Georgia Sued for Making Domestic-Violence Victims Pay Administrative Fees

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A courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia.Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

On June 9, Cleopatra Harris’s boyfriend became angry over dirty dishes left in the sink. According to CBS, he threw her to the floor, grabbed her neck, and punched her. She called the police and reported what had happened; police photographed injuries to her head and neck. But at a court hearing, Harris said she didn’t want to press charges, so Columbus judge Michael Cielinski told her she’d need to pay a $150 fee for the investigation within one week.

The fee is reportedly standard in the state of Georgia, where anyone who reports domestic violence but declines to press charges can be required to pay at least $50. Sarah Geraghty, one of the Southern Center for Human Rights attorneys who filed a federal lawsuit on Harris’s behalf, said the policy “sounds like something out of the 19th century; it’s a holdover from an era in which women were blamed for male violence.”

The suit names Cielinski as a defendant, as well as the city of Columbus, Georgia, and several police officers. It also lists three other cases in which Cielinski told victims they’d be charged with a fee for reporting domestic abuse.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff argues there’s no basis in Georgia law for charging an administrative fee, as Harris’s report wasn’t unfounded, and she was truthful when she reported the alleged abuse in court. An attorney for Cielinski said the judge has yet to be served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.