Ariz Supreme Court bars candidate from running

February 7, 2012 - 7:25 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed a ruling that barred a woman from running for a city council seat because she doesn't speak English proficiently.

The state's highest court ruled that Alejandrina Cabrera's name shouldn't appear on the March 13 election ballot in San Luis but didn't list a reason for the decision. A full written ruling is expected at a later date, according to an Arizona Supreme Court spokeswoman.

The case brought widespread attention to the southern Arizona border city after Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a court action asking for a determination of whether Cabrera has the English skills necessary to serve a four-year term.

State law requires elected officials to know English, but Cabrera's attorneys claimed the law doesn't define proficiency in the language.

John Minore, an attorney for Cabrera, said his office is looking at ways to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cabrera's lawyers previously said the action against their client was politically motivated because of her efforts to recall Escamilla. Cabrera began circulating petitions to recall the mayor in April after the council hiked utility rates and approved the layoffs of 12 city employees as part of spending cuts.

Cabrera previously told the Yuma Sun that she needs to improve her command of English but insisted her language skills are adequate for serving the border city where Spanish is used as often as English. She also said she will keep campaigning.

Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson ruled on Jan. 27 to strike Cabrera's name from the ballot. Her attorneys appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court three days later and asked for an expedited ruing because of a deadline for printing the election ballots.

Cabrera, who last year launched two unsuccessful attempts to recall Escamilla as mayor, was one of 10 candidates who filed petitions to run for the council.

Nelson's ruling was based on tests administered by a sociolinguistics expert, as well as Cabrera's inability to respond to questions posed to her in English at a hearing.

The action against Cabrera also stemmed from a Dec. 14 complaint made by former mayor Guillermina Fuentes that Cabrera isn't fluent in English, according to The Sun.

Fuentes claimed she has acted as an interpreter for Cabrera.

Sociolinguistics expert William Eggington presented the court with results of three different tests he administered to Cabrera, who graduated from Kofa High School in Yuma. One measured her English-speaking skill, another was to determine if she reads the language, and the third was to assess her level of English comprehension.

Eggington's report said Cabrera's English skills did not meet the level of language proficiency needed to serve on the council.