Monday, December 14, 2009

Bergstein & Ullrich settle disability discrimination suit

Mount Kisco agrees to provide sign-language interpreters in court

Timothy O'Connor
Westchester Journal-News
December 12, 2009

Mount Kisco's municipal court has agreed to provide interpreters for hearing-impaired crime victims, witnesses and parties in the village court to settle a federal lawsuit filed by an alleged victim of domestic abuse.

Dorothy Silva, a deaf woman from Somers, sued last year after attending proceedings in Mount Kisco Village Court where her alleged abuser was charged with harassing her.

Silva said she could not follow the proceedings because court officials didn't provide an interpreter for her.

"As a result of (Mount Kisco's) failure to provide (Silva) with a sign-language interpreter, she was unable to sufficiently understand, participate in and otherwise follow the criminal proceedings against her abuser," her lawyer Stephen Bergstein wrote in the lawsuit.

Court officials told Silva there wasn't enough money for a sign-language interpreter, the lawsuit said.

In a settlement of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, the village agreed to provide sign-language interpreters for those who need such assistance.

"This policy represents one of the few written guidelines adopted by any municipality on this issue," Bergstein said Friday.

Bergstein was assisted by an attorney from Independent Living in Newburgh in drafting the new policy. He said towns and villages often fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act's requirements to provide such assistance.

"Hearing-impaired persons have a right to know what is happening in court when they are crime victims and their abusers are prosecuted and being sentenced," he said.

Mount Kisco Mayor J. Michael Cindrich said the matter could have been handled without the filing of a lawsuit.

"It was an amicable settlement," he said. "We provide interpreters for every group of people that needs them, regardless of language or disability ."

Silva filed the suit in January 2008, 10 months after she attended proceedings involving her former boyfriend, who is the father of her daughter. The suit says she will likely have to return to court for further hearings.

The settlement does not call for Silva to receive any money from Mount Kisco. That was fine with her, Bergstein said, because the goal of the lawsuit was not financial.

"It really wasn't about money," he said. "It was about changing the policy."

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