Phila. court offering legal documents in 6 foreign languages

Posted: March 01, 2014

The city's court system has taken steps to help Philadelphia's growing immigrant communities navigate their way around the courtroom.

This month, the First Judicial District released Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese translations of some of the most frequently used documents in Family Court and Municipal Court.

The translation project, a $25,000 undertaking, is designed to make life easier for non-English-speakers who have a tough time making sense of jargon-loaded court documents.

"We've seen how frustrating the process can be for people who don't speak the language," Common Pleas Court President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper said late last week. "We wanted to help."

Woods-Skipper, along with several other judges and the Philadelphia Bar Association's language access task force, a group of lawyers that works with many non-English-speaking clients, oversaw the translation project, which took about two years.

The court's interpreters handled the Spanish translations; Quantum Inc., which often provides interpreters to the court, translated documents into the five other languages.

Twenty-nine documents, including those related to landlord-tenant disputes and traffic violations, were translated into each language.

The goal of each document translation, said Enrique Garcia, a staff interpreter, was to find a "functional equivalent" word or phrase in a foreign language.

Consider the Spanish functional equivalent for "waiver," a common word in legalese. Garcia said it requires two words: renuncia voluntaria.

"People do seem to appreciate being able to read that piece of paper that they're signing in their own language," Garcia said. "It's a way to make people more comfortable."

The project could also be a money saver for the court, Woods-Skipper said, as it will no longer have to pay interpreters to do in-person translations of the 29 documents that were part of the project.

"It's a win for everyone," she said.

215-854-2619 @szweifler

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