Letter to LASC President Judge Taylor

January 19, 2021

Honorable Judge Eric C. Taylor
Presiding Judge's Office, Room 222

111 North Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Judge Taylor:

The California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) in representation of the interpreter employees of Los Angeles Superior Court would like to bring to your attention that on Tuesday, January 12th, one of our interpreter colleagues died after contracting COVID on the job in the courts. He was among a group of approximately seventeen interpreter employees who were exposed because management had denied paid release to quarantine to an interpreter who had self-identified as having been exposed to a COVID-positive individual at work. This interpreter subsequently tested positive after having continued to report to work, as instructed by management, for several days.The Union has just learned of the COVID death of a second interpreter who also contracted the virus at work. We are currently investigating this second work-exposure related death, also apparently a consequence of management’s inconsistent and confusing implementation of quarantine guidelines. This is just the tip of the iceberg. If Los Angeles Superior Court’s tracing and quarantine policies as applied to interpreters continue unchanged, we can expect many more infections and untimely deaths going forward.From the first week court personnel returned to work in the courthouses, interpreters have made it clear that not enough has been done to protect them on the job. (See attachments A and D.) In spite of Court Administration’s contention that considerable effort and money have been invested in creating a COVID-safe environment for its employees, many of the safety measures implemented in the courthouses do not offer interpreters the level of protection needed to avoid exposure to contagion. On numerous occasions, the Union has expressed concern that interpreters remain vulnerable.Given the unique and itinerant nature of our work, interpreters often move from courtroom to courtroom, or even courthouse to courthouse in a single day. Some interpreters including those who interpret in languages other than Spanish (OTS) routinely travel daily to several different courthouses to accommodate the needs of the Court. Additionally, given the nature of the work, interpreters strive to be unobtrusive in the workplace. As a result, their presence often goes unnoticed and they may not be counted as part of the staff of a specific courtroom where exposure occurred. HR’s new contact tracing protocol, in which individuals considered to have had contact are still limited to only those who the COVID-positive individual is able to remember and identify as having been present, does not address the possibility of an interpreter’s presence being overlooked, and therefore not being informed of potential exposure. This scenario contributed to the death of the interpreter employee in the Criminal Justice Center.

It is essential that when an interpreter informs management of possible exposure, this report be taken seriously. Currently, however, the experience of interpreters who have approached Court Administration to report having had contact with a COVID-positive person has not been supportive. The Union has been told that these interpreters are treated harshly, questioned in an accusatory tone with the insinuation being that the interpreter ‘brought this upon themself’ by supposedly deviating from the Court’s COVID protocols.

Interpreters want to work, to continue serving the community providing access to justice. But the interpreters are very afraid for their personal safety and that of their families and would like to make you aware of the following:

· The intimidation interpreters have experienced upon reporting safety concerns and self-reported COVID contact, creates a hostile work environment which instills fear, shame, and confusion as to what to do or to whom one might turn in the possible event of exposure to the virus. Several interpreters have informed the Union that, due to the punitive overtones of their tracing interview, they felt the need to ask whether the investigation could lead to discipline.

· On various occasions in which other employees working in a particular area have been notified of possible exposure, interpreters working in the same area have not been similarly notified, even when they had worked in close proximity to the COVID-positive individual. Furthermore, in the instances where interpreters have been advised of possible exposure, they have been instructed to continue reporting to work, in spite of having worked in the same area as other employees who were sent home to quarantine. Additionally, the Court has denied Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) to various interpreters exposed to COVID- positive individuals while approving it for employees from other units, even when the qualifying circumstances are the same.

· High medical risk interpreter employees are not being prioritized for telework. The Los Angeles Superior Court formalized an agreement with the interpreters’ Union in which interpreters in high medical risk categories were given priority for telework assignments. Members diagnosed as high risk after the formalization of the agreement, however, were directed by the Court to the standard accommodations process. To date, none of the high medical risk interpreters who have applied for accommodations through this process has qualified for a protective and potentially lifesaving off-site work assignment, although their requests were made as soon as the Court reopened on-site operations in June, 2020.

· Another COVID-impacted group of interpreters that has been ignored in the distribution of telework assignments includes those whose work on-site puts the health of elder and immunocompromised household members at risk, especially in the case where the employee is the compromised family member’s caregiver. Similarly, those who have young and school-aged children at home due to

COVID-related school and daycare closures are also overlooked. (See attachment B.) Individuals in these categories are ready, willing and able to provide for the language access needs of the Court through telework. Both the Court and these valuable employees stand to lose out if the latter are forced to choose family care over employment that fails to provide the needed flexibility to weather the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic.

Additional telework assignments have been created since the initial agreement, but these new assignments have been given out without taking into consideration those who face the highest levels of risk upon exposure. Although the Union has argued this matter numerous times in Meet and Confer sessions with Court Administration, the Court thus far has refused to exercise any flexibility in this regard.

· The Court asserts that social distancing, mask wearing, and the sanitizing of equipment is enforced in courthouses. It has been observed, however, that many areas of court facilities continue to be densely populated with lawyers, the public, and other court users to a degree that makes distancing protocols impossible to maintain. Interpreters often find themselves crowded into hallways while providing services to Public Defenders, District Attorneys and private attorneys.

Additionally, there is little to no enforcement of mask protocols in areas outside of the actual courtroom. Inside the courtroom interpreters are not afforded the protection of plexiglass barriers, as are other court staff. Although PPE supplies were provided to interpreters when the Court reopened on-site operations, these have proven inadequate and have not been promptly replaced when they run out, obliging interpreters to have to provide their own PPE materials. The handheld communication devices issued do not allow for two-way communication, so at times interpreters cannot maintain the recommended social distance as they need to remain close enough to defendants to hear their answers to the Court. Also, interpreters must handle the earbuds which accompany these devices, because they must be cleaned and disinfected after use to avoid potential contagion. Interpreters requested disposable earbuds to avoid this problem, but this request was denied.

With the new super contagion form of COVID recently discovered in the United Kingdom and found already existing in communities across the United States, including Southern California, the measures as currently applied are not sufficient even for employees with less mobile job activities. Additionally, recent research into the spread of infection indoors has indicated shortened exposure times and increased distancing needs. (See attachment C.)

The Union has tried numerous times both formally and informally to get the Court to establish more effective safety protocols for interpreters. We have filed a grievance regarding these safety concerns, only to have the grievance denied at a low level.

It had been communicated previously that Language Access Services was prepared for expansion into increased teleworking opportunities for interpreter employees. The Union understands that the present technology platforms available such as WebEx, CourtConnect and Zoom present an added burden for bench officers and staff when interpreter services are also needed. CFI hopes, nevertheless, that this added burden will be considered as one more aspect of the difficulty and sacrifice we are all committed to taking on in our efforts to bring under control and eventually vanquish this pandemic. It would be a genuine tragedy if the inconvenience presented by the inclusion of life-saving remote technology into more court proceedings was deemed too great an imposition.

At the start of the pandemic, as the infection rate was soaring, the Court made the very wise decision to scale back operations to a bare minimum of only the most essential proceedings. Many non-essential hearings were put over as part of the broader public effort towards bringing the pandemic under control. At a certain point, when the curve seemed to be flattening, the Court re-opened for all case types, while instituting a number of workplace safety protocols.

Currently, however, the spike in COVID cases, especially in Southern California, has returned to an alarming and deadly rate much higher even than during the first period in which the Court saw fit to limit operations to a minimum. With the infection danger to court staff and public alike higher than ever, a very realistic, doable, and life-saving strategy would be for the Court to move all non-essential court proceedings such as Unlawful Detainer, Small Claims, Traffic Tickets, many Pre-Trial and Post-Conviction hearings, Progress Reports and more Juvenile hearings, to a remote format, to protect not only interpreters, but all bench officers, court staff, justice partners, and the public. While the expansion of remote interpreting and remote hearings will require an investment of time and effort, these efforts are vitally necessary; the Court must do everything in its power to prevent further illness and death to the greatest extent possible.

Judge Taylor, interpreters are unable to safely perform their essential function in the courts, and we are requesting an opportunity to meet with you regarding our concerns at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Michael Ferreira President

cc: Sherri R. Carter, Executive Officer/ Clerk - Electronic Mail
Kathie O’Connell, Director - Electronic Mail
Joi Williams, Deputy Director Labor Relations and Equity - Electronic Mail

 

ATTACHMENT A

July 1, 2020
To CFI Local 39000

Today, July 1, 2020, is my third day back at work and I have to say that I have not felt safe at work. The following has occurred during these three days:

-I got in an elevator with someone from the Sheriff’s dept. She invited 4 court users to get in the elevator with us. When I questioned her and told her that the maximum occupancy per elevator is two, she chuckled and said she didn’t read any signs that say so. A court user pointed the sign taped on the elevator wall and she laughed. Another colleague reported two similar incidents.

-A person from the public went into the ladies’ public restroom next to our IWR coughing profusely and vomiting for over 40 minutes. I informed all my colleagues and other staff that usually use it to stay away from that ladies’ room and tried to report it. The two people I called didn’t pick up the phone. I reported it to someone from the Sheriff’s dept. who told me she would notify janitorial staff. I did not observe anyone coming to clean it after the lady left. Today I found out from an attorney that the lady was her client’s mother whom he brought to court and who was ill. My understanding was that only people with appointments or court business would be allowed to come in. I’m not sure how she made it past two sets of security personnel. Nausea and vomiting have been added as symptoms of COVID 19. I’m hoping that wasn’t her case.

-Members of the public pull down their face coverings to use their cell phones in the hallways. Not sure why. Many of them are standing near the entrance to the IWR.

-Most of the courtrooms do not have a safe space designated just for interpreters. While I understand that that gives us certain flexibility it becomes problematic in smaller courtrooms. In the courtroom I worked in today all staff had spaces with Plexiglass around them. There was one chair (marked with red tape indicating it complied with social distancing) available to me, but it was inches away from a court user sitting behind me in the public seating area. Needless to say, I did not use it. The bailiff had instructed two attorneys and one court user to sit in the jury box, so I stood in the back area of the courtroom waiting for my cases to be called.

-Interpreters were not provided with wipes to wipe down computers after each use.

-Interpreters were provided with 50 teeny tiny alcohol wipes to wipe down our equipment and one box with 100 gloves. I don’t anticipate those supplies to last very long as we are using several pair of gloves daily and at least 2 or 3 little wipes per earpiece per use. I decided to purchase earpieces that can be disposed of after use as I find that more hygienic for all parties involved. I also put the equipment in plastic sandwich bags which I dispose of after every use.

Although I am very grateful to have been given my own interpreting device, I feel the ones provided do not address the issues we have to deal with while interpreting during the COVID 19 pandemic for two reasons. First, because it’s the wrong type of the device since it only permits one-way communication; and second, because efforts should have been made to protect each one of us by inspecting each courtroom, designating an area for the interpreters that conforms to social distancing guidelines while allowing us to perform our duties in a professional yet safe manner.

Respectfully, Claudia Longo

ATTACHMENT B

From: Monica Almada <[email protected]Sent: Tuesday, January 5, 2021 2:41 PM
To: president local39000.org <[email protected]39000.orgSubject:

Dear Mike,

In light of extended lockdowns, and the indefinite nature of school closures, I find myself in a situation that is no longer sustainable.

I am a single mom of two. Last year I had more support from the father who is working from home, but this year he is not able to cover for me as he was. I now need to be with my youngest son two to three entire days per week.

I have used up the FFCRA emergency relief and now I am using the extended FMLA.

The remainder of the extended FMLA I have will probably buy me a couple of months, but after this I will be completely eroded financially to a breaking point.

This breaking point would mean that I will not be able to come to work, and would not get paid two to three days a week. This will immediately default me on my mortgage payments and even affect how much food I bring to the table for both my kids.

I have no family in this country. I have no other support. I already pay a nanny for the partial help I have been receiving, but I am not able to pay more to cover for the additional time I need without accelerating my fall.

I honestly do not know how I would deal with not having a place to live, struggling with other basic needs, and providing for my kids.

It is a terrifying situation, and it is closer than anyone can imagine. This is a true emergency and I need help.

I am able to do telework, which would bring immediate relief to my situation and put a stop to the damage I am already suffering from this COVID situation.

Thank you for all you do to help us. It is in these situations that we as a society need each other the most. I pray that the humanity inside of each one of us will arise to show our solidarity towards others.

Sincerely,
Monica P. Almada

ATTACHMENT C

South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors

Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM

Infected after 5 minutes, from 20 feet

away: South Korea study shows

coronavirus’ spread indoors

By Victoria Kim Dec. 9, 202011:23 AM

Dr. Lee Ju-hyung has largely avoided restaurants in recent months, but on the few occasions he’s dined out, he’s developed a strange, if sensible, habit: whipping out a small anemometer to check the airflow.

It’s a precaution he has been taking since a June experiment in which he and colleagues re-created the conditions at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city in southwestern South Korea, where diners contracted the coronavirus from an out-of-town visitor. Among them was a high school student who became infected after five minutes of exposure from more than 20 feet away.

The results of the study, for which Lee and other epidemiologists enlisted the help of an engineer who specializes in aerodynamics, were published last week in the Journal of Korean Medical Science. The conclusions raised concerns that the widely accepted standard of six feet of social distance may not be far enough to keep people safe.

The study — adding to a growing body of evidence on airborne transmission of the virus — highlighted how South Korea’s meticulous and often invasive contact tracing regime has enabled researchers to closely track how the virus moves through populations.

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM

“In this outbreak, the distances between infector and infected persons were ... farther than the generally accepted 2 meter [6.6-foot] droplet transmission range,” the study’s authors wrote. “The guidelines on quarantine and epidemiological investigation must be updated to reflect these factors for control and prevention of COVID-19.”

People wearing face masks walk under a banner emphasizing an enhanced social distancing campaign in front of Seoul City Hall. The banner reads: “We have to stop before COVID-19 stops everything.”

(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

KJ Seung, an infectious disease expert and chief of strategy and policy for the nonprofit Partners in Health’s Massachusetts COVID response, said the study was a reminder of the risk of indoor transmission as many nations hunker down for the winter. The official definition of a “close contact” — 15 minutes, within six feet — isn’t foolproof.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-12-09/five-minutes-fr...t-away-south-korean-study-shows-perils-of-indoor-dining-for-covid-19

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times

1/19/21, 4:42 PM

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In his work on Massachusetts’ contact tracing program, he said, business owners and school administrators have fixated on the “close contact” standard, thinking just 14 minutes of exposure, or spending hours in the same room at a distance farther than six feet, is safe.

“There’s a real misconception about this in the public,” said Seung, who was not involved in the South Korea study. “They’re thinking, if I’m not a close contact, I will magically be protected.”

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Seung said the study pointed to the need for contact tracers around the world to widen the net in looking for people who had potentially been infected and to alert people at lower risk that they may have been exposed.

Linsey Marr, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech who studies the transmission of viruses in the air, said the five-minute window in which the student, identified in the study as “A,” was infected was notable because the droplet was large enough to carry a viral load, but small enough to travel 20 feet through the air.

“‘A’ had to get a large dose in just five minutes, provided by larger aerosols probably about 50 microns,” she said. “Large aerosols or small droplets overlapping in that gray area can transmit disease further than one or two meters [3.3 to 6.6 feet] if you have strong airflow.”

The South Korean study began with a mystery. When a high school senior in

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM

Jeonju tested positive for the virus on June 17, epidemiologists were stumped because the city hadn’t had a coronavirus case in two months. North Jeolla province, where Jeonju is located, hadn’t had one for a month. The girl hadn’t traveled out of the region in recent weeks and had largely gone from home to school and back.

Contact tracers turned to the country’s Epidemic Investigation Support System, a digital platform introduced in South Korea amid the pandemic that allows investigators to access cellphone location information and credit card data of infected individuals in as little as 10 minutes.

Cellphone GPS data revealed that the student had briefly overlapped with another known coronavirus patient from a different city and province altogether, a door-to-door saleswoman who had visited Jeonju. Their connection was a first-floor restaurant on the afternoon of June 12 — for just five minutes.

Authorities in the city of Daejeon, where the door-to-door saleswoman was visiting from, said the woman did not tell contact tracers she’d visited Jeonju, about an hour’s drive away, where her company held a meeting with 80 people on the sixth floor of the building with the restaurant.

Lee, a professor at the Jeonbuk National University Medical School who has also been helping local authorities carry out epidemiological investigations, went to the restaurant and was surprised by how far the two had been sitting. CCTV recordings showed the two never spoke, or touched any surfaces in common — door handles, cups or cutlery. From the sway of a light fixture, he could tell the air conditioning unit in the ceiling was on at the time.

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM


Diagram of the outbreak at a South Korean restaurant equipped with ceiling-type air conditioners: arrows represent the air flow. Curved air streamlines represent where air is reflected off a wall or barrier, and moves downward toward the floor.

(Korean Academy of Medical Sciences)

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Lee and his team re-created the conditions in the restaurant — researchers sat at tables as stand-ins — and measured the airflow. The high school student and a third diner who was infected had been sitting directly along

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-12-09/five-minutes-fr...t-away-south-korean-study-shows-perils-of-indoor-dining-for-covid-19

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM

the flow of air from an air conditioner; other diners who had their back to the airflow were not infected. Through genome sequencing, the team confirmed the three patients’ virus genomic types matched.

“Incredibly, despite sitting a far distance away, the airflow came down the wall and created a valley of wind. People who were along that line were infected,” Lee said. “We concluded this was a droplet transmission, and beyond” 6.6 feet.

The pattern of infection in the restaurant showed it was transmission through small droplets or larger aerosols either landing on the face or being breathed in, said Marr, the Virginia Tech professor who was not involved in the study. The measured air velocity in the restaurant, which did not have windows or a ventilation system, was about 3.3 feet per second, the equivalent of a blowing fan.

“Eating indoors at a restaurant is one of the riskiest things you can do in a pandemic,” she said. “Even if there is distancing, as this shows and other studies show, the distancing is not enough.”

The study was published at a time when South Korea, like many other countries, is on edge amid a new wave of coronavirus infections, with daily case rates hovering around 600 in recent days. Seoul, the capital, this week began requiring restaurants to close by 9 p.m., limiting coffee shops to takeout only and forcing clubs and karaoke bars to shut down.

The research echoed the findings of a July study out of Guangzhou, China, which looked at infections among three families who dined at a restaurant along the flow of air conditioning at tables that were three feet apart, overlapping for about an hour. Ten of the diners tested positive for the coronavirus. Contact tracers in South Korea similarly mapped out a large outbreak at a Starbucks in Paju in August, when 27 people were infected by

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South Korea study shows how coronavirus spreads indoors - Los Angeles Times 1/19/21, 4:42 PM

a woman sitting under a second-floor ceiling air conditioning unit.

Seung, of Partners in Health, said by retracing infection routes epidemiological investigators in South Korea had helped researchers worldwide better understand the coronavirus’ spread.

“I showed it to my team doing contact tracing in Massachusetts, and their jaws are dropping,” Seung said. “We know how hard it is to do something like that — it’s impressive.”

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To: Supervising Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court;

This letter is to inform you of numerous violations to Covid-19 suppression rules in common areas and courtrooms of the Clara Shortridge Foltz CJC building.

My colleagues and I have observed the general public and even some police officers to fill the elevators, in violation of COVID-19 rules, which now allow only 4 passengers per elevator. Sheriff's deputies do not enforce COVID-19 rules; many times, deputies wear their masks only halfway or not at all. In hallways, members of the public and officers and deputies frequently violate social distancing rules. Floor Deputies do not take any action to remind them of the rules. Those of us who do observe the rules are forced to confront the violators, to remind them of the mask mandate. In fact, we have had to personally block the elevator doorway to try to prevent others from crowding the elevator, with occasional physical and verbal aggression ensuing. On several occasions now, I have had to opt for exiting the elevator rather than remaining in it while over- filled, even though I was the 1st to get in it.

There has been retaliation against employees who have reported COVID-19 rules violations.

For example, in Department 38, an interpreter reported several weeks ago to the Commission on Judicial Performance, as well as to the Court Administrators, and The Interpreter's Union that the Judge at Department 38, had allowed a witness [a police officer who refused to wear a mask] to testify for 1 hour and a half, and also the clerk and deputy to be in the courtroom without a mask for many minutes, during open court sessions. This week(10/12/2020), one of the complaining interpreters returned to Department 38 for an assignment. She was doing not only Department 38 calendar but also Department 37 since it was dark. At the first break, and upon her return to the courtroom, the judge -- for no apparent reason -- issued an order precluding the interpreter from working in her courtroom, and she did this in front of everybody humiliating my colleague, a punishment that seems excessive to me. We believe the court's motivation to kick-out the interpreter was in retaliation for the interpreter's complaints about COVID-19 lack of protocol and compliance with CDC guidelines at Department 38.

The Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits retaliation in the workplace against those who report Covid-19 Rule violations. The judge in Department 38 needs to be admonished for her violations and for her apparent retaliation, The order precluding the complaining interpreter from working in Department 38 should be reversed.

ATTACHMENT D

At least 2 different interpreters also reported these violations to the Interpreter Supervisor. The Court should have been notified of these complaints and others, such as my own exposure experience:

In spite of the fact that I am on the High Risk List, I agreed to return to work after reassurances from Administrator II, Amy Blust that Safety/Hygiene Protocols were going to be consistently implemented in CCB/CSF. However, on the 3rd day I returned to work (04/08/2020), a Public Defender and I were exposed to an out of custody defendant who said he had tested positive for Covid-19 in jail, and had not been told to quarantine/self-isolate before being released, and thus appeared in CCB while still infected. Further, I had to tell him on 2 occasions to put on his mask after seeing him talking on his cell phone without the mask on.
Due to this exposure, the PD’s office wisely deemed it appropriate to send their deputy PD home for 14 days. I, however, was not afforded the same safety measures by my Supervisors and denied Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and FFCRA by HR, even though my exposure was greater than hers. Fortunately for the Court and for myself, I tested Negative. However, this is an example of how cavalierly our Supervisors have been handling our risks, in particular my risk and exposure to this crisis. I am still awaiting to be given Telework to reduce my risk to exposure. I am still going in, exposing myself to facing extreme complications.

Every day I go in, I see people throughout the building being negligent. That includes Judges, Deputies, Police Officers, Clerks, Court Reporters, Attorneys, and yes, even Interpreters.

As court employees, we are very reluctant to return to work in the building unless the Court Administration keeps its promises to enforce the appropriate safety measures, per the CDC recommendations. Now that the curve seems to be on the rise again, we cannot afford to let our guard down; safety measures need to be heightened, vigilance needs to be stricter, and violations need to be promptly addressed. For example; the restriction used to be 2 passengers per elevator, shortly after the height of the pandemic. Now that the trend of new infections is on the rise again, we should expect a return to the restriction of two passengers per elevator, commensurate with the risk.

Surely, Public Safety is a priority for the Courts as it is for individuals. This information is conveyed In the spirit of transparency, compliance, fairness and cooperation towards a speedy recovery for our entire society.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Respectfully.

Eric Valdez, Certified Court Interpreter, Full-Time A status Employee. Date: 10/15/2020