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Is it Unreasonable for Court Documents to be Translated into Spanish? Texas Thinks So

LatinaLista — I guess in another one of those things that can be filed under “It Can Only Happen In Texas” is the story of a newly elected judge being raked over the coals because she’s doing what she was elected to do — dispense justice.

It seems Judge D’Metria Benson presided over a court case where limited English speaker, Refugio Guzman, owes the Citibank South Dakota credit card company $15,000.

Dallas County Judge D’Metria Benson

Guzman who claims he fell behind in his payments because he’s raising 10 kids and sending money to care for his sick mother in Mexico had initially answered the lawsuit in English. Only come to find out later it was with the help of his teenage son that he was able to do so.

He didn’t understand, nor his son, that he also had to respond to the summary judgment motion.

Judge Benson ruled that because the documents weren’t in Spanish the bank’s motion for summary judgment was to be set aside and both sides were going into mediation. She ordered Guzman to show up with a translator.

The lawyer for the credit card company is crying foul and says it is unreasonable and costly to expect court documents to be translated into another language if that person doesn’t speak English.

State Rep. Will Hartnett, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he has drafted a bill that would prevent a court from denying a motion because documents are in English. He said he is prepared to file it if similar incidents occur.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Mr. Hartnett, R-Dallas. “There is no statute or rule that I know of that permits a judge in Texas to force one party to translate a pleading for another party.”

Yet, isn’t justice better served when all parties understand one another?

Why wouldn’t somebody want to do it unless their intent was to take advantage of the language deficiencies of the other party?

For this lawyer to claim the Judge is out of line in expecting the court documents to be translated so that Guzman understands the charges seems ludicrous. Especially, when chances are that Citicard most probably sent Guzman solicitations in Spanish to begin with.


A quick peek at the Citibank web site reveals there is a Spanish version.

If Citibank can provide services in Spanish to get Guzman’s business then by all means, they should be able to pay the extra charges to translate any court documents in Spanish so Guzman can know exactly how to defend himself and what are the consequences.

And for State Rep. Will Hartnett to threaten that he would draft such a bill to prevent a court from denying a motion because documents are in English if the accused speaks another language, well there’s an easier rule of thumb to use:

Court documents should be in the native language of those being served if the company provides for that language in their daily interactions with that customer via traditional mail, e-mail and/or the company web site.

After all, it’s about justice that is fair for all – not just those who know English so well they can twist the meaning of its words to fit their own needs.

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