Denver Bar Association
April 2007
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Babel Fish Saves El Día
New filing requirement made easy


by Craig Eley

Put those reference books away! Instead of pouring over tedious translation books, simply copy the text you need to translate into Babel Fish.

One of the first, although little-publicized, acts of the 2007 legislature was the enactment of a requirement that pleadings filed in court proceedings be in both English and Spanish.

The Spanish requirement, which affects pleadings filed on and after April 1, 2007, applies only to the 10 Colorado judicial districts that contain the largest percentage of Spanish-speaking citizens. With the expectation that this new law will result in much of the metro Denver civil litigation business finding its way to Elbert County, another bill proposes adding eight judges, at various levels, to the 18th Judicial District Bench.

At the time The Docket went to press, the measure was on its way to Gov. Ritter’s desk. The governor has not explicitly stated whether he will sign it, but he has commented to the media that "we need to keep in mind that years ago Colorado statutes were not only required to be printed in English and Spanish, but German, as well." Pundits predict that if he doesn’t sign the bill, he will let it go into law without his signature.

It is unknown whether briefs filed in the appellate courts will be subject to the same dual-language requirement. That is a matter that the General Assembly decided was within the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme Court (you have to love how Democrats actually acknowledge that there is a third branch of government).

This is not the first time that the legislature has interfered with how attorneys may file pleadings. More than a decade ago, then-Rep. (now Sen.) Ken Gordon, himself a lawyer, sponsored a bill that mandated:

No document shall be submitted by an attorney to a court of record after January 1, 1994, unless such document is submitted on recycled paper.

This requirement, which can be found at C.R.S. § 13-1-133, allowed those who had purchased non-recycled paper to use it up before being subject to the new law. Many lawyers must have had warehouses full of non-recycled paper on hand back then, because as far as I can tell they are still using it today. Now, it could be that lawyers are just continuing to buy the less-expensive non-recycled paper, perhaps because the court officials at every courthouse who are responsible for checking the pleadings are falling down on the job. But I would be distressed to think that the entire Bar is flouting the law simply because enforcement is spotty. The next thing you know, lawyers will be speeding on I-25 and ripping the tags off of mattresses.

For those who might be alarmed at the additional effort and cost associated with producing pleadings in two languages, be not afraid. Your bar association has researched quick and easy methods of including Spanish translations with your pleadings.

Using your computer, get on the Internet and go to http://babelfish.altavista.com (you Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy buffs will appreciate the Web address). All you have to do is copy your pleading and paste the English version into the Babel Fish Web page. Then, indicate that you want to translate from English to Spanish. Click a button and ¡bravo! You have a Spanish translation. Copy the translation, paste it into your pleading and you’re ready to file.

To test this technological marvel, I went to http://cobar.org (a website maintained by the Colorado Bar Association that posts all Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions) and copied a paragraph from the Feb. 26, 2007 Colorado Supreme Court decision of Clyncke v. Waneka, (I am not making up those names), which involved injuries sustained in a fall from a horse. The paragraph reads as follows:

The plain language of subsection §13-21-119(4) (b) (I) (B) places a two-pronged duty on sponsors of equine activity. Thus, a jury instruction tracking the language of this statute requires sponsors be held liable if they either failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the participant’s ability to engage in the activity or failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the participant’s ability to manage an animal. The trial court’s jury instruction requiring that the plaintiff prove a sponsor’s failure to perform both duties is erroneous because it does not track the plain language of the statute.

I plugged this paragraph into Babel Fish and asked for the Spanish translation. This is what resulted:

La lengua llana de la subdivisión §13-21-119(4) (b) (i) (b) pone un deber dos-pinchado en patrocinadores de la actividad equina. Así, una instrucción del jurado que sigue la lengua de este estatuto requiere a patrocinadores se considere obligado si no pudieron hacer esfuerzos razonables de determinar la capacidad del participante de enganchar a la actividad ni no pudieron hacer esfuerzos razonables de determinar la capacidad del participante de manejar un animal. La instrucción del jurado de la corte de ensayo que requiere que el demandante pruebe la falta de un patrocinador de realizar ambos deberes es errónea porque no sigue la lengua llana del estatuto.

Although I don’t know Spanish, the translation sure looks good. Better still, it was quick, easy and free. Just to double-check the accuracy of the translation, I asked Babel Fish to translate the Spanish back into English. This is what I got:

The level language of the subdivision §13-21-119(4) (b) (i) (b) puts to have two-punctured in patrocinadores of the equina activity. Thus, an instruction of the jury who follows the language of this statute requires to patrocinadores is considered forced if they could not deliver attacks reasonable to determine the capacity of the participant to hook to the activity nor could not deliver attacks reasonable to determine the capacity of the participant to handle an animal. The instruction of the jury of the test cut that it requires that the plaintiff proves the lack of a patrocinador to make both duties is erroneous because it does not follow the language level of the statute.

I’ll grant you that it’s not an exact translation, but it’s close enough for government work. And who’s to say that patrocinador (whether punctured twice or not) is not a Spanish word that has now been accepted as an English word? Lots of English words are used in Spanish, so why can’t we be open to the opposite phenomenon? So many English words have been adopted into Spanish that a new language, Spanglish, is emerging. Even words that didn’t start out as English but have become common parlance in English have been assimilated into the Spanish language. As an example of this, a Mexican friend of mine told me that the noun tancredo (originally of Italian origin) has been taken from its English usage (you see it every day in American newspapers) and been given a new and whimsical meaning in Spanish by our southern neighbors. I asked for it to be used in a sentence, and my friend replied "scrape that tancredo off your shoes before you come into the hacienda!"

Although, as I have admitted, the translation above is not perfect, I understand that Babel Fish is a recognized Internet resource. It is, for example, used extensively by foreign toy and gadget manufacturers to create English usage instructions and product warnings. So, if it’s good enough for international trade, it ought to be good enough for Colorado courts.

Plus, in a way, it’s a lot like the recycled paper requirement — is anybody really going to check on the accuracy of the translation? Most attorneys don’t even proofread their briefs; how many are going to take the time to double-check the Spanish translation? And the poor guy at the courthouse, who already has years of stacked-up, backlogged pleadings to inspect for recyclosity (OK, I know there’s no English word that means "the property of having been recycled," but maybe we can steal one from Spanish) is at most going to give each pleading a quick glance to make sure that there are some foreign-looking words on the paper. So, ningún problema.

Thus, without even asking for a dues increase, your bar association has eased those of us who cannot construct a simple declarative sentence in Spanish through what could have been an onerous new regulation. Unfortunately, it does not have an equally quick remedy for those who cannot construct a simple declarative sentence in English.


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