Judge sides with St. Louis County cities that claimed municipal court reform law is unfair

by Jennifer S. Mann and Jeremy Kohler  |  published on March 30, 2016

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A judge in Cole County Circuit Court on Monday struck down provisions of a law that limited what municipalities in St. Louis County could raise through municipal court fees and fines and set minimum standards for police departments.

Several cities in St. Louis County had challenged the law, calling it an improper “special law” that unfairly targeted them, and an unfunded mandate that would be illegal under the Missouri Constitution.

The main source of contention was the way the law unevenly applied to St. Louis County, whose municipalities were banned from generating more than 12.5 percent of their general revenue from traffic fines and fees. The limit was set at 20 percent in the rest of the state, down from 30 percent statewide previously. People on both sides of the issue said they believe the 20 percent limit remains in effect statewide.

The law, which is known as Senate Bill 5, came in response to the unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. An ongoing Post-Dispatch investigation has exposed how cities in the St. Louis area rely heavily on court fines and fees to raise revenue for city services. The system is rife with conflicts of interest, uses illegal tactics to coerce payments and offers little transparency. Public interest lawyers from ArchCity Defenders and St. Louis University have pushed for reforms through lawsuits and reports.

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