News & Stories

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 9:08am by Diane Stiefermann

Community Crafts Solutions for Court Reform at Ferguson Commission Meeting

Experts from Better Together STL, Arch Defenders, Washington University Share Research, Insights

ST. LOUIS - At its third meeting, the community and Ferguson Commission emphatically agreed on one thing: The urgent need for reform across the region’s municipal court system.

Hundred of comments written on giant sheets of paper lined the walls of Il Monastero, as more than 200 members of the community shared their ideas on how to improve the municipal government organization and the court system.

“We urge the state to use their lawful power to stop these harmful practices now,” said Commission co-chairs Rev. Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure. “The state needs to immediately begin enforcing the law requiring a municipality to have no more than 30 percent of its revenue from fees and fines.”

Several experts provided specific information on how the area’s fractured structure disproportionately affects minorities and the poor and the urgent need for dedicated court reform.

  • Commissioner and former Hazelwood mayor T.R. Carr Jr. shared research and insights on municipal government structure in St. Louis County. “There are more governments in the St. Louis region than countries in the U.N.,” Carr said. Decentralization of government and an unclear structure for sharing tax revenue all contribute to the regional fragmentation in St. Louis County.
  • Thomas Harvey of Arch City Defenders spoke on how through repetitive -- and sometimes illegal -- fines and fees “preventing people from exiting poverty.” Harvey urges a more equitable court system with set fine and fees, different payment plans and options, and impactful community service opportunities.
  • Professor Mae Quinn of Washington University, who has practiced law across the country, described how the penalty-laden municipal court system in this region leads to widespread due process violation, hostile retaliation and “unequal and inhumane practices” that affect the lives of youth – especially in predominately minority communities. Quinn suggested municipalities issue amnesty to youths with warrants and a total overhaul of the municipality structure by civil infractions not being criminalized, or by public defenders being used in the municipal system.
  • David Leipholtz of Better Together St. Louis shared research from a study by the organization. Despite being home to only 22 percent of Missourians, municipal courts in the region accounted for 46 percent of all fines and fees statewide. His organization believes lack of oversights in municipal court and the reliance of revenue from fines and fees, along with procedural issues, create a lack of trust in municipal court system.

“Based on our understanding of these issues, it is imperative we renew our call to public officials to make important changes to move our region forward. Our charge isn’t just recommendation, but action,” said Wilson and McClure.

On Tuesday, Dec. 16, Commissioner and Missouri Director of Public Safety Dan Isom II hosted the first meeting of the Working Group on Community Policing, Racial Profiling and Use of Force. The meeting was held at 8 a.m. at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 1 University Blvd., 324 Lucas Hall, St. Louis 63121.

The Commission is an empowered, independent and diverse group that is studying the underlying social and economic conditions underscored by unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown. Members include: co-chairs Rev. Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure, Kevin Ahlbrand, Rasheen Aldridge, Jr., the Rev. Traci Blackmon, T.R. Carr, Gabriel E. Gore Jr., Dan Isom II, Becky James-Hatter, Bethany Johnson-Javois, Scott Negwer, Brittany Packnett, Felicia Pulliam, Patrick Sly, Grayling Tobias and Rose Windmiller.

Join us on Twitter: @STLChange #FergusonCommission