ACLU not asked to get involved
The Times Leader
March 28, 2008


Judge Olszewski’s order that 4 men learn English, get GEDs questioned.

By David Weiss
Court Reporter

WILKES-BARRE – Unless asked, the American Civil Liberties Union would not be able to challenge a judge’s ruling that requires four defendants to learn English, an attorney said.

“The only people who could challenge are them,” ACLU staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper said. “They’d have to ask us to represent them. … None of them has called us at the moment asking us to get involved.”

Her comments came two days after Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. ordered four defendants to learn to read and write the English language as a condition of their parole.

He said he decided on the condition after seeing that each of the defendants – Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez, Kelvin Reyes-Rosario and Rafael Guzman-Mateo – needed translators when they appeared in court to plead guilty to criminal conspiracy charges.

Olszewski sentenced each of them to four to 24 months in the county prison, but paroled three of them because they have already served at least four months.

In order for them to avoid the 24 months in prison, Olszewski ordered the men to learn English, earn their GED, and, within 30 days of release, get a full-time job while on parole.

The defendants, ages 17 to 22, are to return to court in one year with their parole officers to take an English test, Olszewski said.

If they don’t pass, they will be sent back to prison, Olszewski said.

Olszewski said he issued the condition to help, not punish, the defendants. Learning the language, he said, will help them earn their GED and get a job.

Defense attorneys Joseph Yeager and Ferris Webby were looking at the condition to see if it should be appealed.

Webby said his client, Guzman-Mateo, was happy with the decision. Webby, too, thinks the language condition will help his client succeed.

But Dr. Agapito Lopez, a Latino community leader, believes the move violated the defendants’ rights and planned to speak to ACLU attorneys about it.

Roper, too, had some concerns.

Normally, judges impose parole conditions that are directly related to deterring a defendant from committing another crime.

It’s usual, she said, for judges to order defendants to get a GED or drug counseling.

“A lot of those things are directly related to the incident,” she said.

But a defendant’s language, she said, is not directly related to the crime.

“I am not aware of any statistic or evidence that would suggest that people who speak Spanish or don’t speak English are more likely to commit crimes,” she said. “The concern here is that the judge has identified a characteristic that is not actually about fighting crime.”


David Weiss, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7397.