Jailed Spanish speakers getting raw deal, JPs say
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 25, 2003 12:00 AM
Jim Walsh

Valley justices of the peace charged Thursday that Spanish speakers are getting unequal justice, languishing in jail longer than English speakers
because of an ill-advised budget cut.

In a letter of protest sent to judges and court administrators, the Maricopa County Justice of the Peace Association demanded reinstatement of "specialty pay" for bilingual court clerks to act as interpreters at video arraignments.

East Tempe Justice of the Peace John Ore estimated that a half-dozen Spanish-speaking defendants have spent up to a week more in jail for the
same crime as English speakers because an interpreter was unavailable during video arraignments.

He said video arraignments on misdemeanors such as trespassing and liquor violations are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in his court, but an interpreter is available only on Thursdays.

In video arraignments, the defendant is in jail and a judge is in a courtroom. The association says 90 percent of defendants plead guilty at video arraignments, are sentenced to time served and released.

"If a person is held in jail one day longer, one hour longer than he should be, that's unconstitutional," Ore said.

But county Justice Court Administrator Brian Karth said that justices of the peace are apparently misusing untrained clerks to translate and only trained interpreters should be used in court.

"I am not aware of a circumstance where a person is being held longer because of the bilingual pay issue," Karth said.

Karth said he cut the bilingual differential pay in January because the county budgeted $10,000 and had spent $60,000. Clerks were paid 50 cents to
$1 more an hour based on competency.

But he said the pay always was intended for clerks to assist Spanish speakers in routine court functions, not in court proceedings.