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California Jury Awards Deaf Prisoner $5,000 for Failure to Provide Interpreter; $193,582 in Fees Awarded by Court

A state court jury has awarded $5,000 to a deaf prisoner against the County of Los Angeles for failing to provide him with a sign language interpreter while he was in jail. The jury, however, found no liability for the same claim brought against the City of Torrance.

When Humberto Suarez was arrested as the result of mistaken identity on August 8, 2005, he spent several days at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. On November 20, 2005, he was again arrested due to mistaken identity by the City of Torrance. He spent less than 24 hours in jail for the latter arrest.

Suarez filed suit, alleging that the failure to provide him with an American Sign Language interpreter while he was jailed violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At trial, which lasted two weeks, the County of Los Angeles and City of Torrence disputed that Suarez needed an interpreter.

After two days of deliberation, the jury found against Los Angeles County and awarded Suarez $5,000. It found no liability as to the City of Torrance. Suarez was represented by Los Angeles attorneys Daniel M. Holzman and Thomas L. Dorogi of the Caskey & Holzman law firm. In a post-trial order, they were awarded $193,582.50 in attorney fees. See: Suarez v. County of Los Angeles, Superior Court of Los Angeles, CA, Case No. BC353872.

Suarez filed a separate federal lawsuit against the Superior Court of Los Angeles, claiming the court had not provided him with an interpreter in a timely manner. That suit was dismissed and the dismissal was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, as the brief delay in obtaining an interpreter did not result from deliberate indifference. See: Suarez v. Superior Court of Cali-fornia, 283 Fed.Appx. 470 (9th Cir. 2008) (unpublished).

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