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SPLC: Louisiana Traffic Court Gave Latinos Extra Punishment

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice on behalf of four Latino people, claiming they were given higher fines and court fees and assigned expensive English education classes as part of their probation.

The complaint, which you can read in full below, alleges that the First Parish Court in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana refused to provide Spanish-language forms for Latino defendants and charged them for unreliable court interpreters "who failed to explain the charges against them and did not properly convey the complainants' evidence to the judge."

Lost in Translation

According to the SPLC, some Latino defendants were forced to pay $130 any time they were assigned a court interpreter, on top of the normal court costs and fines. They were also sentenced to ten English classes taught at a local church, costing nearly $300, far above the market rate. As SPLC deputy legal director Naomi Tsu said:

"Latinos in Jefferson Parish are being discriminated against because of their national origin. It's unconstitutional that these individuals are not even hearing the charges against them before being slapped with extra fees and expensive, subpar classes simply because they cannot speak English fluently."

ESL? Pay Me

The complaint details the experiences of Desy J. Martinez, Omar M. Roman-Velasquez, Orlin Urquia-Diaz, and German Noe George as they appeared for relatively minor traffic infractions. Each describes failing to full understand the charges or the court proceedings, forced and shoddy court interpreters rushing them through the process, and leaving with hefty fines and probation requirements. On many occasions, they did not ask for a court interpreter and no one told them they would be charged for the shoddy language services.

The most odious of the charges appears to be the mandatory English classes, which the complaint alleges were overpriced and ineffective. The entire class was filled with other defendants from First Parish Court, and the teacher "seemed more dedicated to collecting money than teaching the class." You can read a full list of the allegations below:

Southern Poverty Law Center Complaint Against First Parish Court of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana by FindLaw