This story reminds me of an experience that I had many years ago that made a deep impression on me. In 1989, I think it was, while I was in grad school, I taught German at Southwestern University for a semester while the German professor there was on sabbatical. On my first drive through Georgetown, I got a speeding ticket in a school zone. For the record, I had slowed for the school zone but sped back up when I thought I was through it. I wasn’t paying close enough attention–I was still in the school zone.
Being an idealistic young man, I decided to appear in court to plead that it was my first drive through town, etc. So, I showed up to my court date, wearing a shirt and tie, or course. When I got there, the court room was packed with probably over a hundred people. Like the Episcopal priest who recounted the story I linked to above, I was surprised at the racial diversity in the room.
The judge went down hist list of accused, reading the charge and asking the person whether they would plead guilty, innocent or no contest. As he read one Hispanic man’s name, a woman stood, explained that the man doesn’t speak English and that she was his sister. The judge asked her if she could translate for him. She agreed.
The judge read the charge (public intoxication, if I recall correctly). When the judge asked how the man would plead, my Spanish was good enough to understand that the sister only translated guilty or not guilty but not no contest. Either the sister didn’t understand what it meant or how to translate it, or both. The man pleaded guilty.
It struck me that the court receptionist was bilingual but nobody in the court itself was. Justice was not served that day due to a language barrier and the court’s lack of preparedness for it.