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CALegalAdvocates.org

Governor Denies Equal Access to Courts with Veto of Jones Court Interpreter Bill

Monday, September 29, 2008

  • By: Robert Herrell
  • Organization: The Office of Assemblymember Dave Jones

(SACRAMENTO) - Assembly Member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) today expressed exasperation at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to veto legislation that would have helped English-learners gain equal access to the court system and prevent fraud against poor people seeking legal services.

Jones' bill, AB 3050, would have provided interpreters for low-income people needing assistance with English in court proceedings, such as divorce, child custody and evictions. Although interpreters are currently required in criminal cases, there is no comparable requirement in civil cases. "The Governor has said that interpreters should be provided in civil cases when people need help with English, but he vetoed the bill to do just that for the neediest people in the State. The Governor's action is very disappointing."

Jones, who chairs the Judiciary Committee of the California Assembly, also commented, "The Governor has stated that access to justice is a bedrock principle of our democracy. He has repeatedly said that it is 'essential' to provide interpreters in order to provide meaningful access to our justice system. Seven million Californians cannot access the courts without significant language assistance, and yet the Governor now says that my legislation to remedy this situation is not a priority for California," continued Jones. "I don't know what California he is living in, but the California the rest of us live in has courts that are overwhelmed by the need for civil court interpreters."

"This bill would not have cost the state a dime," Jones stated. "Knowing that the state budget and existing court resources are so bleak, this bill was self-funded, as the Governor asked."

In addition to establishing a program for civil court interpreters, the bill also sought to end fraudulent misuse of the term "legal aid" by companies that seek to create confusing by taking advantage of the widely-held belief that "legal aid" is the place that low-income people should turn to for free legal assistance. Legislative action to address this problem was recommended by the non-partisan California Commission on Access to Justice.

AB 3050 was supported by Judicial Council, the State Bar, many judges, and by some of the Governor's fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Jones also called on the Governor to rectify the veto by allocating funds in next year's budget. "If the pledge of liberty and justice for all means what it says, we obviously need funding for court interpreters," Jones said. "We need court interpreters to make access to justice a reality for seven million Californians."

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