Will I be able to participate in a court proceeding or other court activity if I am disabled?
Yes. New Jersey courts are required by law to provide access to all of their services, programs, and activities for people with special needs or disabilities. The court has set up a procedure to make sure that people with special needs or disabilities get the special aids or services that they need before the day of their court proceeding or activity.
How do I request the special aids or services that I need?
To make sure that every request is handled properly, there is an organized procedure to help people with disabilities get the services that they need. Each courthouse has at least one person who acts as the American With Disabilities Act Coordinator (ADA Coordinator) for that courthouse. The ADA Coordinator is the person you should go to for help in getting special aids or services. If possible, it is best to contact the ADA Coordinator at least two weeks before the scheduled activity. If this is impossible because the court date was scheduled at the last minute due to an emergency, you should contact the ADA Coordinator as soon as possible.
A list of the county ADA Coordinators can be found on the Judiciary Web site. The first person listed is the Assignment Judge (head or chief judge) of the county branch of the Superior Court (trial court) where the courthouse is located. The Assignment Judges are included in this list because they hear formal complaints about failure to provide requested special aids or services. (This is explained in more detail below.) The other people listed are those who will act as ADA Coordinator(s) for that county courthouse. Many of them also have other titles, such as Assistant Trial Court Administrator (ATCA), operations manager, law librarian, etc., because court staff usually have responsibility for a number of different duties.
What kind of assistance will the court provide?
By law, the New Jersey courts must be accessible to people with physical disabilities and other forms of disability, such as sight or hearing impairments. For individuals with impaired vision or hearing, the court may provide Braille materials, readers, qualified interpreters, note takers, transcription services, written materials, assistive listening devices and systems, or other methods or aids.
What will happen if the court cannot offer me the aid or service that I want?
Court staff are required to first consider the aid or service of your choice. That request may be denied if the court staff determine that the use of that aid or service makes it difficult or impossible to conduct a court hearing or proceeding. The court may also deny your request if the special aid or service that you are asking for will cost too much money or is too difficult to arrange.
If the court staff cannot provide you with your first choice, they may suggest a different but equally effective aid or service. A court official must discuss this with you and take your concerns into account. After that discussion, the ADA Coordinator will notify you in writing as soon as possible about what aid or service the court has decided to provide. If the decision needs to be made quickly, you will probably be notified by phone.
What do I do if I am not satisfied with the alternative aid or service that the court suggests?
If you are not satisfied with the aid or service suggested by the court, you may file a complaint with the ADA Coordinator. To do this you may do one of the following:
- File an informal grievance procedure,
- File a formal grievance procedure, or
- File a claim of discriminatory treatment with the State Division on Civil Rights.
What is the informal grievance procedure to file a complaint?
To use the informal grievance procedure, you begin by contacting the ADA Coordinator of the court. The ADA Coordinator will then contact the Trial Court Administrator or Court Clerk. These court officials must work with you to find a solution to your problem.
When you explain your problem to the court officials, it is best to describe your complaint in specific terms. Include the date on which you made the request, the names of the employees to whom the request was made, and the response that you got to the request.
In many cases, the informal grievance procedure is the best way to get quick results. However, you do not have to use this procedure. You have the right to file a formal claim using the formal grievance procedure described below, or you can try the informal procedure. If you are not satisfied with the result, you can then use the formal procedure.
What is the formal grievance procedure?
Filing your complaint. The formal grievance procedure requires that you file a claim or complaint with the ADA Coordinator within 60 days of the date that your request for a special aid or service was denied. You may use the New Jersey Judiciary Americans with Disabilities Act Grievance Form to file such a claim. The form allows you to give a description of the way you were denied services or aids. It is best to describe the incident in as much detail as possible, including the names of any other witnesses, if there were witnesses to the incident.
Investigation of the complaint. Mail your form to the person listed as the ADA Coordinator for the courthouse. He or she will then act as an investigator and investigate the complaint or give it to another court staff person assigned to investigate these types of complaints. The investigation can also include interviews with other people you named as witnesses, as well as an examination of other documents or files. The investigator must keep your claim as confidential as possible. Anyone who is contacted will be instructed not to disclose the contents of your claim unless it is absolutely necessary.
Determination by a judge. The investigator makes findings based on interviews and examinations and then brings the findings back to the ADA Coordinator. The ADA Coordinator then presents the findings to the Assignment Judge (or to another judge who may assist the Assignment Judge).
The judge will then review your complaint and the findings and decide whether or not you were discriminated against. The ADA Coordinator will issue a written determination within 45 days of the date that your complaint was received. You and the individuals against whom you have filed the claim will all receive copies of the determination. The determination may also include suggestions for changing how the courthouse deals with similar requests for special services in the future.
Reconsideration (appeal) of the judge’s determination. If you disagree with the judge’s determination, you may file a reconsideration (appeal) of that determination. You must file this appeal within 30 days of the date that you received the determination. You do this by submitting a letter of redetermination (also known as an appeal letter) to the ADA Coordinator. In your appeal letter, you should give reasons why you feel that the determination is wrong. You may also suggest how you think the court should handle the situation. The judge will again review all of the information, including the results of the investigations and the findings. The judge will then make a decision or final determination. The final determination may either affirm the determination (leave it as it is), modify it (change it), or reverse it (reach the opposite conclusion). You and the individuals against whom you have filed the claim will all receive copies of the determination.
What happens after the final determination? If the final determination orders the court staff to make the requested services available to you, the Assignment Judge is the person responsible for making certain that the court provides those services. If you still have a problem getting the services you need, you should contact the Assignment Judge. You may do this by calling his or her chambers (office) or calling the Court Access Services Unit of the Administrative Office of the Courts at (609) 633-3902.
Delays in the informal or formal grievance procedure. There are stated time limits for each step of the grievance process. In certain cases, there may be delays that cannot be avoided. However, you should receive notice of those delays. If you do not receive notice or an explanation of the reasons why the investigation of your complaint is being delayed, you may call the Court Access Services Unit of the Administrative Office of the Courts at (609) 633-3902.
How do I file a complaint with the New Jersey State Division on Civil Rights?
A third option is to file a complaint with the New Jersey State Division on Civil Rights, which is part of the Department of Law and Public Safety. The Civil Rights Division reviews complaints to see if the actions that were taken violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). Among other things, the LAD prohibits an employee of any place that offers services to the general public from denying or withholding any accommodation or service to an individual because of the individual’s disability. Complaints must be filed with the division within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination (the denial of your request for special services or aids). To find out more about how to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division, call (609) 292-4605 or go to Division on Civil Rights Web page.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.
This information last reviewed 1/18/12.