Madison County Probate Judge Cody Cross says he has never held traffic court without at least one defendant not understanding English. “We average about 10 defendants who can’t speak English on a court date,” said Cross. “Sometimes more, sometimes less … Every court date there has always been a non-English speaking person there.”

The judge says the court averages about 150 cases during monthly hearings.

Cross said the Department of Justice is auditing court systems to make sure they have interpreters on hand to keep defendants informed about the proceedings. The judge said the county could be in trouble if the federal government catches courts without required interpreters.

“I would hate to speculate,” said Cross. “We could be in trouble if we get caught without an interpreter.”

Months ago, Cross appeared before commissioners to request the hiring of a traffic court prosecutor and public defender once a month. Those positions are funded with fines assessed on defendants in traffic court. The interpreter’s position will also be covered with fines from the traffic court. But non-English speakers won’t be charged extra for an interpreter.

“We can take this out of the prosecution/defense fee,” said Cross. “We can’t impose a fee on the non-English speaking people (for an interpreter).”

Cross said there are three certified intepreters in Athens whose service averages about $45 an hour. He said he plans to take about two hours each traffic court date dealing with non-English speaking defendants first with an interpreter present. Cross also said he plans to coordinate the use of an interpreter with the magistrate court, which also needs the service.

The board unanimously approved the hiring of court interpreters on a monthly basis.

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