Two Columbus women are suing the city and three of its employees, including Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, over the actions of the Columbus Recorder’s Court, according to court documents.
Elizabeth Harris King, 58, and Keiona Wright, 25, both described as indigent in their lawsuit, are suing the Columbus Consolidated Government, Chief Recorder’s Court Judge Mike Cielinski, Recorder’s Court Clerk Terri Ezell and Tomlinson for numerous alleged offenses.
According to the lawsuit, filed by lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights were violated and the local Recorder’s Court routinely refuses to grant defendants or their attorneys access to court records.
Both King and Wright appeared recently in Recorder’s Court and now claim they were jailed in violation of their Constitutional rights and that they cannot access court records “that would allow their attorneys to properly investigate their cases.”
The suit claims Cielinski sentenced Wright to 60 months probation and ordered her to pay more than $2,000 in fines, $2,640 in probation fees and spend three weekends in jail for several traffic violations. King was reportedly sentenced to two months in jail for shoplifting, and was not informed that she could have had a lawyer appointed to represent her, the suit alleges.
Among the records the plaintiffs’ lawyers say the court is withholding illegally are records of the initiation of charges, advisement of defendants’ rights, conditions of probation, warrants, petitions to revoke probation and revocation orders.
Instead of providing those records, the suit claims, the court clerk provides a one-page “certified disposition,” which is not officially part of the court record.
“The defendants’ refusal to comply with public right of access laws and court rules makes it impossible for criminal defendants and their attorneys to determine the status of a given case, the length of a person’s jail sentence, the duration of a approbation sentence, the conditions of probation, or the amount owed by the defendant,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit is seeking a judgment declaring the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights were violated, an order forcing the defendants to halt their “unlawful policies,” a judgment awarding the plaintiffs “compensatory, nominal and punitive” damages and an order granting “reasonable attorney fees.”
Cielinski and Ezell are listed as defendants in both their official and personal capacities. Tomlinson is listed in only her official capacity. The suit was filed in Muscogee Superior Court last Thursday.
City Attorney Clifton Fay said his office is reviewing the suit, but that no one has been formally served yet. He also said Tomlinson “is not a proper party” to the lawsuit.
“The mayor and council have always been concerned that people get a fair hearing in Recorder’s Court,” Fay said. “Everyone is committed to that.”