California is the most populous state in the U.S. and is incredibly diverse. Spanish is the state’s second most spoken language. Latinos make up 40% of the state’s population, and 25% of people in California cite Spanish as their primary language. Mandarin is spoken by 2.6% of the population. Tagalog is spoken by 2.0%, Vietnamese by 1.3%, and Korean by 0.9%. Armenian, Japanese, German, and Persian are spoken by 0.5% each.
Currently, the California state court system only provides translators in certain proceedings. All California courts provide translators in criminal proceedings. Some courts in California provide translators in Domestic Violence proceedings and child support matters involving the Department of Child Support Services (but this varies by location). What that means is that a non-English-speaking person looking to become divorced or acting as a party in a domestic violence restraining order proceeding may not have a certified translator. That could result in the use of a family member, friend, neighbor, or having the opposing party try to translate. Asking the opposing party to translate is a bit like asking the fox to guard the hen-house. Many times, in domestic violence restraining order proceedings–there can be quasi-criminal and constitutional ramifications, including the loss of one’s Second Amendment rights. These are important matters that deserve clear testimony and communication.
The U.S. Department of Justice has noticed. Under pressure from the DOJ, The Judicial Council of the State of California announced a plan to provide translators in all cases by 2017.
Unfortunately, this comes at a time that the Courts’ budgets are strained. Mediation offices are understaffed, causing child custody motions to be heard months after they are filed. Clerks are overworked. Services hours have been cut (most Court services were cut to a 3:00pm closing time, whereas most offices were formerly open to 5:00pm). Many new case filings take a week to be processed instead of the same day.
Increased availability of translation services ensures the furtherance of justice by making sure that litigants are able to convey their testimony and understand their rights; however, we have to cross our fingers that these services coming to a Court near you in 2017 won’t result in other important services being cut even further.