In a recent move, the New Jersey judiciary is introducing several changes to the state’s courthouses to better accommodate the state’s large Latino population. Advocates for the Spanish-speaking residents have been pushing for more accessible court services for several years, and immigration attorneys in New Jersey say that the changes will allow more residents to take advantage of the state’s legal services.
Glenn Grant, acting Administrative Director of the Courts, announced last month that more Spanish-speaking interpreters will be available for trials and depositions, and the state plans to add several Spanish signs to the Freehold building at the Monmouth County Courthouse. These changes reflect the growing push for equal access for all litigants in New Jersey courtrooms.
In 2009, the Latino Coalition of Freehold began negotiations with Monmouth County officials, requesting better accommodations for Spanish-speaking constituents, which is the largest foreign language group in the state in need of language and legal assistance. The Coalition became involved after learning that Monmouth Court officials were sending Spanish-speaking people to the county’s social service agencies to have their court summons and other legal documents and forms translated into their primary language. Litigants would have to take time off work in order to visit the social services area, and the lengthy translation process sometimes took too long, and the courts dismissed the cases.
Another issue taken up by the Coalition was the English signs around the courtroom indicating that recording devices are always in operation, even when court is not in session. As part of the courthouse’s updates, bilingual versions of this sign will be put up around the building to inform both Spanish and English-speaking visitors that their conversations may be recorded.
Other updates were detailed in a letter to the coalition from Glenn Grant. The courthouse’s direction maps, signs, LCD displays with the judge’s names and courtroom numbers, and the computerized kiosks have been modified to use both Spanish and English, and the Central Fee Office signs have been translated as well. The courthouse staff have been trained to direct anyone who has difficulty filling out their forms or reading court documents because of a language barrier to the trial court administrator’s office, and translated forms will be made available.
Another change will bring translators from the Special Civil Part to the courthouse for Spanish-speaking defendants and witnesses to testify and give statements, as well as to liaison with New Jersey immigration attorneys as necessary. These interpreters have been assigned to the courthouse before, during, and after small claims and landlord-tenant calendar calls. The courthouse will also post signs directing non English-speaking litigants to take up concerns with the trial court administrator or the operations manager.
The immigration attorneys at New Jersey-based law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, hope that the positive changes in the Monmouth County court system will have a ripple effect across the state, as more and more Spanish-speaking families call New Jersey home. Attorneys at HCK represent immigrants who have had difficulties with the state’s legal system.