Justice Department Closes Case Following Colorado Judiciary Reforms Removing Language Barriers
The Justice Department today announced the closure of its case concerning the provision of language assistance to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) in the state court system following the successful implementation of reforms by the Colorado Judicial Department.
The Justice Department and the Colorado Judicial Department successfully resolved an investigation of an administrative complaint filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in federally funded programs or activities.
“The Justice Department will continue to work tirelessly to ensure equal access to justice for all people, regardless of their language ability,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We commend State Court Administrator Gerald Marroney and his staff for their dedicated, collaborative efforts to transform the delivery of language access services for the benefit of all.”
The complaint alleged that courts in Colorado were requiring LEP civil parties to bring their own interpreters to court. In 2011, former Chief Justice Michael L. Bender and State Court Administrator Gerald Marroney signed a memorandum of agreement with the department. At the same time, Chief Justice Bender amended Chief Justice Directive 06-03 to mandate that, effective immediately, qualified interpreters and other approved language assistance would be provided at no charge for LEP individuals in all court proceedings, services and programs. Following further negotiations, the court’s Office of Language Access issued a comprehensive strategic plan in 2012 that defined 35 needed improvements to court policies, standards, infrastructure and training in order to support the court system’s ability to deliver timely and appropriate language assistance statewide.
Earlier this year, the Colorado Judicial Department completed the work required by the plan. It also successfully complied with the monitoring requirements set forth in the memorandum of agreement, including further amending the Chief Justice Directive. Today, after the court system completed the conditions for termination of the agreement, the department officially closed the case.
The department and the Colorado Judicial Department have worked cooperatively to improve communications between LEP court users and court personnel. In addition to adopting the comprehensive language access policy contained in the Chief Justice Directive, the judiciary’s accomplishments include:
- Revised standards for testing, classifying and disciplining court interpreters, and devised standards to promote hiring of bilingual customer service staff and determine their proficiency in other languages;
- Created a centralized state telephone interpreter center staffed by certified court interpreters trained to provide remote interpreter assistance in limited circumstances and to assist personnel statewide in providing counter assistance for LEP customers;
- Convened an advisory committee including judges, administrators, interpreters and attorneys that provide recommendations on policies, procedures and implementation issues;
- Improved software to assign interpreters to proceedings;
- Translated hundreds of state and local court forms and signs into Spanish, and this year began translations into six other languages regularly encountered;
- Designed and delivered trainings and reference materials for judges, staff and interpreters and acquired access to on-line staff training modules;
- Designed and distributed signs in different formats and languages advising court visitors of the availability of language services at no cost;
- Began to integrate into pleadings and case management orders notice of the availability of interpreter assistance;
- And, improved the system for discipline of contract interpreters for violation of professional standards and created a language access complaint system.
The case was handled by Senior Attorney Paul M. Uyehara of the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance (FCS) Section.
The complaint was resolved as part of the FCS initiative to ensure that state courts comply with the language access requirements of Title VI. To ensure that no LEP individual is denied justice due to a court’s failure to provide language services, the FCS courts team provides policy guidance and technical assistance to state court systems and undertakes enforcement actions across the country.