Posted January 26, 20139:25 am
Judge Jose Villanueva and Legal Aid attorney Megan Sprecher had this op-ed published on Cleveland.com. It was highlighted in The Plain Dealer on January 26:
Jan. 1 brought a new year and a new era of language access to Ohio's courts. Rule 88 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio took effect on the first of the year. Rule 88, titled "Appointment of a Foreign Language Interpreter or Sign Language Interpreter," outlines for courts when an interpreter is required, the certification requirements for interpreters and the appointment of interpreters.
The Supreme Court reports that more than 70 languages are now spoken in Ohio's various courts. The use of appropriate interpreters in Ohio's courts is necessary to ensure that Ohioans who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have limited English proficiency are provided the same due process afforded to everyone else. Not appointing an interpreter or appointing an interpreter who does not possess the necessary skills puts an insurmountable obstacle between the individual and access to justice.
Even prior to the enactment of Rule 88, courts had legal obligations to provide interpreters to deaf or hard-of-hearing people and those with limited English proficiency. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 requires that "places of public accommodation," including courts, ensure that "effective communication" is used with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This often means using an interpreter.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin by any recipient of federal funding. Subsequent Supreme Court rulings, an executive order and federal regulations clarify that national origin discrimination entails language access. Under Title VI, recipients of federal funding must provide people with limited English proficiency "meaningful language access," which most often means use of an interpreter. Even where a court receives the federal funding funneled through another source (ex: the state) or receives in-kind support, the court would still be subject to Title VI.
In addition to outlining for courts when appointment of a foreign language or sign language interpreter is required, Rule 88 also addresses the quality of the interpreter. It is a common misconception that anyone who is bilingual has the necessary capabilities to be an interpreter. Proficient interpreting, especially where highly specialized and complicated terms are used, such as in a court proceeding, requires a combination of training and experience.
Rule 88 requires that courts must appoint a certified foreign language or sign language interpreter unless such an interpreter "does not exist or is not reasonably available." In preparation for the implementation of Rule 88, the Supreme Court of Ohio's Interpreter Services Program created and implemented the certification process for interpreters. At this time, the court offers exams in 14 different languages. Interpreters with certifications from other states or entities may apply for reciprocity.
At this time there are 13 certified interpreters and eight provisional and ASL qualified interpreters in Northeast Ohio. All 21 of these interpreters are for Spanish or American Sign Language. With the implementation of this rule, we will need more certified interpreters in many different languages in Northeast Ohio.
We commend the Supreme Court of Ohio's efforts to ensure that Ohioans with limited English proficiency are provided with access to justice, but the effort cannot end at the Supreme Court level. Local courts must take up the flag and ensure that the legal community and constituents who are deaf or hard of hearing and/or have limited English proficiency know that interpreters are available at no charge and how to request an interpreter. This could include development of a local rule, information on the court's website in several languages and outreach to the deaf and hard of hearing and limited-English-proficient community. Local courts will also play an integral role in encouraging interpreters to become certified under the Supreme Court program to deepen our pool of certified interpreters in Northeast Ohio.
- Jose Villanueva and Megan L. Sprecher, Cleveland
Villanueva has been a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge since 1988. Sprecher is the project leader of the Community Advocacy Program, a medical-legal partnership of MetroHealth and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and serves on the Ohio Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Interpreter Service.