U-T: Woman Forced To Pay Attacker's Attorney Fees

Rape Victim Forced To Pay Attorney Fees In Addition To Spousal Support

A Carlsbad woman whose ex-husband is in prison for sexually assaulting her in 2008 has been ordered to pay spousal support and $47,000 in attorney fees that her attacker accrued in their divorce.

» Sign Up For Breaking News Alerts» Like Us On Facebook

Months before her husband was convicted, Crystal Harris, a stockbroker and mother of two, was required to pay $3,000 a month to Shawn Harris, a stay-at-home-father who was facing three felony charges in Vista Superior Court.

That amount was reduced to $1,000 a month because of the domestic violence allegations.

“I call that the rape discount,” Crystal Harris said.

After a jury convicted her husband last year of a sex crime, a Family Court judge determined that Harris was not required to pay spousal support while Shawn Harris, 41, serves time in prison. That order can be reconsidered after his release.

The judge then approved an agreement between the former spouses, requiring Crystal Harris, 39, to pay $47,000 for her former husband’s lawyer.

Harris said this week that she agreed to the amount for fear the judge would order her to pay much more. She said she felt re-victimized as a result of the order and is working to change the law that allowed it.

“You don’t pay a dime to somebody that rapes you,” Harris said. “That’s sick.”

She has support from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who has asked her staff to help craft legislation that would exempt those convicted of violent felonies, such as rape or sexual assault, from being awarded payments from an injured spouse. The current law exempts those convicted of attempted murder.

Dumanis said Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, has agreed to introduce the bill.

“We’ve identified a problem in the law that needs to be rectified, and we’re doing that,” Dumanis said.

Shawn and Crystal Harris were married in 1996 and later had two boys. During the marriage, Crystal was the breadwinner, while her husband — a former car salesman — stayed home with their children.

There was trouble in the marriage early on. Later, it turned violent, court records show.

Shawn Harris pleaded guilty in 1998 to a domestic violence-related assault. Crystal Harris filed for divorce at that time, and again in 2007, but they reconciled each time.

Then, in March 2008, Shawn Harris, who had accused his wife of lying to him, forced her to commit a sex act, according to court records. She recorded the attack on a tape recorder she had hidden in a bathroom drawer. She had managed to slip away from her husband long enough to turn it on.

A few days later, she said, another attack occurred when her husband threatened her, grabbed her by the throat and forced her to have sex.

The San Diego Union-Tribune usually does not identify sexual assault victims, but Crystal Harris asked to be named for this story. Shawn Harris’ defense lawyer argued in trial that the sex was consensual and that the couple often engaged in “role playing.” A jury found the husband guilty of a sex crime stemming from the March 2008 incident but was unable to reach verdicts on the other charges, including spousal rape.

He was sentenced in January to a six-year prison term and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

In a separate Family Court proceeding in October, Judge Gregory Pollack ordered Crystal Harris to pay $47,000 to her former husband, based on their agreement. That amount was reduced to a little more than $26,000 because Shawn Harris was ordered to pay restitution in the criminal case.

Karen Dalton, the San Diego Superior Court spokeswoman, said Pollack could not comment on the case because it remains open.

“All divorce cases involving children stay open until the children turn 18,” Dalton said.

Divorce lawyer Pierre Domercq, who represented Shawn Harris, said he believed the judge acted fairly, based on the disparities between the spouses’ incomes. Before he was convicted, Shawn Harris worked as a taxi driver, making $400 a month, and his sister paid for his legal representation.

“He just wants to pay his sister back,” Domercq said.

The attorney said he understood the desire to protect some people from having to make payments to an abusive ex-spouse, but cautioned against taking too much authority away from judges.

“You want them to have some discretion to do what they think is right,” he said.

Although she has not yet paid any spousal support, Crystal Harris said she is concerned that a judge could require her to start after her ex-husband is released from prison. He would have to return to court to make the request.

Janet Bowermaster, a family law professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said it’s possible that Harris would be ordered to pay her attacker spousal support.

“The bottom line is, they don’t want an ex-spouse to become a ward of the state,” she said.

For other stories from our news partner, go to uniontrib.com.

Print this article Back to Top