WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has entered into a settlement agreement with Joseph David Camacho, a private attorney in New Mexico, that establishes a policy ensuring effective communication for clients with disabilities, including providing qualified sign language interpreting services when necessary for effective communication.
“I commend Mr. Camacho for working with us and recognizing the importance of clear communication with clients,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Communications involving legal matters can be sufficiently lengthy or complex so as to require a qualified interpreter for effective communication. We hope that this agreement will be a model for other attorneys and law firms.”
Today’s agreement resolves a complaint filed with the Department by the National Association of the Deaf on behalf of Carolyn Tanaka, who is deaf and uses sign language for communication. The complaint alleges that Mr. Camacho refused to secure a qualified sign language interpreter when necessary to ensure effective communication and assist her in a lawsuit in which he was her attorney, that he withdrew from the private case leaving her without counsel, and that the case was dismissed due to her failure to respond to discovery. Allegedly, Mr. Camacho attempted to communicate with his client through written notes, e-mails, and sign language interpretation by her nine-year old son.
Under the agreement, the law office will adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with clients and their companions who are deaf or hard of hearing, by providing interpreters and other auxiliary aids free of charge. Mr. Camacho also agrees to pay the former client $1,000 in compensatory damages.
“Effective communication is particularly critical in the legal setting,” said Larry Gomez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “We are committed to ensuring that lawyers comply with the ADA’s requirements and that individuals with disabilities or their families are not subjected to unequal treatment because of an inability to communicate.”
More information about the agreement and the ADA is available by contacting the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY), or accessing the ADA website at http://www.ada.gov.