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Federal Judge Overturns Municipal Court’s ‘English Only’ Rule

April 30, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A rule that Municipal Court clerks talk to each other only in English translates into a lack of wisdom on the part of the judges who imposed it and is illegal, a federal judge has decided.

The English-only rule had stemmed from one clerk’s belief that other clerks were gossiping about her in Spanish. The judges’ attorney, Greg Petersen, said the English-only rule was merely an effort to require ″manners, common courtesy from one employee to another.″

But U.S. District Judge Richard Gadbois Jr. said the U.S. Equal Oppportunity Commission presumes that’s illegal, based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

″The fact that this case has come this far without being resolved is rather vivid testimony that black robes do not by themselves bestow wisdom upon those who wear them,″ Gadbois commented Monday, issuing a preliminary injunction.

Municipal Court judges John Bunnett, Porter deDubovay and Russell Schooling declined comment on the injunction or the admonition by Gadbois.

The ruling came as councilmen in suburban Monterey Park coincidentally took the first steps toward requiring English translations on signs put up by Chinese businesses. In another development Monday, lawmakers in Florida killed proposals to make English the official state language.

Gadbois’ injunction, issued against a rule imposed 13 months ago in Los Angeles County’s Southeast Judicial District, came in a discrimination action filed by a court clerk-interpreter assigned to the Huntington Park court.

Alva Gutierrez, 29, contended the rule caused friction among courthouse workers and produced ″mental stress and strain.″ She has been on stress- related medical leave from her job since February.

She said the court conducts much of its business in Spanish to accommodate the Hispanic population. She said it was ″quite normal″ for clerks hired as interpreters to converse in Spanish.

″In plain English, it means no employer can implement an ‘English-only’ rule during working hours unless they can show a good business reason for it,″ said her attorney, Gloria Allred.

The county Board of Supervisors had asked the judges to rescind their rule earlier this month.

In Monterey Park, the city council ordered an ordinance drafted to require businesses with signs in Chinese to add an English translation.

Councilwoman Lily Lee Chen, who suggested it, said she is concerned mainly with safety, because police and firefighters have trouble finding addresses when business signs are not in English.

Asians comprise about 40 percent of the 59,000 residents of the city, seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Real estate broker Gregory Tse, president of the Chamber of Commerce, agreed that all business signs should include an English identification, but he opposes making it mandatory.

″I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think it’s constitutional,″ he said, citing free-speech guarantees.

In Florida, lawmakers voted down proposals aimed at making English the state’s official language. One bill was amended to make English official only for court records, while the other was a proposed constitutional amendment.

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