After the Department of Justice’s Report on Ferguson was released earlier this month, news outlets worldwide broke down the scathing report and often added their own stories of just how terrible this court has treated defendants. We all know that these problems are by no means limited to Ferguson. Go five miles in any direction from Ferguson and you can see the same unconstitutional practices happening on a daily basis. This story on the Huffington Post this morning illustrates some troubling but all-too-common instances of injustice in “cities” like Pasadena Hills, Pine Lawn, and Jennings. It’s a bit of a long read but well worth it. Check it out.
By now you’ve probably read, or at least have heard of some of the findings, of the Department of Justice’s Ferguson Report that was released last week. It was all kinds of terrible, and exposed many things that attorneys who represent clients in Ferguson and surrounding courts have known about for years. After the report was issued, every attorney that I talked to had many ideas of what some of the fallout would be, but just about everyone agreed that huge changes would come as a result of such an embarrassing report made public for the world to see.
The first of what are likely to be dozens of major changes were announced last night. First, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order transferring all Ferguson Municipal Court cases to the St. Louis County Circuit Court. These cases have all been assigned to Missouri Court of Appeals Judge Roy Richter, because, in another interesting move, Ron Brockmeyer, the longtime Ferguson judge, resigned yesterday.
Brockmeyer is also the judge and prosecutor in a few other North County Municipalities. Late last night, it was reported that he has also resigned from his position as the prosecutor for the neighboring town of Dellwood. Coinciding with this announcement, the mayor of Dellwood announced that he has ordered his municipal court to dismiss every single traffic-related case pending since before April 11, 2012.
We’re still in the first week since the release of the DOJ Report, so expect many more changes to occur in the coming days and weeks. Check back for updates.
Since red-light cameras were implemented in the Missouri area 10 years ago, nearly 1 million drivers have received red-light camera tickets in nearly 30 municipalities statewide. A settlement reached late last year in St. Louis County grants drivers who paid fines prior to November 21, 2014 a 20% refund on the fines that they have paid. Nearly every city’s fine that we’ve seen have been for an even $100, so if you’ve paid one of these annoying tickets, you have most likely received a postcard in the mail and are entitled to at least $20.
If you haven’t received your postcard (likely because you’ve moved since you received and/or paid your fine), you can find more information on how to receive your refund here. Keep in mind, if you’d like to get some of your money back, you must claim your refund NO LATER THAN February 28, 2015. Also, since red light cameras are still technically legal in Missouri pending a ruling by our state’s Supreme Court, some aggrieved drivers may choose not to receive their refund and keep their ability to sue down the road. You can find our more information on that option here.
Check back later this year for a breakdown of the final red-light camera ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Late last month, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order that said that when a defendant in a municipal court does not have the money to pay his/her fines, the court must either a.) give the person more time to pay; or, b.) allow the person to set up a payment plan that works with the person’s financial situation.
This long-overdue policy change is a direct result of local advocacy groups who demanded changes to municipal court policies in the wake of the Ferguson unrest. Most courts have had payment plan options in place long before the Ferguson unrest, but these payment plans were of a set monthly amount dictated by the court, and were not dependent on each individual defendant’s own income situation. And this new rule goes on to say that when a defendant misses an installment payment, he will be ordered to appear in court to explain his/her missed payment, unlike the old method in which a missed installment payment resulted in an immediate warrant.
This change in the way courts in our city operate has been needed for some time, and these changes will go into effect on July 1 of this year. While most courts will likely start implementing these changes in advance of July 1, it would be wise to contact us to determine if the court in which you are facing charges has already began these more flexible policies.
It’s been another great year here in Webster Groves. Thanks to all of our clients, friends and family for a successful 2014. Please be careful if you’re out celebrating this evening ringing in 2015.
Also, be alert for the city of St. Louis’ “No Refusal Zone” if you’re out in the city tonight, as explained in this piece on St. Louis Public Radio (and featuring colleague and neighbor John Schleiffarth)
See you in 2015!
13 local beacons of justice have been named in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Chris Koster this morning alleging, among other things, failure to provide required annual financial reports, deriving too much of their revenue from municipal court fines, and several other offenses that those in the St. Louis legal community have known for years. The State also alleges that due to these violations, these municipal courts have lacked jurisdiction over traffic violations occurring in their towns since as far back as March 1 of this year.
The list of cities named as defendants includes: Bellerieve Acres, Beverly Hills, Breckenridge Hills, Crystal Lake Park, Hillsdale, Mackenzie, Moline Acres, Normandy, Pagedale, Pasadena Park, Uplands Park, Velda Village Hills, and Vinita Terrace.
The fact that other North County municipalities such as St. Ann, Charlack, Edmundson and about a dozen other municipalities survived being named in this suit is most surprising of all. Koster also alleges that these municipal courts have violated what is known as the “Mack’s Creek Law”, which prevents municipalities in this state from deriving more than 35% of their operating revenues from traffic fines for violations occurring on state or federal highways. By law, any excess revenue collected over that 35% cap must be handed over to the Department of Revenue (which then puts it back into local schools).
What will result from this suit will be extremely interesting, and it will be fascinating to watch this unfold as the calendar turns to 2015. Will these towns simply dissolve (like the town for which the ‘Mack’s Creek Law’ was named)? Will they merge? Will more towns be added to later versions of this suit? What about guilty pleas entered in these courts during the second half of this year? At a very minimum, I think we can expect much more fairness and transparency from these courts in 2015 and beyond.
You can read the lawsuit in full here.
While this is in no way law-related, I encourage all of you to take some time and check out this incredible organization that my brother Alex and his talented group of friends have started. They have lost a couple of close friends to suicide while they were students at Mizzou. Both deaths came as a total surprise to everyone, as these young adults were the lives of the party and showed no signs of being suicidal.
Rather than allow their friends to become mere statistics, my brother and his friends have decided to start a group to get the uncomfortable topic of suicide out into the open and begin the discussion that can save lives. They have decided to make a documentary, and this week they started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money. Hoping to maybe raise $10,000 over a few months, this campaign has already raised $20,000 in 48 hours.
Please check out the powerful video on this site, consider making a donation, and please pass this on to your friends and family. They also have a website for their documentary, which is also worth checking out. No donation is too small.
While the issue of red light cameras has been decided in courtrooms from small municipal courts all the way up to the state Supreme Court in recent years, voters in St. Charles County had a chance to have their voices heard Tuesday when an amendment banning the use of red light cameras was placed on the ballot. And it wasn’t even close. Nearly 75% of voters overwhelmingly shot down the use of red light cameras which are currently only in use in one St. Charles County municipality: St. Peters. A permenant state-wide ban could be in place when the Missouri Supreme Court issues its ruling in the coming months.
Good news for those seeking/claiming Social Security disability benefits, as the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced the 2015 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) yesterday. Keeping with the trend of the last few years, the 1.7% COLA will put roughly $22 extra dollars a month in beneficiaries’ pockets beginning in January. This is a slight increase to the 1.5% COLA announced last October for this current year. Beneficiaries of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will also see slight increases in their monthly benefits check.
If the headline seems too good to be true, it’s not. Indeed, the City Municipal Court announced yesterday that it will be recalling over 200,000 non-violent warrants. If you have one of these warrants, all you need to do is contact the court and schedule a new date before the end of the year. It really does appear to be that simple.
If you have a warrant, the Court plans on sending a postcard to the address that they have on file for you. It is then up to you to take this postcard and come to the Municipal Court to set up a new date. (Note: like all of the amnesty programs in the past, this does NOT apply to DUI warrants) Unlike amnesty programs in the past, there is no fee for this service.
This is without question the most forgiving warrant amnesty program I’ve ever seen. The Mayor’s office claims that this program is in response to the recent events in Ferguson, and one can only assume that similar programs will soon be implemented in St. Louis County municipal courts in the near future.