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State Files Lawsuit Against 13 North County Municipal Courts

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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.

Wake Up and Help Eradicate Suicide

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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.

St. Charles County Bans Red Light Cameras

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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.

2015 Cost-of-Living Increase Announced for Social Security Beneficiaries

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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.

STL City Recalling Most Non-Violent Muni Court Warrants for Free

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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.

Have You Ever Paid a Red-Light Ticket? You May Be Getting a Refund

News

A proposed legal settlement between attorneys for aggrieved drivers and a prominent national red-light camera company could mean money in hundreds of thousands of Missourians’ pockets. The proposed settlement amount is for an estimated $16 million, and includes a 20% refund on 800,000 tickets issued from cameras operated by American Traffic Solutions in the St.Louis area since 2005.

The proposed settlement will be filed in St. Louis County this week for final approval. The purpose of the settlement is to put an end to several large class-action lawsuits naming American Traffic Solutions as defendants. Check back here for more information on how you or someone you know can get a refund.

Washington Post Shines a Light on the County Municipal Court System

News

There are so many things wrong with the municipal court system in St. Louis County. Some courts are efficient and fair and dispose of justice effectively. Some. But there are over 80 municipal courts in this County, and a majority of these courts and their practices are downright embarrassing. Those of us who represent clients in County municipal courts, and especially the dozens of courts in North County, have known about this sad state of affairs for years.

Today, the Washington Post released what I suppose could be termed an “exposĂ©” revealing just how bad things have become in these courts.

The events that took place in Ferguson last month were no doubt more a response to the corrupt system of government in that neck of the woods than simple outrage over the death of one young man. I encourage you to read this (very long) article if you would like to know the types of stories we hear on an almost daily basis.

Kirkwood Bans Texting and Driving

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Our neighbors in Kirkwood this week passed an ordinance banning texting and driving for all drivers, regardless of age. State law makes it illegal for drivers under 21 to text or use their smartphones while driving, but in the past few months, several local towns have implemented a ban for all drivers. The question of whether municipalities can enforce harsher restrictions than state laws provide has and will continue to lead to controversy, but in an area with a lot of foot traffic like Kirkwood, this can only be seen as a positive development. Whether officers will actually enforce this law remains to be seen, but one can only wonder if this law will apply to unfortunate drivers who find themselves stuck for 15 minutes waiting for train to cross in downtown Kirkwood.

Supreme Court Rules that Police Must Obtain a Warrant Before Searching Through Your Cell Phone

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In a unanimous decision this morning, the United States Supreme Court held that police must obtain a search warrant before searching through a cell phone seized during an arrest. With all the many things that we store in our cell phones: pictures, messages, emails, bank information etc., it is surprising that before today law enforcement officers did not need a warrant to go through your phone. In fact it was widely assumed by many people that such a requirement was already in place. We’ve had more than a few consultations with clients where this strange and outdated policy had to be explained. But as of today, the law of the land has finally caught up with the 21st century.

The Court acknowledged in Davis v. California that cell phones in 2014 store troves of personal information, and that “the fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” Chief Justice John Roberts went on to say that cellphones “are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Cannot argue with that logic.

The 4th Amendment, as many people know, protects us from unreasonable searches (among other things). Soon after a person is arrested, however, the law regarding the 4th Amendment can get very murky. So it is nice to have another bright-line rule regarding a common search issue, and it is nice to celebrate another victory for our privacy.

Should Missouri Follow the Trend of Shaming Drunk Driving Offenders?

News

There is a trend in this country for state motor vehicle departments to issue unique license plates for drivers convicted of DUI. A few states such as Georgia and Minnesota currently have special plates which simply have a unique set of letters and numbers that, in all likelihood, would only be recognizable to law enforcement. But we were just made aware of one state, Ohio, which takes this public shaming to a whole new level.

Check out this picture of the bright yellow license plate issued to certain classes of DUI offenders in Ohio. These have been in practice for nearly a decade, but this is the first we have heard of this. They are apparently affectionately known to Ohioans as “party plates”, and they are mandatory for high-BAC first-time convictions as well as subsequent convictions within a 6-year period.

While there have always been rumors of bill of this type coming up in Missouri, no such bill has even been introduced. Is this public shaming a deterrent to drunk driving? Or is it exactly that – public shaming, which may subject drivers to increased scrutiny for law enforcement? It’s an interesting question, and we thank Shawn for bringing this fun fact to our attention!

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