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Potential Class-action Suit over Domestic Violence “Victim Fees” in Georgia

The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and Columbus, Georgia attorney Mark C. Post filed a federal lawsuit on October 5, 2016 on behalf of Cleopatra Harrison and a potential class of other women who were charged controversial “victim fees” and threatened with jail if they failed to pay.

Harrison and the other women were victims of domestic violence whose cases were handled by the Columbus Recorder’s Court. The lawsuit claims a city ordinance requires the fee to be assessed if battered women refuse to cooperate with the police investigating their cases. If they fail to pay, they are told they can be jailed. Harrison was charged a $150 fee, which she could not afford, when she said she didn’t want to serve as a prosecution witness after being assaulted by her boyfriend.

Harrison’s attorneys argued the practice unconstitutionally punishes victims of domestic violence and lacks any basis in Georgia law. The city’s “policy toward women experiencing domestic violence sounds like something out of the nineteenth century,” stated SCHR attorney Sarah Geraghty. “It’s a holdover from an era in which women were blamed for male violence.”

The City of Columbus issued a statement shortly after the complaint was filed, saying the issue was under review. The statement also said the mayor, the city council and law enforcement officials “take the allegations contained in the lawsuit seriously, want to insure that all citizens are treated fairly throughout the judicial process and are always concerned about the rights of victims of crimes, including those involving domestic violence.”

In addition to the city, the lawsuit names the Muscogee County sheriff, the Columbus police chief and a city officer as defendants. See: Harrison v. Consolidated Government of Columbus, Georgia, U.S.D.C. (M.D. GA), Case No. 4:16-cv-00329-CDL.

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Related legal case

Harrison v. Consolidated Government of Columbus, Georgia