Cal. Litig. 2015, Volume 28, Number 3

Language Access for All

By Judge Steve Austin and Judge Manuel Covarrubias

Imagine stepping into a courtroom for the first time — not being familiar with the legal process or procedures, not understanding legal terminology, and not being accustomed to speaking in public — facing the loss of your home, property, custodial rights or time with your child, or seeking protection from the court from an abuser. One could easily imagine the fear of the unknown of simple things, such as when and where to stand or sit, or even how to be calm and present for your day in court. Now consider how much additional fear and bewilderment someone faces when he or she does not even understand the language being spoken in court proceedings, and when there is no one available to assist in interpreting what is being said. For nearly seven million residents of the State of California — where over 200 languages are spoken — this is the predicament many Limited English Proficient (LEP) court users have faced for many years in non-crnriinal legal proceedings.

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California is one of the most diverse states in our nation and its diversity is considered one of its greatest assets. But this diversity also creates practical challenges to serving the needs of a large LEP population spread over a vast geographic area in 58 counties. And it creates acute challenges for the State’s many courts, each of which have differing demographics and needs.

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