CA Court Interpreter Funding Boost Key to Access to Justice

In states like California where roughly 44 percent of residents speak a language other than English, court interpreters are a key component to reasonably equitable justice. Just last week, we noted the backlog of California immigration cases had trumped 500,000 making court interpreters a sought after commodity.

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio's asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio’s asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, the LA Times reported extensively on the challenge of Border Kids whose native language is Mayan.  Many of these kids are coming in from countries such as Guatemala to escape gang violence epidemic with the drug cartels.

They report, “Spoken by almost 80,000 people in mostly rural municipalities in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Kanjobal is common in places like Santa Eulalia… but rare everywhere else.”

As with other court funding issues; however, funding has been short. The shortages have real consequences, according to the Times Report, “The shortage of interpreters is leading to a host of issues. Often, judges delay immigration hearings until one is found. At times, asylum seekers are deported even if they have a strong case because a qualified interpreter cannot be found in time. And unlike in immigration court, interpreters aren’t provided for free during asylum hearings.”

Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law the California budget which includes nearly a 10 percent increase in funds for court interpreters, Slator.com reports, bringing the total over $103 million. This is a major development considering the Justice Index placed California in 30th place out of 52 for language access in its 2016 report.

The money isn’t going into a vacuum either, it appears. The reporter notes, “The numbers are huge. A 2015 report by the Judicial Council of California showed that court interpreters in the state provided a total of 254,000 service days from 2012–13.”

As other states struggle with the Border Kids crisis, court interpreter funding will likely become an ever present issue demanding more attention.

California budget raid jeopardizes Modesto courthouse construction funding

A decision by California lawmakers to raid $1.4 billion from the judicial system during the budget crisis is having a direct impact on a $267 million courthouse construction project in Modesto, according to the ModBee. With 23 courthouse construction projects in the works across the state, the budget raid could have implications well beyond the city borders.

As budgets have become constrained, courthouses have closed, forcing existing courthouses to renovate to accommodate the influx of new cases. Brandi Christensen, facilities support service manager for Stanislaus County Superior Court told the Bee, “We don’t have an inch to move. Our courtrooms are packed every day.”

In addition to lack of space, many courthouses have fallen into deep disrepair from age. In the case of the Modesto courthouse, the Bee reports, “The most modern part of the current courthouse — which houses the courtrooms — was built in 1960. The other half of the courthouse was built in 1871 and remodeled in 1939. The courthouse has no holding cells for inmates, who are kept in jury rooms before their court appearances.”

The Judicial Council of California’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee met on June 28th in San Francisco to go over courthouse construction funding, and found it is coming up short. Very short. The Council directed the staff to develop funding recommendations, in concert with  the Department of Finance, in advance of their next meeting August 4th.

We’ll continue to follow the story, and you can get caught up with full details at the full Modesto Bee article here.

California Ruling Allows ‘Default’ Homeowners To Sue Over Foreclosure

Experts said it’s highly unlikely that former homeowners could unravel their foreclosures and win back their houses. Above, advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment holds a news conference in Carson in 2012. (Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Experts said it’s highly unlikely that former homeowners could unravel their foreclosures and win back their houses. Above, advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment holds a news conference in Carson in 2012. (Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In a landmark decision, the California Supreme Court has ruled that some former homeowners can sue for wrongful foreclosure even if they were in default on their loans. A Los Angeles Times story quotes Katherine Porter, a law professor at UC Irvine and a former monitor for a national settlement over foreclosure abuses: “They opened the courthouse doors.”

During the recent home foreclosure crisis, tales of “robo-signing” emerged when employees of mortgage firms signed off on foreclosure documents even though they had no authority to do so. Troubled borrowers were often bounced around to various employees who gave different answers. The court ruled, in effect, that homeowners facing the resulting chaos may have been wrongly evicted – previously, courts had ruled that those people had no standing because they were in default on their loans.

It remains unclear how many people will be effected, but experts told the Times that it might be tens of thousands. California now joins other states where such challenges are allowed, including Ohio, Massachusetts and Texas. Read the Times story here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foreclosure-ruling-20160302-story.html

IVP Conference: CA Courts Filling With Out-of-State Cases

A recent conference hosted by the Independent Voter Project in California hit upon an issue we’ve been reporting on repeatedly here at CCM. California courts are filling with a backlog of out-of-state cases, as class action lawsuits fill the courts. This, in turn, is buckling the limited resources of the court system, leaving California residents either without nearby courts, or pushing their cases to the back of the line. 

The conference focused on business interests, specifically, but a recent blog they posted noted that businesses are being impacted, alongside residents:

“The fairly recent development of mass-action lawsuits conglomerate residents of multiple states into one lawsuit. Usually it is filed in California due to plaintiff-friendly court policies. Consequently, California courts are filling up with lawsuits where many plaintiffs are not CA residents and don’t receive adequate legal representation.”

Read more here.

Trangender Issues Loom As New Court-Case Frontier

The Sacramento Bee newspaper has a detailed report about why transgender issues will become the next battle now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that same-sex couples have a right to marry. From school policy to federal funding, including civil court actions, the impacts will be many.
 
The Bee reports that “… LGBT leaders, following their successful effort to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, say expanding transgender rights is the next boundary in the culture wars. Last month, a coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations formed to fight the ballot proposal to nullify the bathroom law, calling it a ‘recipe for harassment.'”
 

California, Texas Lead In Immigration Court Delays

It may the one of the few places where Texas does not mind being second to California: immigration case backlog. A Houston Chronicle newspaper report notes that  “… the stack of cases at Texas’ overburdened immigration courts grew by nearly 60 percent since October 2013, bringing the state’s pending cases to a record high of nearly 77,000, making it the largest backlog in the country after California.”
 
The delays are truly staggering, especially for younger people. The Chronicle says “… nationwide it now takes an average of 604 days to process an immigration case, according to an analysis of federal data through April by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In Houston, where the pending case load grew by 13 percent from late 2013 to nearly 32,000 so far this year, the highest in the state, the delay is 636 days.”
 
That’s to be “processed.” Some cases are taking five years to resolve. The HC explained that “… the long overburdened and underfunded immigration court system has been further overwhelmed by the influx of more than 67,000 unaccompanied Central American children who streamed across the Southwest border in 2014. In response, the Obama administration prioritized their cases and those of other migrants who arrived here last year to deter more from coming.” That means folks waiting years for a day in court might have to wait years longer.
 
(Immigration courts are not criminal courts, but rather an administrative function of the Justice Department and are considered civil cases.) Read more here. 
 
 

2013 Budget Cuts Still Forcing Adjustments For Court Facilities

The Desert Dispatch newspaper reports that the supervising judge for San Bernardino County will implement a reorganizational plan that will expand services at the Barstow Courthouse in order to enable the Victorville Courthouse to take on more criminal cases. The report offers a reminder that “… budget cuts in 2013 shuttered courthouses in Barstow, Big Bear, Needles and Chino. A last-minute reprieve thanks to $1.2 million from state courts reserves allowed one courtroom to stay open in Barstow. The lone courtroom allowed traffic, landlord-tenant, small claims and domestic violence cases to continue to be heard three days a week.”
 
Reporter Mike Lamb writes about one impact of the change “… a state judiciary report that was released in August showed San Bernardino County kept more of its felony cases on the docket after 12 months than any other county in California during fiscal year 2012-13. The report showed that county courtrooms are dealing with massive caseloads.” Adjusting the civil caseload might help with that backlog.
 

California Drought Brings Water-Rights Lawsuit

As reported on 6/19 in the Sacramento Bee: "Irrigation water runs along a dried-up ditch in the Sacramento Valley. | Jae C. Hong Associated Press file"

As reported on 6/19 in the Sacramento Bee: “Irrigation water runs along a dried-up ditch in the Sacramento Valley. | Jae C. Hong Associated Press file”

In what’s sure to become a milestone civil case, a group of water districts is suing California regulators over the state’s order prohibiting holders of some of the oldest water rights from pumping water out of rivers and streams. The Sacramento Bee newspaper explains that “… the lawsuit, filed in Stanislaus Superior Court, challenges the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision last week to ban diversions by 114 different rights holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds.”
 
The Bee adds that “… the affected groups are senior water rights holders. That means they’ve held the right to divert water since before 1914, when California established its rights system. Last week’s decision by the water board marked the first time since the drought of 1977 that any senior rights have been curtailed.”
 
Western state’s water laws are the stuff of legend, with some using “use it or lose it” policies that fall a bit short on conversation. Read more about the California situation here: Lawsuits challenge California’s drought plan

Trial Court Operations Still Facing Budget Shortfalls

The state’s trial courts are facing diminished revenues from case filing fees and penalties, and that’s bringing some pressure on budget decisions. The Courthouse News explains that “… though Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget gives California trial courts $90.6 million in new funding, the state Judicial Council slashed $22.7 million across the board to address a shortfall in a critical fund for trial court operations…”
 
The CN also notes that “… the courts have seen diminished revenues from case filing fees and penalties for two fiscal years now. Brown’s budget included $66 million to compensate for that deficit, but the Trial Court Trust Fund is still short $22.7 million…  the council voted unanimously to take the money out of the $90.6 million before it is allocated to the courts.
 

New State Budget Gives Courts A Slight Increase

 

Gov. Brown’s latest spending  plan gives California courts a slight boost from the January version, but falls well short of restoring the drastic cuts that have hit the system over the last half-decade. The San Jose Mercury-News break it down as “… [the increase is] from last year’s $3.29 billion to about $3.47 billion, with most of that increase headed to the 58 trial courts around California hit hardest by past cutbacks. Courts in counties across the state, including Bay Area systems in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, have been forced to reduce public hours, lay off employees and shutter remote courthouses as a result of prior cuts that at one point exceeded $1 billion over several years.”

Read the story here.