December 26, 1998 - The Nashville Tennessean: Mary Griffin was a young Peace Corps volunteer, struggling to learn Spanish and teach good health practices to people in the mountains of Honduras, when she decided to become a lawyer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Honduras: Peace Corps Honduras: The Peace Corps in Honduras: December 26, 1998 - The Nashville Tennessean: Mary Griffin was a young Peace Corps volunteer, struggling to learn Spanish and teach good health practices to people in the mountains of Honduras, when she decided to become a lawyer

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Mary Griffin was a young Peace Corps volunteer, struggling to learn Spanish and teach good health practices to people in the mountains of Honduras, when she decided to become a lawyer



Mary Griffin was a young Peace Corps volunteer, struggling to learn Spanish and teach good health practices to people in the mountains of Honduras, when she decided to become a lawyer

Attorney there for Hispanics in court

By: Kirk Loggins

The Nashville Tennessean , 12/26/98

Mary Griffin was a young Peace Corps volunteer, struggling to learn Spanish and teach good health practices to people in the mountains of Honduras, when she decided to become a lawyer.

"I wasnít one of these people who knew all of my life that I wanted to grow up and be an attorney," said Griffin, an assistant public defender who now works full time representing Hispanic defendants in Davidson Countyís criminal justice system.

It was only after she graduated from New York University, worked at a halfway house for ex-prisoners here and ended up in Honduras that she decided to go to law school and represent Hispanic immigrants in the United States.

"Just seeing how poor the people were in Honduras, and that nobody stood up for them, I think that was the main thing that made me want to come back here and represent Hispanic people."

Griffin, 33, is a self-described "military brat" whose parents, both mental health professionals, settled in Nashville when she was 12. She said her family and teachers in local Catholic schools taught her "that service to others is as important as making money."

Griffin studied French in school, and she hoped to be assigned to a French-speaking country when she joined the Peace Corps in 1988. But the U.S. foreign-aid agency sent her to Honduras, instead, to work in health education.

"The only Spanish I knew at that point was what you would learn from Sesame Street. I couldnít even pronounce the name of the city where they were sending me for training."

Griffin said she got "total immersion" in the local language and culture during three months of training in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and she was then sent to a mountain town where no one spoke English. After about a year there, Griffin said, she decided she wanted to be a lawyer.

"There were no human rights down there. They constantly trampled peopleís rights."

The situation was worsened by the fact that civil wars were under way in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua, "so there was military everywhere in Honduras," Griffin said.

She enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1991 and spent the next summer giving legal aid to migrant farm workers in New Jersey.

After finishing law school in 1994, Griffin was a clerk for Davidson County Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz for a year and went to work at the Metro public defenderís office in October 1995.

She represented a number of Spanish-speaking defendants in the local courts, and judges and other lawyers began turning to her for help when they encountered a Hispanic defendant who knew little or no English.

"For almost a year, every time there was a Spanish speaker anywhere (in court), someone would call or beep me," Griffin said.

"Iíve translated for other lawyers in court, Iíve translated on the traffic docket and Iíve translated weddings. In the beginning it wasnít such a problem, but then the caseload kind of took off."

She also found time to marry Steve Harden, a teacher at St. Cecilia Academy, and to have a daughter, Anna, who is now 2.

Metro Public Defender Karl Dean assigned Griffin in November 1997 to work full time with the Spanish-speaking clients. Dean has recently hired three more attorneys who speak Spanish, and he hopes to add a Spanish-speaking investigator to his staff soon.

"Weíve saved Metro a lot of money by being able to do most of our case preparation (with Spanish-speaking clients) without an interpreter, but that does not remove the need to have interpreters in the courtroom," Dean said.

Griffin said she has represented about 200 Hispanic clients in the past year, on charges ranging from driving without a license to murder.

She said there is still a steady flow of new arrivals here from Mexico and points south.

"Just because they all speak Spanish doesnít mean they all like each other. Being from Puerto Rico or El Salvador can be as different as America versus Australia. The cultures are that different, and the accents are very different."

Griffin said most of the Hispanic immigrants she has met here are hard working and determined to pay their own way.

"They are so generous, and very forgiving. They are more than happy to share their language, their culture and their homes."

She said she is disturbed by the hostility that some people who work in the court system have shown to her clients, calling them "Taco" and saying things like, "Donít help those people. We donít want them to stay here."

"If they make those comments to me, I canít imagine what theyíre saying to my clients."

Griffin has also helped to start a Hispanic community service organization called Alianza Latina, which can be reached at 340-2770, and she has a biweekly radio call-in show on Hispanic health, legal and social issues at 7 p.m. every other Tuesday on WWCR-AM (1300).




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Story Source: The Nashville Tennessean

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Honduras; Law

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