By Daniel Silliman
Judge Linda Cowen lists the solicitor general's diversionary programs and the sheriff's unserved warrants as top problems in the county's struggle to stop domestic violence.
"I've sat helplessly as the state has dismissed cases," said the state court judge Monday night. "It distresses me when these cases get diverted. They should always be prosecuted, in my opinion."
Cowen said the sheriff's office hasn't served thousands of outstanding warrants in the county, leaving perpetrators wanted for domestic violence free to terrorize and attack again.
Cowen's comments came in the middle of a short speech at the annual Clayton County Association Against Family Violence meeting, where she was the featured speaker. She started by calling domestic violence a "plague" that was important to her as a judge and as a human being, and talked about progress that has been made in the last decade and challenges that remain, including laws she'd like to see changed. In the middle though, the judge had a few pointed words for the solicitor and the sheriff, and was then challenged to an impromptu debate.
The solicitor general, Leslie Miller Terry, challenged the judge, saying she misrepresented what was actually happening in Terry's office.
Terry is running for her second term as solicitor general, this year, and cites diversionary, alternative programs and an increase in domestic violence conviction rates as reasons she should be re-elected.
Terry said the judge "wasn't being clear," and said the only domestic violence cases diverted were cases where the victim hit back and was then arrested.
"Is that what you're talking about?" the solicitor general said. "Do you really think these cases should be prosecuted? They've been victimized not only by the spouse, but by the system."
Cowen said she wasn't talking about those cases, said Terry should trust the police officers and cited a case from 2006. In that case, Cowen said, a man was arrested for domestic violence, and the case was dismissed. In the next few months, he committed two more domestic violence crimes. He pleaded guilty, was given parole, and was arrested in the next year, on charges of statutory rape, trespassing and making terroristic threats. He is currently facing felony charges, and is at large, Cowen said.
"I don't know why the sheriff can't find him," she said. "He keeps finding his victims."
Neither the sheriff nor his public information officer could be reached for comment.
The judge's comments were applauded by Tasha Mosley, the Henry County Assistant District Attorney who is challenging Terry in the upcoming election, and by a number of staff members who work at Secur'us House, Clayton County's shelter for domestic violence victims.
One women, in the back of the room, commented that Terry "asked for it."
Terry said she didn't think the judge was "being clear" about what was going on in state court, and said many cases are dismissed because there's not enough evidence, and domestic violence cases are notoriously hard to prosecute. Terry, in her campaign for re-election, boasts that the conviction rate in these cases is up about 25 percent.
Cowen told the audience she just made the statements because she wanted to be clear that the judges in Clayton County, and the Clayton County Police Department are opposed to domestic violence and are working to stop it.
Richard Highland, vice president of the Secur'us board, attempted to smooth things over, after giving Cowen an award for service.
"It's not one single entity that can change it all," he said. "There's not a silver bullet. There's not one thing that solves the problem."