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Sacramento, Calif.-The California Judicial Council is backing a bill to guarantee all civil litigants, including those in traffic and small claims court, the right to an interpreter-even though there’s no money earmarked yet for the proposal. Supporters of the bill say they are hoping that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will come through with the potentially tens of millions of dollars that may be needed to hire new interpreters for an enormous civil-side demand. “We’re going to be making a case, I think a very compelling case, that these resources need to be provided,” said Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, the bill’s author. But H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Finance Department, said that while the administration supports the use of translators in civil cases, the judiciary needs to look within its own budget for the additional money. Nobody knows just what the price tag would be. California will spend $86 million this fiscal year for interpreters’ services that are required by law in criminal cases. Since 2001, the Judicial Council has added $1.6 million in annual grants to ensure that interpreters are available in some domestic violence hearings. Stretched thin Some courts are already stretched thin just trying to provide qualified translators in the criminal division. In Los Angeles County, for example, the courts rely on 690 interpreters to translate 122 languages, some so rare that it requires the skills of more than one employee. Los Angeles court spokesman Allan Parachini recalled one case that required three interpreters: one to translate a witness’s obscure Colombian dialect into another Central American Indian dialect, a second to translate that dialog into Spanish and a third to inform the court in English just what was being said. “While we meet the demand, we are managing to meet it with some difficulty,” Parachini said. “How and where we would find the interpreter person-power to handle the civil cases, I don’t know.” “It’s definitely a bill that will be costly,” said Eraina Ortega, manager of the Administrative Office of the Courts’ governmental affairs division. “The [Judicial Council's] support is based on the notion that this will be funded somehow.” The bill has proved popular early on, with Jones drawing more than two dozen co-authors from both sides of the political aisle. California Chief Justice Ronald George and state bar President James Heiting also offered their endorsements when Jones introduced the legislation. Jones and bill backers are pinning their hopes for more money on comments the governor made during his State of the State speech in January.

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