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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feds, states in dispute over court interpreters

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Annie Ling understood little of what was being said in a Georgia courtroom where she was put on trial, convicted by a jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison for abusing her two young children.
The Malaysia native speaks Mandarin but little English, and there was no interpreter for her during the 2008 proceedings in Spalding County, an hour south of Atlanta. Just after she was sentenced, she thought she was going home and asked probation officials when she had to return to their office. She had no idea she was about to be hauled off to jail.
"She just basically was in the dark," said J. Scott Key, a lawyer who represented Ling in her successful appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled last November that she was entitled to a new trial because she had no interpreter. Charges against Ling are pending, but she has been freed on bail after serving nearly three years behind bars.
Cases like Ling's, which continue to play out across the country, have prompted the U.S. Justice Department to warn officials in all states that they're violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if they're not providing interpreters, free of charge, in all court-related proceedings and programs. But top state court officials are disputing the department's interpretation of civil rights laws, saying it goes too far and would require a large expansion of interpreter services that cash-strapped states can't afford.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, says the agency is "simply clarifying obligations that have existed for over 45 years."
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