Eliminating Barriers to Justice: Language Access

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.

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A letter from a GLSP client’s son

A letter from a client’s son reminds us at GLSP of the importance of this work.

August 26, 2015

To Whom it May Concern,

This letter is to serve as a testament and record of outstanding work by [GLSP attorney], Attorney for Georgia Legal Services on behalf of my mother, [name kept confidential] and her family.

In all work, communication, and outcome [GLSP attorney] was nothing short of extraordinary.

In order to qualify for a government program, one must have the Wisdom of Solomon and the engagement of a Wall Street Banker. [GLSP attorney] navigated the ways and means of my mother’s needs with aplomb, energy, and a delightful sense of charm. She was at all times a complete professional, yet my family always felt that she treated individuals as people, not rotating digits.

That [GLSP attorney]’s work was completely successful is beyond our dreams, and yet that is exactly what this outstanding attorney accomplished. My dear mother is in a nursing home under the care of the Medicaid program, and she is finally receiving the immediate care an elderly woman with health problems should receive.

We are grateful to Georgia Legal Services, and in particular, to [GLSP attorney] for providing sterling assistance in a difficult field.

You have our profound thanks.

Most Sincerely,

[Son of client kept confidential]

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GLSP Health Policy Specialist Honored

Linda Lowe_Award Ceremony_Sept 9 2015_2

Georgians for a Healthy Future’s First Annual Consumer Health Impact Awards were held on Sept. 9, 2015, and included a Health Advocacy Award in honor of Linda Lowe, Health Policy Specialist at Georgia Legal Services. The award is to be given to a professional or volunteer advocate whose “work advances access to quality, affordable health care in Georgia”, focusing on a vulnerable population and working toward policy change. Georgians for a Healthy Future say Linda, “has dedicated her career to serving as an advocate on behalf of underserved Georgians who need a voice on health and human services issues.” Linda is a public policy advocate focusing on Medicaid and other health programs for low-income Georgians, and has been at GLSP for over thirty years.

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GLSP Attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper Awarded

Jana J. Edmonson Cooper.  Photo by John Disney/Daily Report.

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper Photo by John Disney/Daily Report

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper was selected by the National Bar Association (NBA) to receive its Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Under 40 Award during the NBA’s 90th Annual Convention held in Los Angeles, CA July 19 -23, 2015. The award recognizes the nation’s top lawyers under 40 who exemplify a broad range of high achievement, including in innovation, vision, leadership and legal and community involvement. In addition to the 40 Under 40 recognition, five of the forty awardees were deemed to have distinguished themselves further by exemplifying Excellence in Activism, Excellence in Innovation, Excellence in Leadership, Excellence in Service and as Best Advocate of the Year, respectively and honored with a second award to that effect. Jana was honored with the Excellence in Service Award for exemplifying service to low-income and underrepresented individuals, particularly those who have limited or no ability to communicate in English.

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GLSP Attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper Awarded

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper has been selected to receive an Award of Achievement from the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the State Bar of Georgia . Jana has been active with the YLD for several years including graduating from the YLD’s Leadership Academy in 2012 and serving as a Middle District Representative from 2012-2014.  Last year, Jana was appointed to serve on the  2014-2015 YLD Board of Directors as Director of Membership Outreach.   Jana will be honored for her distinguished service to the YLD and presented with the award during the Young Lawyers Division Dinner , which will be held during the State Bar of Georgia’s Annual Meeting at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Center in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The Dinner will take place on Friday, June 19th starting at 7:30pm

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Former GLSP Attorney Named Georgia’s Magistrate of the Year

Patricia Barron was named Georgia’s 2015 Magistrate of the Year at the Georgia Council’s annual meeting in May. Judge Barron, currently Athens-Clarke County Chief Magistrate Court Judge, worked at Georgia Legal Services Program throughout the state for twenty years.

“She was devoted to her clients and set a high standard for her staff during her service as Managing Attorney of the Gainesville office,” GLSP Executive Director Phyllis Holmen remembers of Judge Barron’s work. “We’ve watched her career as Magistrate in Athens, and are proud of the innovations she has brought to that court to underscore her commitment to access to justice.”

Patricia Barron, a native of Atlanta and an alumna of Georgetown University Law Center, also worked at the University of Georgia School of Law’s Family Violence Clinic, where as a managing attorney she trained law students on representing victims of domestic violence. The judge has served at the Athens-Clarke Magistrate Court for nearly fifteen years, and was appointed chief judge in only her second year at the Court.

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New York Times highlights GLSP school-discipline case

The New York Times carried a front page story Dec. 11, 2014, about an African-American  Henry County girl harshly disciplined for writing one word on a locker, “Hi,” while the white child involved in the incident received a lesser punishment, though her actions were more destructive. GLSP attorney Mike Tafelski is pictured and quoted.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Mike Tafelski was also interviewed on NPR’s “The Takeaway” on Dec. 12, 2014.

To listen to that radio program, CLICK HERE.

And, Mike Tafelski was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “On Second Thought” on Dec. 15, 2014.

To listen to that radio program, CLICK HERE

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