October 1, 1997
Robert J. Raubach, Esq.
Georgia Advocacy Office
999 Peachtree Street, N.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30309
Re: Sign Language Interpreters in the Georgia Courts
Dear Mr. Raubach:
This responds to your letter of March 14, 1997, in which you
raise concerns about Georgia law regarding the responsibility for
payment of sign language interpreters in administrative and
judicial proceedings. Specifically, you express concern about a
provision of Georgia law that appears to permit the expense of
providing a qualified interpreter in a civil proceeding to be
assessed against a deaf litigant as part of the court costs that
can be assessed against losing civil litigants. See, O.C.G.A.
As we discussed, such a policy would violate title II of the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134
(ADA), which prohibits discrimination against qualified
individuals with disabilities by state and local governmental
entities, such as state courts and administrative agencies. The
regulations implementing title II require public entities to
provide auxiliary aids and services, such as interpreter
services, where such services are necessary to afford an
individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate
in the services, programs, or activities conducted by such
entities. See, 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(1). In addition, the title
II regulations specifically prohibit covered entities from
passing on the cost of measures required to comply with the ADA,
such as interpreter services, by imposing a surcharge on "any
particular individual with a disability or any group of
individuals with disabilities." See, 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(f).
Thus, state courts and other entities covered by title II of
the ADA cannot require individuals who are deaf or who have
hearing impairments to pay the cost of interpreter services those
entities are required to provide under the ADA. This is true whether the covered entity imposes such costs directly or by
including them in court costs to be borne by the losing party in
a civil lawsuit (even if they would also be imposed on losing
parties who do not have hearing impairments). To the extent that
O.C.G.A. 24-9-108(c) is used to impose such costs on a losing
litigant who has a hearing impairment, the costs would be
considered impermissible surcharges in violation of 28 C.F.R. §
35.130(f). Instead, the cost of providing sign language
interpreters should be paid by the court and, as you suggest,
such costs should be considered general expenses of court
Although we have not reviewed other provisions of Georgia
law governing the use of interpreter services, I would note in
passing that a policy of refusing to provide and pay for
interpreter services for a potential juror with a hearing
impairment would also violate the ADA. See, 1987 Op. Att'y Gen.
No. U87-11 (Att'y Gen. of Georgia), interpreting O.C.G.A. 24-9-102(a). In general, the ADA requires that persons who are
deaf or hard of hearing have an equal opportunity to participate
in and to benefit from the programs and services provided by
state courts, including, but not limited to, the opportunity to
participate as jurors, parties, witnesses, and spectators.
I have enclosed a copy of a settlement agreement the
Department has entered into with Hancock County, Mississippi.
The agreement addresses the obligation of the Hancock County
court to provide effective communication to persons who are deaf
or hard of hearing by securing, at the court's expense, the
services of a qualified interpreter. We have entered into
similar agreements with other courts and court systems including
the Utah State Administrative Office of the Courts and the
Florida State Court System (regarding transcription services).
I hope you will find this information useful in resolving
your complaint regarding the Georgia courts. Access to the
courts for persons with disabilities remains a significant
interest of the Department. Please feel free to contact us if we
can be of further assistance.
Anne Marie Pecht
Disability Rights Section