Settlement reached to overcome language barriers in local court

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- A settlement is reached between the U.S. Department of Justice and Eau Claire County after a complaint says the county failed to provide appropriate language services.

The complaint, which was filed a year ago, was for the largest minority population in the City of Eau Claire.

“We're really excited the Department of Justice has seen this is definitely something we need to work on and acknowledged that the Hmong population is not an invisible minority here in Eau Claire,” said Sarah Driever, the legal advocate for the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association.

The U.S. Department of Justice has identified the needs of the Hmong population are not being met at the Eau Claire County courthouse.

“We have had numerous clients who have been asked to take a course through the court system and that course was only available in English and they weren't provided translators,” Driever said. “It was really inefficient for everybody.”

A complaint filed by the ECAHMAA in July 2017 brought light to this issue.

“The people that were going to the class couldn't understand the subject content of the class and couldn't be held to make any improvements in their lives based on the course,” she said.

A settlement announced Wednesday between the DOJ and the Eau Claire County Circuit Courts is changing that. The court has been working with the department since September to figure out how it could better assist the Hmong community. Those actions include translating notices, community engagement and training for court staff that interact with limited English proficient court users.

“It’s disappointing that one of the systems that's supposed to be the most fair and accessible still has these obstacles,” Driever added.

She also says that it’s important for the community to know that the Hmong language is still considered a rare one. Especially since it has not always been a written language, therefore some Hmong community members do not necessarily know how to read the language.

“A lot of times agencies, such as the court system or the government, think they can make information accessible by just translating it into Hmong when some of the Hmong community is not necessarily able to read Hmong.”

Driever says this settlement has brought good news and they're excited to see it come full circle.

We are still awaiting a response from the Eau Claire County Circuit Court. A press release from the DOJ, they say this settlement will strengthen the courts.

“We commend the Eau Claire County Circuit Court for its commitment to guaranteeing meaningful access to the courts for all, regardless of national origin,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “This collaboration between the Justice Department and Eau Claire County Circuit Court will strengthen the Court’s ability to provide equal access to the judicial process.”

To read the full press release, click here.

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