How Florida’s judicial system violates the federal Civil Rights Act and leaves non-English speakers out in the cold
Maria Machin had a test for the Duval County Courthouse when she walked in on the morning of June 29. She would walk to every single floor of the courthouse and ask for directions to the domestic-violence office. She wouldn’t ask for help in English – only in Spanish.
As Machin ambled from floor to floor, she went to each help desk asking for employees to show her the way, but instead of assisting her, she says they looked at her like she was “an alien.” Finally, she found her way to the office, where again she asked for help, this time about filing domestic-violence forms. After some more strange looks, the employees finally rustled up from the back a woman who spoke Spanish.
“She told me that there are no forms or anything to give someone that speaks Spanish,” says Machin, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Jacksonville. “The clerk of the court has told his people that anyone coming in that doesn’t speak English has to bring their own translator … it’s like Mayberry on acid here. We are invisible to them.”
The experience Machin had last month is the reality many people who are limited English proficient, also known as LEP, experience as they go through Florida’s judicial system. And it isn’t limited to asking for directions at a help desk. In most Florida courts, interpreters are not provided by the state in civil cases, only in criminal proceedings, Machin says, and in some courts, LEP individuals are asked to bring and pay for their own interpreters, unless they are indigent. LEP services also vary by location and the population of speakers of other languages, she says.