Court interpreters claiming a severe shortage in Santa Clara County have recruited dozens of lawyers in demanding more interpreters be hired.
Several court employees said the shortage of interpreters is creating a crisis and two-tier justice system in the county. Lawyers teaming up with the interpreters said the problem is reaching critical mass.
The shortage of interpreters at the very least is creating long waits inside the courtrooms, according to lawyers.
"There definitely is a shortage," said Juan Lopez, a lawyer with the Alternate Defender's Office. "We're waiting around in court 30 to 40 minutes."
Lopez said sometimes his clients have to return in the afternoon, a hardship when some were only given half a day off by their employers.
"I've had people break down and cry," Lopez said. "It's a sad situation for a lot of people."
Advocates said at least seven interpreters are needed at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice, but claim they average only five interpreters. The current staffing level means interpreters who are available are rushing from courtroom to courtroom, advocates said.
"It has been a concern for many years," said Carmen Ramos, a court interpreter. "And now it's a crisis."
The court administration declined to respond to the allegations. In addition, court administration said the court interpreters' union will start labor negotiations soon and do not want to negotiate that contract in the media.
Meanwhile, lawyers said the issue is not about a contract, but about the due process clause in the constitution.
Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman released the following statement regarding the issue:
"We share the defense bar's concern regarding the interpreter shortage. It is not uncommon that the defendant and the victim in a case speak the same language, which may require multiple interpreters for a single court session. We have observed Spanish interpreters utilized to the point of exhaustion during a sexual assault case."
Harman also said in another sexual assault case, the unavailability of a Mandarin interpreter caused a delay in the jury trial.