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UNDERSTANDING THE LAW

New tapes will reduce language problems in courtrooms

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No longer will language be a hindrance to adequate legal advice. A grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs will pay for a new tool to help eliminate language barriers in Tennessee courtrooms.

Professionally produced videos in English and six foreign languages -- Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Laotian, Russian, and Vietnamese -- have been issued to every courthouse in the state. The tapes cover the most common topics in the judicial system, including basic rights of defendants, obtaining orders of protection for victims of domestic violence, and the rights of parents in child abuse and neglect cases. The videos also discuss courtroom protocol.

"Because the state has become rapidly culturally diverse, there was a need to reach people who come to the courthouse for various reasons," says Sue Allison of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. "[The tapes] are meant to allay the fears of foreigners. We're leaving it up to each judge to find creative ways to use them."

The $100,000 grant allowed for 200 sets of the tapes to be produced with the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute and distributed to the presiding judge in each judicial district.

Judge James Beasley of the judicial district covering Shelby County says several agencies have requested copies of the tapes.

"I've talked with Legal Services and they want copies for their clients, and the public defenders also want some," says Beasley. He also wants to implement the tapes in a mandatory preliminary-information session which would be held for non-English-speakers upon their first contact with the court system

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