This Georgia Bar Journal article featured and interview with GLSP attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper on language barriers and access to justice. Read the full article here, on pg. 76.
Eliminating Barriers to Justice: How and Why to Ensure Language Access for Limited English Proficient and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Litigants
The Lawyer’s Creed states that we should: “strive to improve the law and our legal system, to make the law and our legal system available to all, and to seek the common good through the representation of my clients.” This access to justice extends to those with limited English proficiency, and deaf and hard of hearing litigants. In his 2014 State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson addressed the subject of language access: “As Georgia continues to grow in population and diversity, access to justice is a challenge requiring the commitment and hard work of us all. . . . In addition to poor people, those who do not speak English are entitled to justice as well. . . . To prepare for the future, Georgia’s courts need an army of trained, certified interpreters. . . .
Currently, Georgia has only 149 licensed court interpreters, and they speak only 12 languages. That is not enough. . . .” Through the leadership of Chief Justice Thompson and other justices, and the work of attorneys like Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper, Immediate Past President Patrise M. Perkins-Hooker and countless other Georgia judges and attorneys, we are making strides toward ensuring access to justice for those with language barriers such as limited English proficiency (LEP) and deaf/hard of hearing litigants (DHH).
Spotlight on Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper
I asked Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper, Bilingual Staff Attorney in the Macon Regional Office of the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) and member of the Supreme Court of Georgia Commission on Interpreters (COI), to share her involvement with this important issue—ensuring those persons involved in our judicial system who have limited English proficiency or are deaf or hard of hearing get the justice they are owed, and we had an enlightening dialogue. AH: How did you get involved in the movement to recognize language as an access to justice issue?
JEC: After fellow GLSP attorney Lisa Krisher and I co-wrote an article in 2012, “Seen But Often Unheard: Limited English Proficiency in Georgia,” Bernadette Olmos, of A.B. Olmos and Associates P.C., contacted us and told us she was pleased to learn that other attorneys were also interested in addressing language access challenges faced by LEP and DHH litigants. As a result, the three of us formed an ad hoc committee of attorneys representing various public interest organizations and the private bar that began meeting monthly in January 2013. We discussed ongoing issues seen in courtrooms statewide regarding language access and in several practice areas including family law, education law, criminal law and civil rights, and later invited other attorneys, interpreters and judges to discuss these issues in greater depth. The committee decided that one way to tackle the common problems of language access in the courts was to develop a comprehensive training where language access stakeholders, especially attorneys and judges, would learn best practices when using interpreters in legal proceedings, strengthen cultural competency skills and learn the legal ethics of language access.
AH: Can you share some contexts where language access and the need for an interpreter are at issue?
JEC: Here are a few anecdotes provided by Georgia attorneys: SCENARIO #1: An attorney represented a client in a family violence matter on a day when no interpreters were available. The judge asked the bailiff to go to the local Mexican restaurant and grab somebody to come and interpret for the proceedings
Read the full article here, on pg. 76.