Mom Must Pay $195,000 in Fees for Custody Battle
Judge rejects claims that father abused child in case that drew unusual protests
The judge overseeing a child-custody battle that brought demonstrators to the Fulton County Courthouse twice this year in support of the mother has made a permanent his decision to keep the 11-year-old child at issue in the father's custody.
Judge John Goger of Fulton Superior Court also ordered the mother to pay $195,513 in attorney fees for pursuing child-abuse allegations against her ex-husband that the judge deemed not credible.
In an order issued Dec. 19, Goger rejected a request by the mother for more than $90,000 for her own fees and expenses, writing, "While this Court notes that efforts to level the playing field are generally viewed favorably in the context of domestic cases, there never should have been a playing field to begin with in this case."
The mother's attorney, Atlanta solo Lisa West, said via email that the award of fees "was clearly not based on the facts of this case. Instead, the court's award of fees was simply the punishment exacted against upon [my] client for exercising her right to have her custody case tried before the court and exercising her [F]irst [A]mendment rights to freedom of speech, petition and assembly."
West has filed a notice of appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court.
Goger's order last spring granting the father primary custody of the child spurred the initial protests by the mother's supporters.
"There has been significant public attendance at trial, protests outside this courthouse, media coverage and social media commentary about the issues in this trial as well as ex-parte correspondence to the court from individuals participating in the forgoing," Goger wrote in a Nov. 25 "Final Order on Custody, Visitation and Child Support."
"Mother's position that media coverage of this trial was appropriate as well as her willingness to participate in public protests about this case and her testimony that she does not have concerns about publicity of the issues justifies" restrictions urged by the child's guardian ad litem and a court-appointed custody evaluator concerning communications between mother and child about abuse issues, and upon public dissemination of information about the child, Goger wrote.
Because of the publicity, Goger previously issued an order mandating that the names of the parties not be revealed by the media.
The case has drawn attention in part due to the presence of green-shirted picketers who descended on the courthouse with signs "shaming" Goger, as well as the father's attorney, Bogart, Hurst & Ference partner Jeffrey Bogart, and a therapist appointed to the case who testified that she did not believe the child had been molested.