[nfbmi-talk] nfb angle on deaf juror lawsuit

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Sat Sep 13 20:21:22 UTC 2014

Note the famous Galloway suit is referenced here and that Brown, Goldstein and Levy are involved in this suit. I don't wishto hear from some as I did at the Leadership Seminar that discrimination against the blind or other PWD for that matter doesn't exist, or that those who bring it up and document it are "whiners".

For we are excluded, denied and discriminated against in many venues here, including even from BSBP employment and services solely on the basis of blindness as well as a lack of reasonable accommodations like information in alternate formats just like this deaf person was denied court access and accommodation by the courts. Just as Galloway, a blind Federationist was also discriminated against in 1993. The remedy, or one remedy is to sue these entities and individuals for their illegal discrimination.

: Court Reassigned Deaf Juror


She says officials didn't want to pay for an interpreter.

Zoe Tillman, The National Law Journal


September 15, 2014    |





Michelle Koplitz Michelle Koplitz


Michelle Koplitz, a deaf District of Columbia resident, was summoned for grand jury service earlier this year. The court wouldn't let her serve, she claims,

because administrators wouldn't pay for a sign-language interpreter. Koplitz says she was reassigned to petit jury service despite telling the D.C. Superior

Court juror office she didn't want to switch. She filed suit in late August in Washington federal district court, alleging violations of the Americans

With Disabilities Act (ADA) and other local and federal laws that ­protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.


The ADA requires courts to provide accommodations to deaf people, including jurors. Still, advocates say courts and state and local legislatures have ­continued

to grapple with how to interpret and apply the 1990 federal law to jury service.


In 2009, North Carolina lawmakers rejected a bill that would have brought state law on services for deaf jurors into compliance with the ADA. Local news

reports said that although state courts were already allowing deaf individuals to participate in jury pools, some legislators questioned their ability

to serve.


"Deaf people are still being routinely denied access to even basic kinds of civil participation for … what are essentially discriminatory reasons," said

Caroline Jackson, one of Koplitz's lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. Also representing Koplitz is Joseph Espo

of Brown Goldstein Levy in Baltimore.


A spokeswoman for D.C. Superior Court declined to comment or discuss the court's policies on the use of interpreters.


The court, on its website, says it "provides equal access and reasonable accommodations in judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings and related services

to all deaf and hard-of-hearing persons" under the Americans With Disabilities Act.


Koplitz's situation is rare. Sign-language interpreters were used during 829 court events in 2013, including petit jury trials, according to the D.C. court

system's most recent annual report. But no sign-language interpreters were requested for grand juries within at least the past five years, according to

the court.


Superior Court grand jurors serve 27 days. The court has a "one day, one trial" policy for petit jurors — they come to court for one day and are done with

their service unless they're selected for a trial. Trials can last several days or, in some cases, weeks.


The Superior Court has been sued before over accommodations for people with disabilities summoned for jury service. In 1993, a federal judge in Wash­ington

found that the local court's policy of categorically excluding blind individuals from serving violated federal law. The judge awarded plaintiff Donald

Galloway $30,000 in damages.




Koplitz works for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the complaint. She was Miss Deaf USA in 2010; her platform included promoting

better health education for the deaf community, according to reports at the time. In her lawsuit, she said she met all the qualifications for serving on

a grand jury, including the ability to speak and understand the English language through an American Sign Language interpreter.


Koplitz's lawyers argue that she should have equal opportunity to participate in any type of jury service open to hearing individuals. "Ms. Koplitz wants

to do her service the same as everybody else in the District and not be restricted in terms of what kind of jury service she can provide," Espo said.


If Koplitz's allegations are true, Super­ior Court officials are "really stretching the law in the wrong way" by drawing a distinction between grand jury

and petit jury service, said Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. Providing an interpreter for a juror is the type

of "reasonable" accommodation envisioned under the ADA, he said.


An accommodation might be considered unreasonable if it interfered with the defendant's fair-trial rights, David Penna, a government and history professor

at Gallaudet University, which focuses on serving deaf and hard-of-hearing students, said in an email to the NLJ.


"If there were a request that required, for example, lots of technology or frequent breaks in the trial that could arguably prejudice the trial process

itself and start to implicate their right to fair trial," he said. But drawing a line between grand jury and petit jury service was "misguided," he said.


Penna said excluding deaf individuals from a grand jury would suggest officials don't consider their perspective important. "What message does this send

to deaf victims of crime, deaf witnesses and deaf people being investigated for crimes by grand juries?" he said.


Koplitz wants the federal court to order the Superior Court to provide her with an interpreter so she can do her grand jury service. She also seeks an order

requiring the court to train employees about the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and adopt policies to prevent future discrimination.


Contact Zoe Tillman at ztillman at alm.com.






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