Justice Department and Washington State Courts Partner to Ensure Access to State Court Services for Limited English Proficient Individuals
WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that the Washington State Supreme Court and the Washington State Court Administrator published a Model Language Access Plan (LAP) and accompanying Deskbook to assist its state courts in ensuring access for all limited English proficient (LEP) individuals to court services and programs. The LAP and Deskbook are the culmination of several years of collaboration between Washington State Courts and DOJ, through its Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, which provided technical and resource development assistance to the State.
Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Safe Streets Act), and the regulations implementing these federal laws, all courts are required to provide language assistance services to all LEP individuals in civil and criminal court proceedings, and in all court-managed services and programs. The LAP and the Deskbook assist state courts in developing a written language access plan and creating or improving its language assistance services to meet federal civil rights obligations.
“We applaud the Chief Justice and the many contributing stakeholders for working collaboratively with us to ensure compliance with applicable civil rights laws that ensure that everyone – regardless of their national origin – is able to participate meaningfully, fully and fairly in all state court proceedings,” said United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Annette L. Hayes. “Providing effective language assistance services is essential to safeguarding the civil rights of court users and ensuring the integrity of our justice system and the rule of law.”
“Ensuring the integrity and fairness of court proceedings goes hand in hand with providing interpreters and other language assistance services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Wheeler II. “This joint effort demonstrates the Department of Justice and the Washington State Courts are committed to ensuring that court proceedings are administered as fairly and equitably as possible for individuals coming through the courthouse doors, regardless of national origin.”
The Justice Department’s initial engagement with the Washington State Courts began as a review of the King County Superior Court’s (KCSC) language assistance services program. In 2011 and 2012, the Justice Department received complaints from LEP individuals who alleged they did not receive interpreter services in KCSC civil cases. In response, DOJ opened a civil rights review to determine whether KCSC’s actions constituted national origin discrimination pursuant to Title VI, the Safe Streets Act, and their implementing regulations.
In early 2014, the KCSC agreed to provide language assistance services (including interpreter services) at no cost for LEP parties and persons in interest in court proceedings and operations, both civil and criminal. Until that time, KCSC had been providing these services without consideration of cost only in criminal cases. KCSC also agreed to provide DOJ information about the financial impact of extending its language services to civil cases. During that time, hundreds of additional LEP individuals received interpreter services in civil legal proceedings who otherwise may not have. In December 2015, KCSC agreed to continue to provide free language assistance services indefinitely. As a result, DOJ agreed to close its engagement with KCSC and, to replicate KCSC’s success, sought to work with the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, its Office of Court Innovation, and the Washington State Interpreter Commission, and its community partners, in developing the LAP and Deskbook for the Washington State Court system as a whole.
DOJ, through the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, is responsible for investigating complaints of alleged violations of Title VI, as well as other federal laws, made against recipients of federal financial assistance from the Justice Department. When the Justice Department is unable to secure voluntary compliance with Title VI by a recipient, the Department has the authority to suspend or terminate financial assistance to a recipient provided by the Justice Department or to bring a civil suit to enforce the rights of the United States under applicable federal, state, or local law. The Justice Department also may provide technical and resource development assistance to recipients of federal financial assistance, as occurred here.
Both matters were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Michael Diaz and Christina Fogg in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Michael Mulé, Attorney in the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS) of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.
For more information about FCS’s State Courts Language Access Initiative, a multi-pronged initiative focused on enforcement, technical assistance, outreach, resource development and policy efforts to ensure meaningful access to state courts receiving federal financial assistance, visit http://www.lep.gov or view the recent DOJ publication, “Language Access in State Courts.” To learn more about the LEP communities in Washington State or other parts of the United States, go to the Language Map App, available here. Further information about Title VI is available here.