Double-Duty: Bailiff and Interpreter

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) -- The legal status of Hispanic immigrants received a lot of attention over the past year, but what about when Spanish speakers go to court?

There are not a lot of court translators, but Marshall County has one who is happy to help.

Steve Connolly was born in Florida and his parents are from New York, but his father was in the military and he grew up in Venezuela.  His first language was Spanish, so he later attended Snead State Community College to strengthen his English skills.

He started volunteering as a Marshall County bailiff many years ago, but around 2000, his childhood skill earned him a new job from Judge Tim Jolley.

"We had a Hispanic case and they were from Mexico," Connolly said.

"{Judge Jolley] looked around he said 'We need an interpreter' so I started talking Spanish and it shocked him to death."

The judge made arrangements for Connolly to become the court's regular interpreter.

Connolly said there are normally one dozen to two dozen Hispanic cases when he assists the judges with Wednesday traffic court every other week.

"Regardless if they say they that they speak english, [the judge] wants me to talk to them in Spanish to make sure that they get a fair trial," Connolly said.

"So later on they don't come back and say we didn't understand."

Sometimes he will get a call to come in for particular cases.

He served as an interpreter for the May 2012 trial of a spanish speaking Arab couple charged with child abuse.  A jury found the couple not guilty.

"When I'm translating I'm neutral, I don't take one side or the other," he said.

"Even if I've got my own opinion of what's going on, I stay neutral.  It's just part of the job."

Connolly said the interpreters of the future may already be in Marshall County, as American-born children of Hispanic immigrants usually speak Spanish.

"Some of them might even be lawyers and be translators, as there's a lot more young kids growing up nowadays that speak both English and Spanish," he said.

He plans to keep interpreting as long as he lives.