English-Only Rule at Court to Be Weighed

Times Staff Writer

The county Civil Service Commission has reversed itself and agreed to hear a discrimination complaint by 13 Latino court clerks in Huntington Park who were ordered by the court's judges to speak English on the job.

The 3-2 vote Wednesday changed a finding by the commission in January that it did not have jurisdiction over the judges and could not rule on the complaint.

Richard Reyna, attorney for Local 660, Service Employees International Union, successfully appealed that vote, arguing that the commission is responsible for protecting the rights of county employees.

He said the commission has heard 100 cases of alleged discrimination against court employees during the past two years.

Reyna contends the English-only rule does not apply to Anglos and therefore has an adverse impact on Mexican-Americans.

Motions by Edelman

The complaint gained further momentum Thursday when the county Board of Supervisors agreed to hear two motions by Supervisor Ed Edelman.

Edelman will ask the board Tuesday to send a letter to the judges asking that they withdraw the rule. In the other motion, Edelman will ask the board to refuse to pay a private attorney the judges have hired to argue their case before the Civil Service Commission. The attorney, Richard Katzman, has submitted a bill for $3,300 to the county.

Robert Arias, county affirmative action officer, applauded the actions by both the commission and Edelman. Arias said the commission vote is "a good first step" toward ending the practice, which he said violates 20-year-old federal civil rights

laws, state law and county codes.

Commissioner George Nojima, who voted in January against hearing the case, changed his vote Wednesday. Also voting to hear the case were commissioners Cecelia Sandoval and Tom Salata. Voting to refuse to hear the case, as they did in January, were commissioners Ernest Goodman and N. Keith Abbott.

Southeast Municipal Court Judges Porter deDubovay, Russell Schooling and John Bunnett issued the English-only rule for the Huntington Park court last March after Anglo court clerks complained that they could not understand the conversations of the Latino clerks, Arias said. At least one clerk feared that the Latino clerks were talking about her, he said.

Latino Area

However, the courthouse, which is in a largely Latino area, conducts about 80% of its business with the public in Spanish, and the 13 clerks speak Spanish as their primary language, Arias said.

Meanwhile, Arias said, the controversy has divided workers at the courthouse, where a group of English-speaking clerks has asked the union to drop its support of the Latino women, arguing that Spanish is not needed when talking to a fellow employee.

"The whole court is polarized now," Reyna said. "The situation has deteriorated. It's become a racial thing."

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