntary classes.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, who had not seen the lawsuit, said he could not comment on cases pending litigation.

Asked if the district provides sign language interpreters for people in adult education classes, Hegarty said, "Regardless of what kind of class it is, the law requires that we make reasonable accommodations, and frequently litigation arises over how to define reasonable."

Hegarty said he did not know whether a sign language interpreter ever has been requested for an adult school class.

Paul said she was told the $175 class fee would not cover the cost of an interpreter. In the lawsuit, she says she was told she was welcome to bring her own interpreter, which the suit states would have cost her $2,340.

Deaf from birth, Paul said she rode motorcycles with her parents as a teenager in Michigan.

She said she passed a written test but needs to take the course to obtain her license.

"I have my motorcycle in my garage, and it is waiting for me," she said.

Dietz said Paul can read lips but that even the best lip readers can understand only about a third of what is spoken. The attorney said Paul also fears she will miss what the instructor says when he or she is not looking directly at her.

"All state government facilities know they have to provide effective communications to the deaf," Dietz said. "It's just too much of a bother or too much of an expense, so they don't."

Dietz said Paul tried several approaches to get officials to provide an interpreter but was rebuffed at every turn. "This case is an easy case," he said. "They don't really have an option. If they have a course or they have any services, they have to make it available to people, notwithstanding their disability."

English, Spanish, Polish during Sherman crash trial

(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 10--Spanish, Polish and English simultaneously filled the courtroom, relating testimony in the Grayson County courtroom last week.

Two court interpreters worked side by side as testimony was translated to Polish for the immigrant truck driver on trial for killing 10 people, and the two survivors testified in Spanish about the fiery Sherman crash.

Communities and their diversity continue growing across the area. So do the number of interpreters needed to make sure everyone -- no matter their native tongue -- gets a fair chance in the criminal justice system.

"I have definitely noticed that the need is higher. There are more and more immigrants coming in. But not just in Dallas. I have noticed an increase in Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties," said Access Language Center President Gerda Stendell, whose Richardson business provides interpreters to courts across the area.

With that growing need comes an increased cost to counties, which are required by state and federal law to provide an interpreter to people unable to understand or speak English.

Collin County paid about $138,119 to court interpreters in 2005 based on payments to the seven interpreting agencies regularly used by the county. That's more than a $32,000 increase over the previous year.

Denton County saw a steady increase in court translator costs until 2001, when the numbers jumped after the state required that court interpreters be licensed in counties with more than 50,000 residents, said Denton County auditor James Wells.

In 2001, Denton county paid about $39,000 to court translators. Last year, it paid $106,000 for the service, Mr. Wells said. But he points out that in the county's $135 million budget, that increase has a minimal impact.

Judge John Barry of Collin County Court at Law No. 3 said the push for interpreters is apparent.

"As our county grows, we do have the occasion to use more interpreting than in the past," Judge Barry said. "Spanish is the most common. But we have seen Vietnamese, Chinese, Farsi and Korean," indicating that languages from Asian countries closely follow Spanish in Collin County.

Ms. Stendell -- whose company started contracting with Dallas County in April 2005 -- said that Dallas has more requests for Hindi interpreters, because of their larger Indian community. There are also regular requests for Vietnamese, Korean and Arabic translators. But she said Spanish is by far the most requested.

The Sherman case was unique, requiring multiple languages translated in court at once.

Maria Szumanski was the Polish court interpreter for the truck driver during his plea and sentencing hearings.

Dr. Szumanski is not a licensed court interpreter but has worked as a Polish medical interpreter, in which she said the goal is to promote the understanding between patient and doctor.

"In court, the goal is fairness. The ideal of court interpretation is that everybody should have the same chances," said Dr. Szumanski, whose doctorate is in biochemistry and nutrition. "And I work like a transformer from one language to the other."

Christopher Milner, chief of the special crimes division for the Collin County district attorney's office, said the capabilities of the interpreter factors into whether a trial runs smoothly.

"A superb simultaneous interpreter is a joy to work with. And anyone less than superb is a pain in the butt to work with," Mr. Milner said.

"I'm reasonably fluent in Spanish. And so I'm always extremely critical of simultaneous English-Spanish interpretation. I don't hesitate to object" when there is an improper translation, he said.

Ron Wood, who lost his mother, sister and three nephews in the Sherman crash, sat through the truck driver's plea and sentencing hearing and said that he wasn't bothered by the interpreters.

"It was kind of like the United Nations ... but I thought it was all done very professionally," he said. So much so, that he asked Dr. Szumanski to translate a short phrase into Polish, so he could speak directly to the truck driver during his victim impact statement at the end of the hearing that sentenced the driver to 10 years in prison for causing the accident.

In Polish, he said: "Though it will be very difficult ... in my life I will try to find it in my heart to forgive you."

Afterward Mr. Wood said, "I wanted it to have an impact. I wanted to communicate with him directly."


The costs of providing court interpreters


In 2004, Collin County paid $105,640.45 to seven court interpreter service providers commonly used by the county. Last year, that increased to $138,119.89.


There was a steady increase in the amount paid to court interpreters in Denton County over the years with a noticeable jump in 2002. The county paid $60,000 in 2002; $92,000 in 2003; $102,000 in 2004; and $106,000 last year.


Tarrant County has paid less overall. In 2005, they paid $52,572 for interpretation service. But even that number is a slight increase over the previous year, according to the county auditor, who did not have previous figures immediately available.


Between June 2005 -- the first full month that Access Language Center acquired a contract with Dallas County -- and March of this year, the Richardson company saw an 18 percent increase in payments for court interpreters provided to Dallas County. The actual number was not available Friday afternoon, because the administrator who handles that information was not available, according to Rachel Horton, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County district attorney's office.

Critical thinking and confidence make good interpreter

My teacher used to tell me, interpreters are people walking with three legs: Language proficiency, interpretation skills and knowledge base.

The lack of, or deficiency in, any of the three will result in anything but a qualified interpreter.

Knowledge base is of course important. But it is about accumulation and therefore can never be acquired within a short span.

Knowledge base is also very personal, the size of which depends on an individual's capacity, effort made as well as one's preferences. And subjects are infinite.

Even for an advanced interpretation program at the postgraduate level, which typically lasts no more than two years nowadays in China, any subject-specific lectures can only serve as an introduction to one of the infinite varieties and far from laying a solid foundation for one's sound knowledge base.

Postgraduate programs aim at those who already have work experience as translators, or those who have education and experience in other fields and are now switching to translation.

What they need is a concentrated heart, a period of time set aside only for practicing and determination.

My point is, a translation program at university level or an undergraduate program may be able to accomplish something off the postgraduate program's target.

It's by no means just about language learning.

Knowledge base? Where else can you find a better place other than a comprehensive university to explore as many subjects as you want and ask help from subject-matter experts?

And undergraduates have the time - four years!

Interpretation skills? I think senior undergraduates are fully capable of comprehending them.

Earlier may be better

Why not start earlier?

I agree with Brian Mossop from the Canadian Government Translation Bureau and York University School of Translation, Toronto that university-level programs should be translation education oriented.

He says: "The function of a translation school is not to train students for specific existing slots in the language industry, but to give them certain general abilities that they will then be able to apply to whatever slots may exist five, 10, 15 or 25 years from now."

To me, as I will repeat, from an interpreter's perspective, the general abilities include to think attentively, to express logically, to speak confidently and to behave professionally.

You may have noticed that I used "may" in describing the prospect of an undergraduate translation program, because the Fudan program is indeed a pilot one.

The first-year students' curriculum may sound like that of an English major, but they are required to do a bit of extra work from the very beginning.

Take my course for example. Their listening and oral classes are not limited to daily lifestyle topics but "big" issues related to world development.

They are acquiring the habit of paying attention to what is happening in the world, doing research on their own, sorting out their own analyses and they are doing fantastically well.

They are going to know about "text interpretation, composition of a coherent, readable and audience-tailored draft translation and checking/correcting" as well as professional ethics.

An undergraduate translation program like this nurtures not high-end technicians but translation thinkers.

(The author is a teacher at Fudan University.)


New plan would improve training and pay for interpreters.
By Kamelia Angelova

After years of pressure from immigration and domestic violence groups, the New York State Unified Court System announced a groundbreaking plan last week to improve court interpretation services for non-English speaking litigants. The new project, widely hailed by the legal community, activists and interpreters, will improve recruitment, training and assessment of interpreters, and raise their pay.
“Equal access to justice demands effective communication between our courts and the people they serve,” said Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, at an April 5 forum held by the Task Force on Women in the Courts of the NYC Bar Association and Sakhi for South Asian Women, a local nonprofit. Two million New York state residents speak no English, according to 2000 census data, and the court system provides interpreting services for over 100 languages, from Albanian to Yoruba, said Judge Lippman.

Under the new plan, starting May 1, the pay rate for full-time per diem interpreters will increase to $250 a day from $125, the first such raise since 1994, said Judge Lippman. Offering half-day engagements for per diem interpreters will also expand the pool of available staff.

Currently, the New York State courts employ over 300 full and part-time court interpreters in over 30 languages, and have developed a network of over 1,300 private interpreters to provide services in over 100 languages on as-needed basis. Over 200 of the court-employed interpreters specialize in Spanish.

Yet the quality of interpretation has long been criticized by activists. For one thing, they say, the court offers a competitive two-part examination, which produces a ranked list of candidates, only for Spanish language interpreters, and non-competitive tests without rating interpreters for 11 other prominent languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Vietnamese. Interpreters in twenty other languages take only multiple-choice English proficiency test without any oral components. The new plan will develop oral tests for three other languages this year, and add five more during 2007.

When Saveen Kaushal answered an advertisement in a daily paper to become a part-time court interpreter through a private agency in 1996, she was not required to pass any language proficiency exams. “I did not know how to say the numbers,” said Kaushal, who is fluent in Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu, and a former interpreter for housing, immigration and family court cases. “I just said the numbers in English, and nobody said anything.” Kaushal was also unfamiliar with legal jargon, she said, which made it difficult to explain the terminology to litigants.

Another problem, she has come to realize, stemmed from the interpreter-client relationship. Often litigants, enticed by their shared background, would ask her for legal advice, Kaushal said. “They [clients] were so happy to see me there,” she said.” And I did not know I was not supposed to give my opinion.”

Under the new plan, court employed interpreters will complete a training program in ethics and professionalism, and a similar one-day course will be offered to per diem interpreters.

Critics of the plan worry that such programs are not extensive enough. “The interpreters are just given a manual without any test to prove that they understand the material," said Purvi Shah, executive director of Sakhi, where Kaushal is also now employed. “And one day for per diem interpreters is not enough for them to grasp the complexities of their duties.”

“There is a lack of professional boundaries in court interpretation,” said Fatma Zahra, a domestic violence advocate with Sakhi. “It is a combination of negligence and cultural background.”

Accompanying a Bangladeshi woman to her divorce hearing, Fatma Zahra, who is fluent in Bengali, heard the court-appointed interpreter giving legal advice to her client and even making comments about the woman’s decision to split from her spouse. Meanwhile, her husband, who was deaf and illiterate, was assigned only a standard sign language interpreter unable to communicate with him.

“We had cases of bilingual attorneys and volunteers in courts finding out that the interpreters do not translate accurately," said Dorchen Leidholdt, director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuaries for Families, a local nonprofit.

Despite the rise in pay for per-diem interpreters, they will still earn less than the federal rate, which is $355. And the new plan doesn't address fundamental flaws in their work environment. “The last time I was in a state court, the noise level was so high that you could not hear what a person two feet away was saying,” said Nancy Festinger, chief interpreter at the U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York. “How can an interpreter be expected to translate accurately word for word?”

Still, most advocates at the forum praised the plan, which will offer new training materials, especially for first-time interpreters, to help prepare them for court. It will also expand an online system that eases scheduling for interpreters and improves access to remote interpreting via video conference or telephone, often used for less prevalent languages.

“It is great to see that the Court is thinking about the needs of non-English speakers,” said Shah. “These changes are long overdue.”

—Kamelia Angelova

Monday, April 10, 2006

Medicare difficult to grasp for disabled, immigrants

Bucks County Courier Times

The elderly man pulled vials and boxes of prescription drugs out of his coat pocket and showed them to the woman wearing a light blue shirt with the My Medicare Matters logo.

Slowly, the woman explained to the man that he doesn't need to sign up for a drug plan. His Medicare benefits include drug coverage.

“You ... have ... good,” she said, enunciating each word. “Perfect.”

The man didn't utter a word but kept trying to hand over his medications.

That's when Arun Patel intervened.

In Gujarati, an Asian-Indian dialect, Patel told the man he doesn't need to do anything else.

The new Medicare drug benefit is hair-pulling hard to understand for most average people. For those who speak little or no English or who have disabilities, navigating the Medicare Part D maze is an obstacle course.

More than 23,000 Bucks County residents ages 65 and older have a disability and at least 2,700 of them speak English “less than very well,” according to the 2000 Census. Some people with disabilities under age 65 and immigrants 65 years or older, legally living in the United States for five years, are Medicare-eligible.

With a May 15 deadline looming for people to pick a drug plan, many advocates worry some eligible senior citizens will get lost.

“The only thing I know that is being done for the blind community is what we're doing,” said Elaine Welch, executive director of the Bucks County Association for the Blind. “I know we've got people out there who aren't as informed as they should be.”

The association held four information sessions on the new benefit program. Clients regularly bring standard Medicare-related mailings to social workers who read them aloud, Welch said.

Only recently has the government started offering its form letters in alternative formats for the visually impaired, Welch explained. But simply providing information on such complicated government programs in a more easily accessible way isn't enough, she added.

“Just having someone send you something in the mail is pretty useless,'' she said.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says it provides the same education and enrollment outreach for general and specialized populations. For non-English speakers or those with disabilities, it partnered with local community advocates and organizations to identify specific education needs, spokeswoman Lorraine Ryan said.

The federal agency, which oversees the drug benefit program, also has special accommodations, such as TTY lines for the hearing-impaired, information in Braille, audio and some foreign languages, and access to translators on its call lines.

Private insurers also are required to offer marketing materials in any language that is the primary language of more than 10 percent of the plan's geographic service area, Ryan said. They also must provide appropriate translation services to call center personnel to accommodate non-English speakers/readers.


Some, though, say more needs to be done to make the system more accessible to everyone.

They point to education and enrollment events that usually don't include accommodations for people with disabilities.

Fact sheets are translated into some foreign languages on the Medicare Web site, but people must first navigate the site in English to find them. The notices that beneficiaries received are written in English, though there is a single sentence in Spanish — but no other foreign languages — at the bottom telling people to call the Medicare helpline if they want a letter in Spanish.

Independence Blue Cross, the region's largest insurer, has its government services office doing regular outreach to the Latino and Asian communities, but its call center has only Spanish-speaking translators, spokeswoman Liz Williams said.

Such barriers make it harder for beneficiaries to find any plan — let alone one that best meets their specific needs, advocates say.

Many people with disabilities have limited incomes, take multiple medications and regularly use medical supplies or equipment, which means coverage is critical.

“No two people who are blind are alike. Everyone has different needs or concerns,” said Emily Yaskowski, a social worker with the Center for Independent Living of Bucks County, which assists people with disabilities.

People who speak little or no English can't comprehend plan details; they don't understand health insurance terms and there are no equivalents in their native language. They might be reluctant to approach government agencies or don't know whom to call.

My Medicare Matters, a national education program offering to help people understand and choose a drug plan, is targeting hard-to-reach populations. Locally, it has held events at BAPS and the Bucks County Association for the Blind, and it has another scheduled at the Oxford Valley Mall for the Center for Independent Living of Bucks County.

Such information outreach has improved only recently because of complaints, said Tony Barker, also a social worker for the Center for Independent Living. “It took three to four to five months to realize the education was needed,” he added.


At the Country Commons Apartments in Bensalem, Russian-born Lydia Kolodub spends hours translating Medicare Part D paperwork for Russian immigrants. She is the coordinator of the YWCA Family Center at the 300-plus unit complex, where few understand or speak English, she said.

Her English skills aren't fluent, she said, but someone has to help these people.

“They don't receive any translated documents. Everything is in English, and if they can't find neighbors or relatives that can explain, then they come to me. It's very complicated,” said Kolodub, who has lived in the United States 13 years.

Besides translation, Kolodub said she educates older immigrants about how the U.S. healthcare system works.

“Here everything is so different and so complicated and, with older people, they panic,” Kolodub said. “If a person is 75 or 80 year old, how they can understand and communicate over the phone when Americans talk so fast?”

Saketu Patel, medical director of the Philadelphia chapter of BAPS Care International, has spearheaded an initiative for the Asian-Indian community to understand Medicare Part D. He has translated educational materials and presentations into Gujarati.

Patel helped organize two education and enrollment sessions with translators at the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Middletown, which attracted hundreds of seniors and caregivers.

“They don't understand the importance of it. It's not made relative to them. It's certainly a concern,” Patel said. “As the May 15 deadline comes closer, the importance will become more and more.”

At a March event at the BAPS temple, most of the questions translators fielded involved people looking for information about low-income supplements or prescription co-pays.

At a computer terminal, a volunteer translator helped another man who asked about references. Does he need one to see a specialist?

“Yes, you need a referral,” explained the My Medicare Matters representative.

The two men conferred again.

“Where would he get a referral?”

The translator then explained to the man that his primary doctor gives the referral.

With all his questions answered, the man looked at the representative.

“Thank you,” he said in heavily accented English.

Language diversity to continue net's rise as No. 1 communication medium

English is no longer the language of the web, but systems are evolving that will maintain its global integrity without stifling diversity, writes Graeme Philipson.

AdvertisementFOR the first 90 per cent of its life, the internet was essentially an English-language medium. It was built on the English language. But now English is a minority language on the net, and things are still changing.

The problems of expressing text on computers was initially solved through a system called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), in which the Roman alphabet used by most European languages is translated into the computer's zeroes and ones.

ASCII has been extended over the years to include accents and symbols such as the yen and Euro and copyright signs. But that doesn't extend to other alphabets such as Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Korean, Thai and Hindi.

There's an even bigger problem with pictographic languages such as Chinese and Japanese. These languages take many more characters than ASCII's standard 256 symbols. Computers don't understand pictographic text; it must be alphabetic.

The use of pictographic characters on computers is handled through multiple byte characters. These have been standardised internationally with a system called Unicode, an expansion of ASCII that can handle nearly a million characters and express virtually every character in every significant language.

But domain names are still limited to just 37 characters - the 26 characters of the Roman alphabet, the hyphen and 10 numerical characters. That has been a problem in countries that don't use the Roman alphabet.

In February it was reported that China was planning its own system of domain names in Chinese, leading some to believe that China would set up its own DNS (domain name system) and have the effect of splitting the internet along language lines.

The reports have since proved untrue. They were based on a mistranslation of a report in the Government-run People's Daily. What the newspaper actually said was that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the independent body that assigns internet domain names and manages the DNS, had announced plans for Chinese language domain names.

This is fair enough. Chinese language speakers represent the second largest group of internet users - 13 per cent. The proportion of English speakers is below one-third - just 30.6 per cent of internet users speak English as their first language.

Japanese is third (8.5 per cent), followed by Spanish (6.3 per cent), German (5.6 per cent) and Korean (3.3 per cent). Add in the Russians and a few others, and much more than a quarter of the internet's users do not use the Roman alphabet. (The figures come from

Because one Unicode character can map one Chinese character to as many as four Roman characters, using Chinese or other non-Roman characters in domain names is a little tricky. ICANN plans to get round the problem by using a method called DNAME records, which use a domain alias, mapping new domain names onto existing ones.

The initial reports led to fears that a separate Chinese-language internet would come into existence, splitting the internet and leading to the possibility of duplicated domain names or the same domain name leading to different URLs depending on the user's location.

The China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) has said it has no plans to do this, and that it will work with ICANN to ensure a unitary internet, albeit one more user-friendly to Chinese speakers.

The number of Chinese-speaking internet users grew fourfold in the five years to 2005, while the numbers of English-speaking users barely doubled in the same period. The number of English-speaking users will continue to grow, largely on the strength of high growth rates in English-speaking developing countries, especially India.

But it is very likely that growth rates in the Chinese-speaking world will continue to be much higher. Fewer than 10 per cent of Chinese currently use the internet.

There are more native speakers of Chinese than speakers of English, and that includes people who speak English as a first or second language. Most Chinese speak the variety of the language known in the West as Mandarin (the Chinese themselves call it Putonghua, or "common speech"), but other varieties of Chinese, though spoken as separate languages, use the same script. Taiwan uses an older version of the script, which was simplified on the mainland after the communist takeover in 1949.

Non-English speakers are very conscious of the dangers of English language-based cultural imperialism, and are actively encouraging the usage of other languages. The Arabic internet world now numbers tens of millions of users, for example.

Throughout history language has been an important aspect of nationalism. Preventing ethnic minorities from using their own language has always been one way governments have attempted to clamp down on separatists.

The internet is now the world's most important source of information and communication. These developments indicate that it will not be a barrier to linguistic diversity.

'Hidden Heroes' of Health

By Lisa Smith Daily Herald Staff Writer

Lulu Blacksmith immigrated here from Morelia, Mexico, with her family as a 16-year-old who didn't speak a word of English.

Nine years later she began reaching out to people like her, working as the community outreach manager at Aurora's Provena Mercy Medical Center where she developed interpretation programs to help non-English speakers get health care.

That evolved into Companeros en Salud (Partners in Health), a coalition that funds health-care related interpretation services and conducts health fairs, among other services. Blacksmith now works as a liaison for the Hispanic community as a field representative for U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

A 47-year-old Geneva resident, Blacksmith was among three Kane County residents recognized Wednesday as the county health department's 2006 Hidden Heroes of Public Health at a ceremony at the Kane County Judicial Center as part of National Public Health Week.

The others were Dr. Dorothea Poulos, 48, of Elgin, chairwoman of the public health department's advisory committee, and Diane Nilan, 55, of Aurora, an author and longtime advocate for homeless children.

Poulos, who specializes in family practice at her Elgin offices, also has worked at the Well Child Center in Elgin, Open Door Clinic in Elgin and the Visiting Nurse Association of Fox Valley. She has been a doctor for 24 years.

Nilan, former associate director of Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora, sold her townhouse and car in November to buy a recreational vehicle that she's driving across the country to raise awareness about homelessness. She is filming a documentary about the plight of homeless children in America.

"If we don't do something, we are to blame," said Nilan, who was in Reno, Nev., last week. "Homelessness isn't the problem, it's poverty."

Earlier this year, Nilan's first book, "Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness," was published by

She successfully lobbied state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation making it easier for homeless kids to stay in school.

Kane County Board member Gerry Jones, an Aurora Democrat, also was honored Wednesday for the nine years he has spent as chairman of the board's public health committee.

Source: Daily Herald; Arlington Heights, Ill.

Inmates from 60 countries among prisons' population

CANON CITY - If you do the crime, you must do the time.

State law dictates that all felons who are sentenced to prison, including those who are not U.S. citizens, will serve their time in Colorado.

As a result, the state's 21,115-inmate population is made up of offenders from 60 different countries, said Walt Ahrens, public affairs officer for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Of those, 1,084 - about 5 percent of the state's inmate population - are natives of Mexico, according to DOC tabulations made on Dec. 31, 2005.

Gauging the cost of Mexico's immigrants on the state prison coffers is not easy. On average, it costs $71.46 a day to house male inmates and $76.44 a day to house female inmates, Ahrens said. That adds up to an average annual cost of between $26,082 and $27,900 per inmate.

Although the state does pay the lion's share of incarcerating non-citizens, there are some federal reimbursement.

"We receive money from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program from funds administered by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. The state of Colorado received just over $2.3 million for fiscal year 2005," Ahrens said.

The program provides federal dollars to states that incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating any illegal immigrants. For Colorado, the $2.3 million federal grant money equals the annual cost of incarcerating about 90 foreign male inmates, so it falls short of covering the state’s non-citizen inmate costs.

Colorado's cut of federal illegal immigrant dollars is a far lower than other states such as California ($85.9 million), Texas ($18.5 million) and Arizona ($12 million), but is a lot better than neighboring New Mexico, which received $650,877.

Ahrens said there are few additional costs of housing non-citizen inmates beyond what any inmate would cost to house.

"Other than non-English speaking inmates being provided interpreters for some functions, such as parole hearings, inmates from other countries receive no special services. Most foreign offenders have been in the U.S. long enough to have a rudimentary ability to speak and understand English," Ahrens said.

"In informal situations, offenders often ask the assistance of bilingual friends to interpret for them and bilingual staff may also volunteer to interpret in certain circumstances. Most case managers are not fluent in a second language.”

For parole hearings, a certified translator service is contracted for use if the presiding board member does not speak the offender's language. The same practice holds true if non-English speaking inmates are brought to court on new charges.
While large judicial systems have salaried in-house interpreters, Fremont County does not. When foreign offenders are brought to court for new charges they face while incarcerated in a Canon City prison, interpreters are contracted to help the communication process as required by judicial system fiscal procedures.

"Professional interpreters are paid $25 an hour and they are used for most cases, but we try to used certified interpreters for murder trials," said Debbie Stringari, chief clerk of the court for the 11th Judicial District. "Those who are certified with the state go through a fairly stringent state judicial program and they are paid $30 a hour plus mileage" as they often travel from Colorado Springs.

Stringari said she is testing and hiring interpreters to be contracted on an as-needed basis for the local court system.

"It kind of goes in waves. We will have no need for interpreters and then all of a sudden we will have several cases where we need interpreters, so it can be a bit of a hassle," Stringari said.

When it comes to prosecuting non-citizen inmates, Norm Cooling, a deputy district attorney in charge of prison-related cases for the state's eight Canon City based prisons, does not take immigration status into consideration.

"A lot of times I do not even know if an inmate has a (federal) Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold," Cooling said. "And it would not make a difference, because they are still committing crimes here in our prisons and the same statutes apply."

Once or twice, when Cooling is in the plea negotiating stage with an inmate and attorney, "the inmate has agreed to go back to Mexico if he is not prosecuted on a crime, but I have passed on that."

"ICE holds don't enter into my decision to file on crimes. I've got to really treat everybody equal - give equal treatment to everyone who has committed a crime," Cooling said.

Cooling believes strongly that non-citizen inmates should be prosecuted for their crimes behind bars, "otherwise it would be open-season on the (prison) guards or other inmates" if they thought a new crime could mean a ticket back home, he said.

According to DOC criminal investigator William Claspell, an INS hold means an inmate will be deported if that inmate is ever released or paroled from a state prison.

"The inmate will be released to the INS so they can take that inmate home," Claspell said.

As for other problems related to non-citizen inmates, health issues is not one of them.

"Inmates from other countries are not introducing tuberculosis into the Colorado prison system," Ahrens said.

Tuberculosis, a so-called disease of the poor, is caused by an infection with the bacterial germ Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually occurs as pneumonia, but can also occur in the brain, back, knee, lymph nodes or other organs and bones, according to

The spread of the disease can be stopped if those with tuberculosis are being treated with proper medication, according to the Web site.



Here is a breakdown of foreign-born prison inmates who make up 6.6 percent of the adult inmate population in Colorado:

Country Number Percent
Mexico 1,084 5%
Honduras 48 0.2%
Vietnam 41 0.2% E
l Salvador 27 0.1%
Germany 26 0.1%
Canada 19 0.1%
Cuba 17 0.1%
Guatemala 17 0.1%
All other countries 152 0.7%*

Figures are as of Dec. 31, 2005

- Source: Colorado Department of Corrections



Here is a breakdown of prison inmates, according to Colorado Department of Corrections statistics. Figures are based on percent of state prison population as of June 30, 2004:

Ethnicity Male Female
White 45.8 52.3*
Hispanic 30.6 23.2
African-American 20.6 21
Native American 1.9 2.7
Asian 1.0 .8*

Includes prisoners from Mexico.

©1996-2006The Pueblo Chieftain Online

Without English, Inmate Was Trapped

Pr. George's Defender's Office Never Met With Immigrant on Misdemeanor

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer

Ramiro Games figured he wouldn't spend much time locked up after Prince George's County police stormed into a Langley Park apartment where he was playing cards on Sept. 30 and arrested him and four other men on cocaine charges.

But because he doesn't speak English, Games, 46, a Guatemalan immigrant laborer, spent nearly six months in jail without going to trial. He said he was unable to alert anyone in the justice system that his case was lingering.

For nearly five months, Games was charged with only simple possession of cocaine, a misdemeanor that often results in probation or a few days in jail.

Games was represented by the county public defender's office, but no lawyer ever met with him. The office has only one Spanish-speaking intake worker and no fully bilingual attorney, although an estimated 15 percent of its caseload involves those who speak only Spanish.

Finally, on March 17, Games was released after a county Department of Corrections employee was tipped off by another inmate about Games's plight and flagged the case for a Prince George's judge, who engineered a jailbreak of sorts.

Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia had Games plead guilty to the cocaine possession charge to get him out of jail, even though Games speaks no English, had no attorney or interpreter and did not understand what he was pleading guilty to.

"He didn't have any idea what he was doing, and I didn't give a damn," Femia said in an interview. "Our system is a Gordian knot, and I cut it. My object in this case was not criminal justice. My object was to get him the hell out of jail."

Informed of the case by The Washington Post, Prince George's public defender Brian C. Denton acknowledged that his office should have done more to represent Games. "This doesn't happen without the language barrier," said Denton, who took over the job in November. "It's our job to look out for these people. We've got to do better."

In an interview conducted in Spanish last week, Games said he didn't know he was pleading guilty to cocaine possession in Femia's courtroom. "I didn't understand," he said.

Why did he plead guilty? "I was guilty -- of being in the apartment," Games said. "I didn't know there were drugs in the apartment."

Femia sentenced Games to 10 days in jail, gave him credit for time served and ordered him released.

Asked why he didn't speak up about his long time in jail, Games shrugged and said: "I don't speak English. Who would I talk to?"

Denton said a lawyer from his office was assigned to Games, who was scheduled to go to trial on the cocaine possession charge Jan. 30. Six days before that, at the request of county prosecutors, Denton said, a District Court judge moved the case to a docket of only drug cases, pushing the trial date to April 20. Such a move is not unusual.

Similar delays typically prompt immediate objections from English-speaking clients, Denton said. "We hear from clients 30 seconds after they miss their court date," he said. His office receives "jail mail," a steady stream of letters from English-speaking clients inquiring about the status of their cases.

Of Games, Denton said, "Who's he going to speak up to? Is he going to holler at the guard? Unfortunately, our system is not bilingual."

If the Jan. 30 court date had not been rescheduled, Denton said, a lawyer would have met with Games three or four days before that date. When the trial date was pushed back, the case was reassigned to another lawyer because of his office's large caseload, Denton said.

Shortly after he took over the office, Denton said, he assigned two lawyers to track clients who are charged with felonies in District Court, precisely to prevent the type of problem that kept Games in jail. The case file for Games was in the "in" box of the second lawyer when Games pleaded guilty before Femia.

Nothing in the official court file indicated that the public defender was representing Games. Femia said he believed, based on the court file, that Games had no attorney.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, a Silver Spring-based nonprofit advocacy group for immigrants, said that what happened to Games is "unbelievable."

"The immigrant and Latino community has been penalized once again because of the lack of language access," Torres said, adding that Maryland law requires the public defender to provide interpreters if clients need them.

Denton said he has one Spanish-speaking intake worker on his staff, which includes 42 lawyers. Some of the lawyers speak some Spanish, but none is bilingual, Denton said. His office handles 16,000 criminal cases annually, and a rapidly increasing number -- about 15 percent -- involve Spanish-speaking clients.

Games said he entered the United States without documentation six years ago. He was sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Langley Park with five other day laborers when his odyssey through the legal system began Sept. 30. About 9 that night, Games said, he walked to a nearby apartment to play cards with some acquaintances.

According to police charging documents, at 9:10, narcotics officers and SWAT team members served a search warrant on the apartment on 15th Avenue. Officers recovered plastic baggies containing more than 42 grams of cocaine, a digital scale and two handguns, according to charging documents.

Games and the other three men in the apartment were charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine possession. Police also arrested a fifth man who knocked on the door while officers were there. The man who knocked was carrying a small amount of cocaine, according to the charging document.

At Games's preliminary hearing Oct. 28, a prosecutor dropped the charge of felony possession with intent to distribute, according to a tape of the hearing. A District Court judge set Games's bond at $40,000.

The public defender's bilingual intake worker spoke with Games, but only to obtain basic background information, Denton said.

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Games said, "I prayed to God to get me out." Games said friends visited him, but not on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Sometime in November, Games said, he spoke to a bilingual Cuban inmate who urged him to seek a court hearing as soon as possible. Games said he wrote, in Spanish, to a judge but never got a response.

About the same time, Femia said, an employee with the county Department of Corrections who helps compile his docket received a letter from an inmate, not Games, describing Games's plight. Femia, a retired judge who works part time, presides over a "rocket docket" in which he goes to the Prince George's detention facility in Upper Marlboro every Friday to quickly resolve charges against nonviolent offenders.

The corrections worker became more and more upset as she saw the charges against three of Games's four codefendants resolved while he remained incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge, Femia said. One still faces felony cocaine charges.

On March 9, the corrections worker arranged for someone to give Games a one-page document asking for a trial. Games said someone asked him to sign it, "So I did." Games said he did not understand what he was signing.

A week later, Femia came to the jail to deal with his docket.

When Games's name was called, Femia said, " Cómo se dice? [How do you say?] Guilty or no?"

Games pleaded guilty.

Femia said, " Vaya con Dios".

Court interpreters seek justice in any language

With a growing immigrant population, Rhode Island has more need than ever for court interpreters in a variety of languages.

01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 9, 2006

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Jose de Jesus speaks little English, but here he sits in a Rhode Island courtroom, on trial for murder in the 2003 shooting death of a Providence store owner. By law, an interpreter sits beside de Jesus to ensure that he understands the proceedings.

During jury selection, lawyer Mark Smith asks that no one hold it against his client that he needs an interpreter in order "to understand the legalese."

"Maybe some people feel he's a 'wetback' [a derogatory term for an illegal immigrant] -- and think, 'I'll find him guilty and ship him back' to wherever he came from," says Smith. "So if someone gets a feeling that 'Hey, he's a Hispanic guy,' that's what this conversation is about -- that my client gets a fair shake. . . ."

The interpreter will, in part, afford de Jesus his right to a fair trial.

Decades of pressure by advocacy groups resulted two years ago in Rhode Island's Office of State Court Interpreters. The groups convinced authorities not only that the need exists, but that the law demands it.

The office employs six full-time bilingual English/Spanish interpreters, who assist defendants and witnesses in criminal trials, as well as litigants, defendants and witnesses in civil trials -- from landlords and tenants to domestic abusers and domestic abuse victims; from murder defendants to accident victims. Interpreters convey oral communication; they also translate written documents such as affidavits and witness statements.

The International Institute of Rhode Island and similar agencies provide qualified interpreters on a contract basis, when needed.

The U.S. District Court in Providence employs two Spanish-speaking interpreters, and draws from federally certified interpreters out of state.

But the need for interpreters has expanded as thousands of Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians and Vietnamese, Russians, Liberians, Nigerians, Somalians and other West Africans have resettled in Rhode Island during the past few decades.

"This is a national problem. It's not just a Rhode Island problem. There are not enough qualified interpreters to meet the interpreter need," says Holly Hitchcock, director of education programs for the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

"We're talking about health-care issues, a person's liberty, in criminal matters where you have life-changing things hanging in the balance. But finding people at the level that's appropriate -- I won't say it's impossible, but it's extremely difficult and every state in the nation grapples with this."

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Williams wants to expand the program to include languages other than Spanish -- most likely Portuguese and a Southeast Asian language, such as Khmer (Cambodian). Workers in the refugee community underline a need for African languages and Cape Verdean Creole.

"We have a mission here," says Williams, who addressed the need for more interpreters in his State of the Judiciary last month. "How can you have access to justice if the parties that appear before you do not understand the process, and you cannot communicate with them?"

Many of the 230,000 cases adjudicated every year in court "have immigrant faces on them," says Williams. The estimated number is at least 20,000.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also brought pressure through a complaint filed two years ago with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU chapter, says the Justice Department confirmed in August last year that it was launching an investigation into the complaint that the state "is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act."

That act requires state courts and hospitals that receive federal money to provide interpreters for people with limited English.

That excludes children, relatives or random observers, who are often called upon by judges or doctors in a pinch.

Superior Court Associate Justice O. Rogeriee Thompson, who chaired a task force created in 1991 to address the issue, has stated that she sometimes had "to ask a prisoner handcuffed to another prisoner to interpret for them. That's how desperate a situation it used to be."

WHAT ARE the hallmarks of a qualified court interpreter?

No matter the emotional import, interpreters must remain impartial while working quickly and accurately through cross-currents of testimony, questioning, cross-examination, instruction and statements by lawyers, judges and witnesses.

They work through various Spanish dialects (one man's carro [car] is another man's coche), must know colloquialisms, slang and idioms, and be sensitive to body language and nuance. The job demands extreme mental agility.

Holly Hitchcock says that before the need for interpreters was recognized, "people thought if you can speak Spanish at the 7-Eleven, then you can translate. That's the incorrect assumption that many people hold to this day, except that nuance, word choice, idiom, cultural background, intonation all go into the expression of meaning. That's the part that's so difficult to translate."

In 1999, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed its own law requiring that interpreters be available for non-English-speaking criminal defendants.

The courts prepared to hire those interpreters, but Governor Carcieri cut the $425,000 funding. Not until Chief Justice Williams personally lobbied the General Assembly did lawmakers commit the money.

BESIDES THE NEED for more interpreters, the certification process poses an issue for the state's courts. Federal courts have their own standard, a test developed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

But certification programs vary widely for state courts. Some have no certification, and some are trying to establish them for the first time, reports the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), based in Seattle.

"What's developing as a new field is the requirement that interpreters be certified," says Donna Merritt, senior project director for the NAJIT certification exam, who is based in North Carolina.

In Rhode Island, Williams and the Ad Hoc Task Force on Limited English Speaking Litigants have established as "the gold standard" an exam developed by the nonprofit NAJIT and have made the hiring of six new interpreters conditional on their passing the exam.

None of the applicants passed the exam in the fall of 2004, "but they came very close," says Holly Hitchcock, education-programs director for the state Supreme Court. It is not clear when the test will be offered again.

"We're still in an evaluating position to see how people are performing, and reviewing the standards. This is a work in progress, certainly."

WHETHER THE addition of more interpreters provokes another battle between the judiciary and General Assembly remains to be seen. Jeff Neal, Carcieri's spokesman, notes that the judiciary has requested a 20-percent budget increase, but "it is unthinkable to increase spending for any state department by 20 percent in the face of a $300-million budget shortfall."

Neal says the governor "recognizes the importance of interpreters. . . . But he also recognizes his constitutional responsibility to propose a balanced budget."

Brown, the ACLU executive director, calls the creation of the new office of state court interpreters an important first step, "but in no way a systematic and full resolution of the problem."

According to the ACLU's letter that launched a Justice Department investigation, non-English-speaking people in Rhode Island still "find themselves severely disadvantaged when they enter the criminal justice system."

A KEY witness in the de Jesus trial is Teresa Flores, widow of victim Mauricio Flores, 60, who died 107 days after being shot in the head.

Through interpreter Vanessa Dean, Flores says that on April 11, 2003, she heard a noise "as if someone was throwing cans" in their Academy Avenue convenience store, Flores Market. After that, she heard "many gunshots."

How many gunshots? asks Assistant Attorney General Jay Sullivan, state prosecutor.

"No me recuerdo [I don't remember]. Muchos [many]," Flores replies.

"And after that?" asks Sullivan.

"The man that shot [my husband], he came and placed a gun to my head," Flores says in Spanish, her voice breaking as she holds her finger to her temple.

Jaime Da Silva, an interpreter hired through the International Institute, says later that Flores speaks a Salvadoran dialect that differs from his client's Puerto Rican Spanish. That presents an interpreting challenge that Da Silva meets.

Whatever the trial's outcome, Jose de Jesus will have been afforded his legal right to understand the proceedings, and to be understood.

Who are the interpreters?

The six state court interpreters are Susanna E. Torres-Montes (also the coordinator), Vanessa G. Dean, Helen Duffy, Carla I. Mata, Ana I. Mendiburu and Sussy Santana.

The state courts rely on the Community College of Rhode Island's Bilingual Judicial Interpreters' Certificate Program as a feeder program.

The two federal court interpreters are Ana Cecelia Rosado, and Jose Kleinberg.

The 1st U.S. District Court sometimes draws from an established national pool of federally certified interpreters.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres says that reliance can become "pretty expensive, particularly if you don't have qualified interpreters within the local area."

Torres said he, like Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, is concerned about "the dearth of interpreters" in languages other than Spanish.

State court needs more interpreters who speak a variety of languages

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank Williams says he wants to expand a court interpreter program to include languages other than Spanish.

The need for interpreters who can speak a variety of languages have expanded with the growing number of immigrants in Rhode Island, many of them Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Russians, Liberians, Nigerians and other West Africans.

Currently, the state's Office of State Court Interpreters employs six full-time English-Spanish translators. They help defendants, witnesses and victims understand the proceedings in court, as well as translate written legal documents for them.

The American Civil Liberties Union says many non-English-speaking people in Rhode Island still find themselves at a disadvantage when they enter the criminal justice system.

Victims of the Justice System

A conference at UCLA brings together the state's wrongly convicted, to share their experiences and push for legal changes.
By Henry Weinstein
Times Staff Writer

April 9, 2006

One by one they ascended the stage and introduced themselves, each an embodiment of the legal system's fallibility in California.

"My name is Herman Atkins," a tall ponytailed man said. "The state of California stole 12 years of my life for a rape and robbery I did not commit in Riverside."

"Good morning, my name is Gloria Killian," a well-spoken middle-aged woman said. "The state stole 22 years of my life for a robbery and murder I did not commit in Sacramento."

"Good morning. My name is Ken Marsh," a third speaker said. "The state took 21 years of my life for a murder I did not commit in San Diego in 1983."

Seventeen people in all reiterated the point to a packed ballroom at UCLA on Saturday: that although they now were free, countless other innocent people are imprisoned in the state. Atkins, Killian, Marsh and the others were wrongfully convicted and cleared years later.

They took part in the event, called "The Faces of Wrongful Conviction," to dramatize the flaws in the state's criminal justice system. The gathering was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, Death Penalty Focus, Amnesty International and others.

It came as a state Senate-created commission is beginning to study and review the criminal justice system in California, with a particular focus on the causes of wrongful convictions and possible disparities in how death sentences are meted out. Former California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, chairman of the commission; San Francisco attorney Jon Streeter, the vice chairman; and Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, the commission's executive director, all were in attendance Saturday.

"We realize the system is imperfect," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro law-enforcement organization in Sacramento, in a telephone interview. If the commission comes up with needed reforms, that will be a public benefit, he said.

Scheidegger added, however, that he thought individuals sentenced to long terms, rather than the death penalty, were "more vulnerable" to errors in their cases, because death row inmates are entitled to more legal assistance after a conviction.

After identifying themselves and the duration of their time behind bars, each participant in Saturday's ceremony hung handcuffs on a wall on the stage and then 10 more pairs on behalf of so-called exonerees unable to attend the two-day conference.

As the half-hour event, the first of its kind in California, concluded, the crowd gave the group of former inmates a prolonged standing ovation.

The speakers were a varied group. A few, such as Atkins, were cleared as a result of DNA evidence discovered after their trials. But most — including Killian and Marsh — gained their freedom after even longer legal battles in which there was no magic bullet like DNA.

There were whites, African Americans, Latinos, an Asian American and a Native American. They had come from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Yreka. All but Killian were male.

They had served as little as one year — Bobby Herrera, for assault in Santa Clara County — and as much as 24 years — Thomas Goldstein, for murder in Long Beach. Two had been on death row.

Summaries of their cases indicate they were victims of such problems as inaccurate eyewitness identifications, unreliable jailhouse informants, the failure of police and prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence and faulty forensics.

More than 200 people have been wrongfully convicted in California since 1989, said Jeffrey Chin, assistant director of the Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, one of the conference sponsors.

That's one a month, said state Sen. Gloria Romero, (D-Los Angeles), who opened the conference. Romero has been pushing for a death penalty moratorium, but it is an uphill battle. "According to the latest Field Poll, 63% of Californians support the death penalty," she said. "We have work to do."

Natasha Minsker of the ACLU said the purpose of the conference was twofold: to draw attention to "wrongful convictions and to strategize solutions for much-needed change."

Stanford University law professor Lawrence Marshall, who played a key role in getting several innocent men off death row in Illinois when he was teaching in that state in the 1990s, called Saturday's event "truly momentous."

"It's time for California to be humbled by its capacity for error" in its criminal justice system, he said.

In November 1998, Marshall organized the first national conference of death row exonerees at Northwestern Law School. That event is believed to have set the stage for a death penalty moratorium in Illinois and major changes in the system there.

More broadly, it awakened Americans to the realization that innocent people had been sent to death rows across the country.

Although Saturday's conference included several death penalty-related panels, the gathering at UCLA had a broader focus, particularly since most of the California exonerees had been serving long sentences rather than facing execution. California has more individuals — at least 28,000 — serving life sentences than any other state.

Throughout the day, the exonerees shared experiences among themselves and with the wider audience. Most were upbeat, but their suffering was obvious.

Marsh, for instance, developed such severe separation anxiety during his years away from his wife, Brenda, that he cannot bear to be apart from her, even for a few moments to take a group photograph with the others wrongfully convicted.

She accompanied him in the photo and also onstage.

He introduced her by saying she had been in her own prison for the 21 years he was behind bars.

Despite losing many years of their lives, several of the exonerees said in interviews that they were not bitter. "Bitterness and anger will destroy you," said Killian, who was a law student when a man involved in a Sacramento murder made up a story that she had masterminded the killing. Now 59, Killian has formed a nonprofit organization, Action Committee for Women in Prison, based in Pasadena.

She lives with Joyce Ride, the mother of former astronaut Sally Ride, who spent thousands of dollars of her own money to hire an investigator and an appellate lawyer to look into Killian's case after visiting her in prison and becoming convinced of her innocence.

"My focus," Killian said, "is on the women I left behind and the changes I can effect to ensure that this does not happen to other people."