On Friday at the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division launched its Language Access Planning and Technical Assistance Tool.
While the tool itself, introduced with great skill by Deeana Jang, Chief, Federal Coordination and Compliance Section,Civil Rights Division, is a highly valuable and very detailed checklist of great use in the development and implementation of a language access plan, even more important in terms of Friday’s event was a very major change in focus about how the relationship of language access, access to justice generally, and access for the self-represented are thought of.
While I may be biased by my own perspective, this seemed to me to be the first such event at which LEP issues were seen as deeply integrated with access generally, and specifically with the problems faced by the self-represented.
For example, Associate Justice Ruiz of the DC Supreme Court, and the chair of the ABA Language Access Standards Project Advisory Group, talked in terms of what courts needed to do to help ‘un-represented litigants” become “self-represented litigants”, and how much harder this was for those with language access. She also analogized from the use by the DC Court of Rule 2.6 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, dealing with the right to be heard, as also being potentially applicable to the court’s role in ensuring that those facing language access challenges would be heard. Jutice Ruiz, of course, chaired the ABA group that advised in the development of the language access standards.
Harry Spence, the new and innovative Massachusetts state court administrator, also placed language access in the context of the overall access problems, particularly given the correlation with poverty, and described various initiatives, including a plan for a pilot LEP court, being developed in association with NCSC. (See my thoughts on the topic in 2011 here.) He also addressed integration of LEP services into the court services centers the state is deploying, and integration of LEP issues into the case management software being finalized. The state is implementing pay differentials for staff with non-English language skills, recognizing that there is lots of helping that can be done without being a certified interpreter. (Harry paid explicit credit to Tony Winsor and Mass Law Reform Institute, the state legal services back-up program, for the fact that the state has had a right to interpreter statute since the mid ’80s.)
Lisa Wood, Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants made clear that ABA’s commitment to stay involved with the issue, as part of the follow up to the issuance of the comprehensive Standards that are the bedrock on which the DOJ tool is build.
I spoke briefly, including on the need to think more broadly about the role of interpreters.
That all these players were together at DOJ also speaks well for ongoing cooperation in moving forward, as highlighted by Ms. Jang, in her discussion of progress in several states such as California.
I think we will look back on this as a pivotal day.