Deaf woman says judge refused to provide interpreters
On November 6, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a civil hearing, a deaf woman was denied an interpreter. The court requires for those who need accommodations to contact the American Disabilities Act coordinator 48 hours before the court date. Selene Alverio said she contacted the ADA coordinator two weeks before, but her request was denied. So, she showed up on her court date and told Judge Daniel Ramczyk that she needed an interpreter. It was still denied.
The Daily Moth reached out to Alverio to explain what happened.
I went to court where I realized they didn’t have an interpreter available for me. I then requested an emergency interpreter. I said that I tried to get an interpreter two weeks ago, but I was not allowed to fill out the relevant paperwork. They said, “Oh, okay…” They checked with others, but there were no interpreter available for a last minute assignment. At that point, I had no choice but to inform the court clerk that I would not have an interpreter present and asked what I needed to do. The clerk said she would inform the judge. I agreed to this and waited until the hearing began. The judge never swore me in. The judge just proceeded to start the hearing. We notified the judge that I was deaf. The judge remarked that she thought I could still understand, but it was insufficient for me. I could not understand. Because there was a woman five feet away from me and I couldn’t lipread her. I asked the judge for an explanation on how the process could work with the way things were set up. The judge said that should any problems arise during the hearing, let him know. I went along with this, but the judge was speaking so fast and this made me really nervous. I couldn’t grasp what they were talking about. For the third time, I patiently raised my hand and requested for the judge to delay the hearing because I really needed an interpreter. I needed more time to find an interpreter, to move it to another day. The judge was just really rude, degrading, mean and just not nice. I felt really put down. The judge said, “You know what’s happening therefore we will be moving forward with the hearing.”
The judge spoke for a long time and I missed out on everything. I realized that this process wasn’t going to work for me and it felt so frustrating.
For the fourth time, I notified the judge that I was lost and I begged the judge to delay the hearing so that I would be assigned an ASL interpreter. That request was again denied. I had to swallow that one down.
Then it happened for the fifth time. I begged the judge again because I really was lost. I begged for help, but the judge kept speaking really fast, talking in a dehumanizing tone and denying my requests. The judge said the courtroom couldn’t help me and that I could understand what was going on. I said I could not lipread from where I was standing and it was far away from anyone else. I didn’t know how I could adapt to this setup. I did wear my cochlear implant, but I couldn’t keep up in this type of conversation. I again asked for the court to help me.
Then they threatened to charge me with contempt of the court. So, I gave up and sat down where I waited until I realized I wasn’t going to get my request for a delay of the hearing with an interpreter. They were not going to help me. I just gave up and waited because I was afraid that if I spoke up then they would put me into jail. So, I just gave up and waited until the hearing concluded.
Renca: Alverio explained that the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU) and Alverio filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against Ramczyk and the court. She said the next step is ACLU will spread out more awareness about this situation because there needs to be more accommodations ready for all people with disabilities at all areas such as courts, social security offices, and so forth. The accommodations should include advanced technology for more access and have interpreters ready as well.
We asked what her tip or advice was for our Deaf community if some of us happen to face this similar situation.
ALVERIO: My suggestion is to never give up because it’s your right. I know that some people feel like, when they realize that their struggle is real, they will give up. But it’s your right. The reason being is it affects your life. For me, I was almost evicted from my apartment. I have 2 children. I’m a single mother. That judge basically told me that I would be evicted in 14 days. I didn’t understand why. I had everything, all the evidence, ready to support my case. I was there on time, earlier than any other person.
Yet this same person received no interpreting support. It’s a complete breakdown in communication.
Was that a fair trial? No, it was not. If you know that you did not receive a fair trial, don’t give up. Go to an attorney because you will need help. You will need your attorney if you want to file a complaint in order to not allow this injustice to occur to you as well.
It’s not fair. You have the right as a citizen of this country in receiving a fair trial. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled. It doesn’t matter if what color of your skin is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man. It doesn’t matter because you have the right to a fair trial.
Renca: Thank you Alverio for sharing.
We got a comment from ACLU’s Executive Director Peter Simonson about this situation.
Text: “When Judge Daniel Ramczyk refused to provide Ms. Alverio with an ASL interpreter, he not only denied her the ability to effectively represent herself, he also denied her basic respect and dignity. Such blatant demonstrations of discrimination and hostility undermine the integrity of the bench and have no place in our courts.”
Renca: Alverio did mention that Ramczyk got promoted as a district judge. So, ACLU and Alverio will continue to pursue this and spread more awareness about this discrimination so more accessibility can be provided.