Beginning in November 2001, deaf people began experiencing problems securing qualified sign language interpreters for court proceedings in the Minnesota State Court system. Eight deaf people reported to the Minnesota Commission Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (MCDHH) and the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) that on several occasions they had not been provided with any interpreter for their court hearings and on other occasions they had been provided with an unqualified interpreter. As the result of actions initiated by these eight deaf people, with the assistance of the MCDHH and the MDLC, the Minnesota Supreme Court has taken steps to correct this problem and ensure that deaf people will receive qualified sign language interpreters when they go to court.
As part of the settlement of lawsuits brought by the eight deaf people, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to provide the Notice to the Deaf Community which is attached to this announcement. The Notice acknowledges the problem many deaf people experienced and describes the types of action the Minnesota Supreme Court will take to correct the problem and make sure that it does not happen again.
In November 2001, the number of instances in which deaf people were not provided with qualified interpreters during court hearings in the Minnesota state courts increased significantly. This increase followed the adoption by the Minnesota State Court Administrator’s office of new policies which centralized the system for providing interpreters. One deaf person went to court six times before the court provided a qualified sign language interpreter. Other deaf people reported three to five appearances without qualified interpreters. On some occasions, a deaf person came to court after requesting an interpreter and waited several hours before being told that the court could not find a qualified interpreter. On other occasions, the court-provided interpreter was not adequately qualified to interpret for a court proceeding. In one case, the interpreter was a recent graduate of a college interpreting program who told the deaf person that she had no experience in court and did not know what she was doing there. In another, the presiding judge wanted the deaf person’s daughter to be the interpreter. On each of these occasions, the deaf person objected to the lack of an interpreter or objected to the lack of qualifications of the interpreter.
After encountering these problems in the Minnesota state courts, eight deaf people contacted the MCDHH and the MDLC, who assisted them in bringing their complaints to the attention of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Later the eight deaf people filed suit, because the time period for bringing legal action to correct the problems was running out. The complaints and lawsuits led to a negotiated Settlement Agreement the parties believe will help correct the problem.
In the Settlement Agreement between the parties, the Court reaffirmed its commitment to provide qualified sign language interpreters in court proceedings, including its commitment to use sign language interpreters who are certified to interpret for legal matters (those who have SC:L certification) wherever possible. The Court reaffirmed its policies (set forth in Rule 8 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice) to provide these interpreters. In order to meet this commitment, the court has hired a part-time sign language interpreter who has RID CI/CT certification, and has begun a training program to assist this interpreter in obtaining her SC: L certification. The Supreme Court also agreed to continue to evaluate the system it uses to provide sign language interpreters for court proceedings. The evaluation procedure will include an opportunity for deaf people to provide feedback and other comments and criticisms about their experiences during court proceedings. As part of the evaluation process, the court will interview deaf people (selected on a random basis) who have used the court system. In addition, the Court agreed to pay compensation to the eight deaf people who did not have qualified interpreters for their court appearances.
In the future, the MDLC and the MCDHH will continue to monitor the courts to ensure that deaf people are provided with qualified sign language interpreters during court proceedings. The State Court Administrator’s office will gather information from the District to determine whether the courts are providing qualified sign language interpreters and will share that information with the MDLC.
If you or your organization learn about any deaf people who are not provided with an interpreter during a court proceeding, or any deaf person who is provided with a sign language interpreter who is not qualified to interpret in the court proceeding, please contact the Minnesota Disability Law Center at the telephone number at the end of this announcement.
For further information, contact Rick Macpherson, Staff Attorney at Minnesota Disability Law Center – 612-746-3737 or 612/332-4668 (TDD); email: [email protected]. Or Mary Hartnett of the Minnesota Commission Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing People – 651-297-7305; email: [email protected].