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COURT INTERPRETERS CONTINUE WITH STRIKE SAN JOSE — A four-day strike by Northern California court interpreters ends today, and negotiations for a contract are scheduled to begin again on Thursday. Interpreters who picketed Tuesday outside the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice say they want a cost-of-living pay boost, but court officials say there is just no money in the state budget for raises this year. The union is calling this “bad-faith bargaining.” Interpreters will be protesting today at courthouses around the Bay Area. Kiri Torre, the CEO of the Santa Clara courts, said $15 million of the state budget this year was set aside for the first time to pay for interpreters’ benefits. “That’s huge,” she said. “There is no money left; not this year. They [the interpreters] have to look at the future.” Interpreters have never signed a long-term contract with the courts, and until three years ago were simply contracted on a day-to-day basis. In 2002, new legislation passed, and interpreters were recognized as court employees. Interpreters make $265 a day, which is roughly $68,000 a year if they work five days a week. They say they haven’t received a pay raise in five years and they are sick of working without benefits. Torre said she was surprised that interpreters with Region 2, which encompasses the greater Bay Area, decided to strike when negotiations hadn’t even hit an impasse yet. However, the union, which represents the 170 employees in Region 2, sees the situation differently. “[Courts] have been stubborn. They have been unreasonable, and we are tired of it,” Mary Lou Aranguren shouted outside the Hall of Justice on Tuesday. “We need them to meet us at the table.” Torre, for one, said her court is willing to negotiate. There are 27 interpreters employed in Santa Clara courts. Torre said courtroom proceedings went smoothly despite the four-day strike. The county hired temporary interpreters from agencies. — Julie O’Shea DA, PD HASH OUT DRUG COURT RULES San Francisco’s public defender and district attorney recently agreed on updated guidelines for the city’s drug court. The expiration of the last memorandum of understanding about a year ago prompted a round of negotiations over eligibility and other rules for the superior court program, which allows some defendants to avoid incarceration by completing court-supervised drug treatment. In January, District Attorney Kamala Harris said she was concerned that too many drug dealers were taking advantage of the program, which is meant for addicts charged with nonviolent, drug-related felonies. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, on the other hand, had said his office might argue to expand drug court. “We were very far apart in the process at the beginning,” the public defender’s chief attorney, Teresa Caffese, said last week. In the end, both sides compromised, she said. Russell Giuntini, who represented the district attorney at the negotiating table, was out of the office Tuesday. Caffese said the public defender’s office is pleased with some changes in the new agreement, which was signed June 20 and will be in effect until June 2009. For instance, defendants accused of selling Ecstasy or possessing it for sale can be caught with up to 20 tablets and still be allowed into drug court; the old limit was five pills. The DA’s office prevailed on some points, too, Caffese said, noting that the public defender’s office wasn’t able to change a provision for accused drug sellers: Unlike some other participants, if those defendants fail the drug court program, they get a guilty plea on their record rather than the option to go to trial. — Pam Smith

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