Calling the city Recorders Court in Columbus, Georgia “a troubled and dysfunctional institution whose judges and clerks routinely disregard the rights of defendants, including indigent citizens,” the Southern Center for Human Rights, with support from the DKT Liberty Project, sued the mayor of Columbus, the chief judge of the city Recorders Court, and his clerk on behalf of two indigent women who contended they were unconstitutionally jailed and denied court records necessary to challenge their convictions. (See DKT Liberty Project Newsletter, summer 2017)
Now, the lawsuit has been settled as the City of Columbus agreed to major changes in how the Recorders Court operates. The controversial Chief Judge Michael P. Cielinski has retired. The lone public defender has also retired and been replaced. They were at the center of the lawsuit over the treatment of Elizabeth King and Kiona Wright who could not afford to pay traffic ticket fines and consequently were jailed. This form of sentencing was routinely imposed on poor defendants by the Recorders Court.
As a result of the settlement, the Court will now grant defendants and attorneys access to court documents that are crucial for defending these cases. Access to these records was previously denied, in violation of federal and state law. Access to these records were essential in protecting the constitutional rights of these women to defend themselves. A Public Records Request Compliance Officer has also been appointed. Additionally, King and Wright were awarded $5,000 each and are no longer threatened with jail for their prior convictions.