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Providing Language Access in the Courts: Working Together to Ensure Justice
March 11th, 2014 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Deeana Jang, Chief of the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section in the Civil Rights Division.

Access to courts and administrative proceedings is critically important.    Whether cases involve child custody, domestic violence, eviction, foreclosure, wage claims or criminal prosecution, the stakes are too high for individuals to be effectively excluded from courtroom participation because of their English proficiency.  Limited English proficient (LEP) individuals should not lose custody of their children because of their English ability.  LEP victims of domestic abuse should not have to rely on family, friends or abusers to interpret in the courtroom, and LEP defendants should not be interpreted by prosecutors.  Regardless of English proficiency, individuals need to understand and have access to judicial proceedings and court operations.  We are all considered equal under the law, and ensuring equal treatment and access in the judicial system are priorities of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

There are over 25 million people in the United States who are considered limited English proficient individuals, a population that has almost doubled since 1990.  Our justice system is a cornerstone of our democracy and our constitutional right to due process.    Meaningful language access is not just necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our judicial system; it is required by law.  Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, entities that receive federal financial assistance cannot discriminate on the basis of national origin, and failing to provide language access in courts violates Title VI.

Recently, we were delighted to bring together key stakeholders in the justice system to discuss efforts to improve language access in the courts for LEP individuals and to address the work that remains.  At that event, we released our Language Access Planning and Technical Assistance Tool for Courts, designed to help courts prevent Title VI violations and ensure access to justice for all.  This tool allows court systems to self-assess how they are providing language services and how these services can be improved.  It is the product of the experience of our team at FCS and the thoughtful comments by numerous individuals and organizations, representing the bench, bar, advocates and others who reviewed a draft when it was made available for public comment.  We are grateful for their input and hope this tool will be used by court systems for years to come.

Associate Attorney General Tony West and Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels of the Civil Rights Division made clear in their remarks at the event that ensuring access to state courts for LEP individuals is a priority at the highest levels of the Department of Justice.

“While there are myriad challenges we face while trying to provide equal access to justice, we are focusing on one important component here today — the ability of LEP individuals to receive equal access to language services,” said Samuels.  “Our collective commitment to justice is what makes our system work, and all individuals should be able to participate meaningfully, from the time they walk into the courthouse to the time they leave it.”

To ensure that no LEP individual is denied justice due to a court’s failure to provide language services, the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section’s (FCS) Courts Team provides policy guidance and technical assistance to state court systems and undertakes enforcement actions across the country.  Previous blogs have highlighted this work, for example, in Rhode Island and Colorado.  Most recently, the department resolved a complaint with the King County Superior Court in Washington, and the North Carolina Court System has committed to provide full free interpreter coverage for LEP litigants as a result of an FCS investigation.

But we know that we cannot make meaningful language access a reality without the work of other committed stakeholders, including the courts, bar, advocates and access to justice communities.  The event was an illustration of this shared commitment, and featured Vanessa Ruiz, Senior Judge on the DC Court of Appeals; Lisa Wood, Chair, American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants; and Harry Spence, the Court Administrator for the Massachusetts Trial Court.  Panelists discussed the DOJ tool, the American Bar Association 2012 Standards for Language Access in Courts and promising practices in Massachusetts.  We were also pleased to have staff from the National Center for State Courts at this event to share information on their Call to Action.  The National Center on Access to Justice also highlighted their new Justice Index, a tool that provides a snapshot of state rankings in several key access to justice areas.  We were joined by staff from the Access to Justice Initiative who underscored the connection between access to justice and language assistance services in courts and administrative proceedings.

The department has taken similar measures with other recipients of federal funding, such as jails, juvenile justice facilities and law enforcement agencies.  As a result, many recipients have created language access rules and plans.  For instance, the New York Governor’s Office required language access plans, and in Washington, D.C., the Office of Human Rights oversees and enforces the D.C. Language Access Act of 2004.  We have also worked with our partners across the federal government to ensure that all federal agencies are living up to their commitment to provide meaningful access to their services to LEP individuals and their beneficiaries.

A video of the event will be available on the state courts resources page of the LEP website.  The resource list from the event is available here.  Many thanks to Christine Stoneman, Michael Mulé, Andrea Plewes and the rest of the FCS staff, contractors and interns for making this happen.

For further information about FCS’s work, please visit the website and read our Title VI Four Year Report.  For additional LEP-related resources, please go to www.LEP.gov.

The Department of Justice Recognizes National Consumer Protection Week
March 7th, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division

Those who violate consumer protection laws can cause devastating harm, often hitting our most vulnerable consumers the hardest. Victims of fraud, misrepresentation, and unsafe drug manufacturing and food production practices can lose significant amounts of hard-earned and much-needed money. But they also face a loss of trust in the marketplace, a loss of confidence in products we need like medicine or food, and a loss of security when we fall victim to a scam. That is why it is critical to expose these insidious practices and hold perpetrators accountable. Or as President Obama said in his proclamation of National Consumer Protection Week: “[O]ur Nation’s economy is only as strong as its people, and we recommit to fostering a sense of basic fairness in our marketplace.”

For that reason, I am particularly proud of the work the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, a part of the Civil Division, is doing to enforce federal consumer protection laws and protect our communities. We employ all of the tools at our disposal—administrative, civil, and criminal—to protect consumers from the misdeeds that cause harm. But we also know this is a team effort. So, we collaborate with other federal agencies and state partners—sharing information, data and investigative practices where we can–and we engage in vibrant collaboration with the consumer advocacy community.

Without effective enforcement, those who prey on consumers will feel free to continue. So, we are fighting fraud and misrepresentation wherever they may lurk, recognizing that violations of the federal consumer protection laws come in all shapes and sizes. We continue to bring consumer cases involving financial fraud, including mortgage fraud, lottery scams, abusive and deceptive debt collection practices, and business-opportunity schemes. We are also pursuing new forms of telemarketing fraud, and immigration services fraud. We enforce laws against products that are unsafe for children – such as toys made with toxic materials. And we continue to investigate the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and violations of the rules for manufacturing and marketing of drugs, medical devices, and food.

The following are recent examples of the range of cases we bring to protect our most vulnerable consumers:

We prosecuted two Miami residents who owned and operated companies that targeted Spanish-speaking consumers with a fraudulent telemarketing scheme. The telemarketers lied to consumers about products they would receive and threatened them with false consequences for the failure to pay for shipments of products they did not order and did not want. Both defendants pled guilty and received significant prison sentences; one defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison, the other to ten years in prison.

The recent civil and criminal case against Ranbaxy USA Inc., a subsidiary of Indian generic pharmaceutical manufacturer Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited, demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that pharmaceutical companies comply with current good manufacturing practices so that the drugs they produce have the identity and strength and meet the quality and purity characteristics that they purport to possess. In this ground breaking case—because of its focus on overseas manufacturing —Ranbaxy USA pled guilty to felony charges relating to the manufacture and distribution of certain drugs made at two of Ranbaxy’s manufacturing facilities in India. Ranbaxy agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture totaling $150 million.

A recent injunction against Pennsylvania-based dairy firms and individuals illustrates our vigilance to make sure that the food on our tables is safe to eat. The Consumer Protection Branch obtained a permanent injunction designed to prevent the distribution of foods that contain excessive drug residue in a case concerning the sale of cows that contained antibiotic residues in their edible tissues. Excessive levels of certain drugs in the edible tissues of animals pose a significant public health risk. In this case, the defendants had received numerous warnings from both FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture that their conduct violated the law, and they failed to take steps to correct those violations.

Violations of the federal consumer protection laws may not always make the headlines, but they affects millions of Americans each year. As we mark National Consumer Protection Week at the Department of Justice, we reaffirm our commitment to using the authorities we have been given to protect consumers from all manner of harm that these legal violations can cause.

The Consumer Protection Branch leads the Justice Department’s efforts to protect the health, safety and economic security of the American consumer. The Branch, together with its partners in the Department’s U.S. Attorney’s Offices and in consumer protection agencies, fulfills this mission through civil and criminal enforcement of federal consumer protection statutes across the country. Since 2009, the consumer protection efforts of the Civil Division, working with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country, have led to recoveries of more than $6.7 billion, to over 175 criminal convictions, and to total sentences of confinement exceeding 397 years. Visit www.justice.gov/civil for the latest Civil Division news, www.justice.gov/civil/cpb/cpb_home.html to learn more about the Consumer Protection Branch, or follow the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Twitter @TheJusticeDept.

“We Are All Our Brothers’ Keepers”
March 5th, 2014 Posted by

Karol Mason candid

This post is courtesy of Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

Last week I attended the President’s announcement of his new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” a plan to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and play by the rules has the chance to reach his full potential.  The initiative is aimed at finding ways the federal government, community leaders, the private sector and philanthropies can create more opportunities for young men of color and send the message that our country is stronger when all Americans are doing well.  

A key goal of this effort is to address the overrepresentation of African American and Latino men in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and reduce the rates of violence and victimization that they experience. At the Office of Justice Programs we’re taking what we know about adolescent development and working to promote a juvenile justice system that is both effective and fair.  

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that African American young men between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest rate of violent victimization of any race or age group.  For African American young men between 10 and 24, homicide is not only the leading cause of death, but it results in more deaths than the next four leading causes combined. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Latino youth in the same age group. At the same time, the rates of arrest and incarceration for young men of color are disproportionately high.  African American youth make up just 16 percent of the overall youth population but more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime. As the President said, “these statistics should break out hearts. And they should compel us to act.” 

It is in our collective interest to recognize that the image many people of color have of our criminal justice system is that it is biased against their young men.  We need to simultaneously work to build trust and to end the violence that threatens so many of our youth. The reality is that no one wants to see these problems – not the families who live in these communities, and not the officers who keep the communities safe. The Justice Department’s COPS Office and Community Relations Service, for example, are striving to build trust and mutual respect and a stronger relationship between law enforcement officials and the neighborhoods they serve.  These programs work closely with law enforcement and human service agencies to identify these challenges and design effective solutions.  

At the Department of Justice we are engaged in a number of efforts to encourage and facilitate this collaboration. The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which is led by the White House and involves the Justice Department and other federal agencies, brings all major community stakeholders together to develop strategies for addressing youth violence – citizens, community and faith-based groups, law enforcement, public health, businesses, and philanthropies.  Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also manages the Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, which supports evidence-based violence reduction efforts that involve community residents in changing norms and helping their youth find a way to avoid crime and violence.  Through the Defending Childhood initiative, we are promoting early intervention programs designed to put kids who are exposed to violence back on the path to healthy development and steer and harmful behavior.  And we provide support for mentoring services that help children who have parents behind bars, and work to keep young people from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. 

But the Department of Justice is only one part of the response.  The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will rely on the resources of the private sector and philanthropies  to use evidence-based solutions to strengthen and replicate programs that work, and reinforce to our young people the message that their country believes in them enough to invest in their success. 

Working together, we can – and will – make a difference.

Attorney General Holder Meets with Tribal Nations Leadership Council
February 27th, 2014 Posted by

Attorney General Eric Holder met this week with members of the Tribal Nations Leadership Council (TNLC) at the Justice Department.  The council, which meets twice a year with the Attorney General and with numerous officials of the Justice Department, was created in 2010 and consists of tribal leaders from around the country. The TNLC advises the Attorney General on issues critical to tribal communities.  On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the council heard about and discussed progress and challenges facing their communities in ensuring public safety, protecting tribal lands and natural resources, and civil rights, among others.   One area of progress noted was the recently announced pilot project under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013), as well as reflected on the first two public meetings of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence in Bismarck, N.D., (December 2013) and earlier this month in Phoenix.  The group also discussed tribal grant making at the Department, which has resulted in more than $430 million in grants under the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation over the past four years. 

As Attorney General Holder commented: 

The Tribal Nations Leadership Council plays a critical role in fostering open dialogue between the Justice Department and tribal governments throughout the country. Especially in recent years, we have begun to take historic steps forward in tribal sovereignty and self-determination, including through the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.  In many areas, federal and tribal partnerships are strengthening public safety.  And they are enabling us to invest in the future by focusing on the needs of children, finding ways to reduce the traumatic impact of violence on young lives, and nurture native youth leadership.

The TNLC is composed of tribal leaders selected by tribal governments to advise Justice Department leadership on an ongoing basis, and is the fulfillment of a pledge made by Attorney General Holder at the department’s Tribal Nations Listening Session in October 2009. The TNLC is composed of one tribal leader from each of the twelve regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs:

Tribal Nations Leadership Council Members:

Michael J. Stickman, First Chief, Naluto Village, Alaska
Lynn Malerba, Chief, The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, Connecticut
Ron Sparkman, Chairman, Shawnee Tribe, Oklahoma
Bryan Brewer, President, Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota
Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota
Ben Shelly, President, Navajo Nation, Arizona           
W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman/Executive Director, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Washington
Juana Majel Dixon, Councilwoman, Pauma-Yuima Band of Mission Indians, California
Merlin Sioux, Council Member, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Montana
John Barrett, Jr., Chairman, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Oklahoma
Diane Enos, President, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
Gary Hayes, Council Member for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Colorado/Utah

Ensuring the Right to Counsel for All Individuals
February 20th, 2014 Posted by
This blog is posted courtesy of DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance policy advisor Kim Ball.
February 11, 2014

By: Kim Ball, BJA Policy Advisor

Last year, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). This case unanimously established that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that states appoint lawyers for those accused of a crime that carries a potential loss of liberty who cannot afford to hire an attorney. In the years since Gideon, state governments and policymakers have struggled with finding the most effective ways to make their courts fair, promote public safety and fiscal responsibility, and ensure quality representation for all defendants at every stage of a criminal proceeding.

Last year, to help state policymakers and legislators evaluate their public defense services, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) committed $90,000 to technical assistance to help several states meet their constitutional obligations to provide quality legal representation for all defendants.

Recently, BJA NTTAC provided funding for the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD) to work with the Sixth Amendment Center (6AC), a non-profit organization that specializes in providing right to counsel technical services. The OSPD and 6AC worked together to examine how the delivery of trial-level public defense is provided across the state. With the help of the 6AC, the OSPD surveyed judges, county executives, and public defense providers to document how trial-level services are delivered at the circuit court level. The OSPD compiled survey responses into a map and data table, and disseminated these findings back to criminal justice stakeholders for review. According to David Carroll, 6AC Executive Director, “doing this comparison allowed local policymakers and stakeholders to see their county in the context of others.”

Next, the 6AC compared Mississippi’s public-defense delivery system with its four neighboring states, which also proved helpful to the OSPD and stakeholders in understanding where Mississippi’s public defense delivery system ranks in relation to comparable states. Using the findings of the survey and comparison to the other states, the 6AC will provide a report to the OSPD identifying potential shortcomings in Mississippi’s trial-level public defense services and offer recommendations to address them. The full report will be made public in March 2014 and will be made accessible on the OSPD and 6AC web sites.

Mississippi is just one state among many looking for ways to improve its state-wide public defense delivery system. “Helping states measure their public defense systems against established standards of justice is a critical step in living up to the ideals of the Sixth Amendment,” said Carroll. “The right to counsel is fundamental and essential to fair trials.” Policymakers and state governments are becoming more and more aware there is a public defense crisis, and are looking for ways to address it by working with organizations like the BJA NTTAC and the 6AC to identify problems and look for solutions.

If you are interested in submitting the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future TTA Today blog post or to obtain information related to a particular topic area, please email us at nttac@bjatraining.org.

POSTED IN: Access to Justice  |  PERMALINK
Attorney General Holder Marks 20th Anniversary of Historic Executive Order on Environmental Justice
February 11th, 2014 Posted by

Twenty years ago today, our nation took a significant step forward on the long road to securing a more just and equal nation.  On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, requiring every federal agency to address environmental justice in low-income communities and communities of color.  This order built on existing efforts by the administration, members of the legal community, environmentalists, advocates, and citizens at the time – as well as countless pioneers who had gone before – to remedy the health, safety, and economic consequences of environmental problems that disproportionately hurt historically disadvantaged communities.

Decades earlier, in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. consistently spoke out about the prevalence of pollution in low-income neighborhoods; the proximity of hazardous facilities to communities of color; and the dangerous and deplorable working conditions for Americans of modest means.  It was this work that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, first in March of 1968 to lead African American sanitation workers in a strike – and then, several days later, to take part in a march with these workers that was scheduled for April 5th – a day he would not live to see.

In the years that followed, countless Americans have been inspired by Dr. King and others to speak out, to engage, and – thanks to important directives like President Clinton’s Executive Order – to bring about once-unimaginable progress.  Yet, despite all that’s been achieved, research shows that low-income families and families of color are still more likely than other American families to find themselves living in communities with contaminated water and polluted soil.  Their neighborhoods are still more likely to be close to industrial waste sites and more vulnerable to the placement of landfills nearby.

That’s why the Department of Justice remains committed to advancing the aims of President Clinton’s Executive Order, and integrating environmental justice principles into its everyday work and mission.  Many examples of how the Department has moved, in recent years, to reinforce and bolster the objectives of the Executive Order can be found in our third Implementation Progress Report on Environmental Justice, which we are releasing today.  From working collaboratively with our client agencies to ensure that environmental justice is a part of government decision-making; to participating in dialogues with government agencies, grassroots environmental advocates, industry representatives, and tribal governments on environmental justice issues; to promoting the effective use of civil rights statutes, particularly Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in tandem with federal environmental laws to secure the goals of the Executive Order, we are acting on our resolute commitment to addressing environmental, socioeconomic, and racial inequities wherever they exist.  As the report also details, we have achieved demonstrable benefits and effective legal remedies for vulnerable populations that have been adversely impacted by violations of environmental laws.  But this work is only the beginning.

All Americans can be proud of, and encouraged by, the progress that has been made in recent years.  But there’s no denying that a great deal of work remains before us.  For as long as I have the honor of serving as Attorney General, the Department of Justice will continue to prioritize environmental protection.  And I am confident that, by working closely with key federal partners and other stakeholders across America, we will be able to keep building on past successes, advancing shared goals, and realizing the promise of environmental justice.

 
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