For many, the language access/participation issue (see here for recent blog on terminology) seems overwhelming. While agreeing strongly with the goals, folks are anxious over the required levels of expenditures, and nervous of possible diversion of money urgently needed for other critical initiatives.
Here is a thought.
Much of the problem is the vast number of components that seem to be implicated — and here the ABA Standards Draft may not be reducing the anxiety, given its attempt at comprehensiveness. Its a little like trying to fix up an old house — new wiring here, pointing here, plaster here, and before you know it is a big budget always getting bigger. Language access feels the same: an interpreter contract here, document translation here, out-of court services contractor on standby here, replacing interpreters currently provided by the parties here, etc, etc, etc.
Maybe what’s needed is the “gut rehab” of language access, a pilot project in which one court is taken and made 100% language accessible, not in a piecemeal way, but by being flexible and innovative in all ways — looking at multi-lingual staff (with pay differentials), staff rather than contract interpreters, use of technology including phone or video interpreting, wherever appropriate, relaxation of formal staffing rules to make sure that multi-lingual staff are available wherever in the courthouse they are needed, bulk translation of forms and documents, rethinking courtroom procedures to optimize interpretation, studying caeflow management to optimize use of multi-lingual resources, etc.
At the end, we would have a much better sense of costs, and how must efficiently to achieve them, as well as the opportunity to gather research data on impacts and outcomes.
Such an initiative might need legislative authorization, in order to obtain the necessary managerial flexibility, and the support of a wide variety of institutional stakeholders.
The point is not just that Federal money will be needed — it is that it should be spent in a really smart way.
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