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Friday, July 30, 2010

Local courts faced with high costs of interpreters

Despite the bleak job market, there's one well-paying career that always seems to be in high demand.

Court interpreters charge an average of $50 per hour for their services, in addition to their mileage reimbursement.

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  • Photo courtesy of Fejér Bálint

For many non-English-speaking defendants, having an interpreter can make the difference between getting a fair trial and being denied due process. But it's costing cities and counties in metro Atlanta hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to provide these services to defendants for free.

Georgia law requires that all non-English speaking criminal and misdemeanor defendants be appointed an interpreter. If the court approves a pauper's affidavit in a civil case, an interpreter is provided at no cost.

Under the state Supreme Court's rules, the court can bill the defendants for the interpreter expenses in some circumstances. But, looking at recent figures, this is a rare occurrence. Instead, the cities absorb most of these costs, putting a big dent in their budgets.

The AJC reported that the extremely diverse Gwinnett County spent $539,803 on interpreters in its court system in 2009. In Cobb County, the amount totaled $255,563.

Just last week, Alpharetta's City Council got the news that there would be a huge jump in these costs. Their contract now reads that interpreter services in municipal court for fiscal 2011 will be $40,000. Last year's amount was just $27,500.

Some council members have objected to the rising expenses, saying the city shouldn't be responsible for providing interpreters to defendants unless their immigration status is confirmed. Many of them are neither residents nor taxpayers in the city that's funding the services, and some may not even be in the country legally.

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