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Latino defendants accuse court of providing bad translators, forcing pricey ESL classes

NEWMARKET, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Auctioneers gavel at Tattersalls yearling sales on October 08, 2013 in Newmarket, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

NEWMARKET, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Auctioneers gavel at Tattersalls yearling sales on October 08, 2013 in Newmarket, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

A suburban New Orleans court discriminates against Latinos by charging them for inadequate English interpreters and making them attend overpriced, ineffective English classes as a condition of probation, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Wednesday in a letter to the U.S. Justice Department.

The SPLC complaint centers on practices in 1st Parish Court of Jefferson Parish, which handles traffic and misdemeanor cases. The complaint cites the experience of four people with limited English speaking abilities who said interpreters rushed them through proceedings and failed to adequately explain their cases.

In some instances, they did not fully understand what they were pleading guilty to, the complaint says. For instance, Omar Roman-Velasquez said interpreters rushed him through various court proceedings and he wound up pleading guilty to one offense – driving with an expired inspection sticker – that he would like to have disputed.

As a condition of probation, he and others were ordered to attend English class.

The class to which those with limited English abilities are sent, the complaint says, "does not usefully teach English."

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And it's expensive.

"The court's English class costs approximately $300 for ten weeks, while the local Catholic Charities charges approximately $25 for a semester of English classes," the complaint says.

Court administrator Beatrice Parisi declined immediate comment, saying she had not yet seen the complaint.

The complaint also raises questions of conflicts of interest. German Noe George, 33, is another of the four mentioned in the complaint. He pleaded guilty to various traffic charges in the court and, as a condition of probation, enrolled in an English class taught by a woman who also is listed by the court as an interpreter.

The SPLC said that would pose a conflict because the woman could potentially profit from the conviction of defendants she is supposed to help.

Latinos make up about 14 percent of the population in Jefferson Parish, the SPLC said in a news release accompanying the complaint.

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