Class-action suit alleges discrimination in NY court system against people who don't speak English
A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court Friday alleges discrimination in the New York court system against people who don't speak English.
Jorge Luis Vasquez is with the law firm representing 21-year-old Rene Alvarado Mejia in a federal suit against Rockland County, the New York State's Unified Court System, and John and Jane Does for allegedly not allowing Mejia to participate in the Diversion Drug Court program because he would need a translator.
Diversion courts allow people with minor offenses to complete other programs instead of being charged with a crime.
"This is about holding individuals accountable. New York state is getting tens of millions of dollars to provide language access in the courts. This diversion program is a part of the courts. This seems to be a clear violation of Title VI and the 14th Amendment," says Vasquez.
This past summer, Mejia was referred to the drug court by the Suffern Village court after allegedly driving drunk.
The suit alleges that his attorney at the time, Stuart Altman, spoke to a woman from the county drug court on the phone who said, while Mejia qualified, the court "does not provide translation services," and Mejia "would not be allowed to participate in drug court"
In a follow-up email from July, Altman suggests his client was willing to provide his own translator.
The email went unanswered.
"But for the court to just have a strict rule that says if your dominate language is not English, then we're not allowing you - and for someone to openly admit that over the phone to an attorney, it's beyond outrageous," says Vasquez.
The class-action suit was put forth due to the county's growing non-English speaking community.
A spokesman for Rockland County and the Office of Court Administration says they do not comment on pending litigation.