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Letter Supporting ABA Language Access Standards

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July 20, 2011

Robert Stein
Chair
ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants
c/o Terry Brooks, Chief Counsel, American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, FL19
Chicago, IL 60654

Dear Mr. Stein:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Washington Council of Lawyers (“WCL”) to express our endorsement of the ABA Language Access Standards prepared by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. The WCL strongly encourages the ABA to adopt these language access standards at its next meeting.

WCL is a non-profit organization of lawyers and legal workers committed to the spirit and practice of law in the public interest. Founded in 1971, it is the area’s only voluntary bar association dedicated exclusively to promoting pro bono and public interest law. Council members represent every sector of the Washington legal community – lawyers and pro bono coordinators from large and small law firms and law schools, lawyers from public interest groups, government agencies and congressional offices, as well as law students and members of law-related professions. We are united in our conviction that the legal system must be made to serve the needs of the poor and the powerless as well as the more fortunate among us, and share a common concern for the well-being of our community and the integrity of our civil and constitutional rights.

We enthusiastically support these thoughtful and well-developed standards, which will provide much-needed guidance to ensure that the millions of litigants with limited proficiency in English have meaningful access to the courts. For example, the members of WCL include attorneys assisting the homeless, litigants in child welfare cases, and survivors of domestic violence. They are acutely aware of the central role of the courts in assuring rights to housing, protecting families, and ensuring safety. Like all lawyers, they are cognizant of the need for parties to have a clear understanding of court procedures and to be able to fully participate in hearings and trials. The draft standards will make significant inroads towards achieving this goal.

WCL also applauds the comprehensive approach of the standards. We are especially pleased that they are drafted to provide language access services to persons with limited English proficiency not only within the courtroom, but in all court services with public contact. The importance of the recognition for language access beyond the courtroom cannot be underestimated. For many litigants, and particularly, of course, for those appearing pro se, initial contacts with docket office personnel and court clerks are the gateway to judicial redress. Court procedures are often daunting for those fluent in English; for those with limited language ability, the presence of interpreters will greatly assist their ability to comply with procedural rules.

The millions of litigants with limited English proficiency must be provided with the constitutional guarantees of due process, equal protection, and access to the courts. These draft standards will be instrumental in ensuring that these rights are not simply an empty promise, and will help to ensure the integrity of the judicial process.

On behalf of the WCL Board, I wish to thank you and the members of the standing committee for developing these standards and helping to advance this initiative. The Council hopes that the ABA House of Delegates will promptly adopt the standards, so that they may be implemented as widely as possible throughout the judicial system.

Sincerely,

Taryn Wilgus Null
President
Washington Council of Lawyers