Missouri attorney general to appeal court reform ruling

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2016 2:56 PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Tuesday he will appeal a court ruling that struck down key parts of a state law limiting the ability of cities to profit from traffic tickets and court fines.

Koster's announcement came one day after Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the law unconstitutionally targeted St. Louis-area municipalities with revenue caps lower than other Missouri cities.

"A municipality should not depend upon prosecuting its citizens in order to fund the cornerstone functions of government," Koster said in a statement.

Missouri lawmakers last year overwhelmingly supported the bill meant to address concerns raised after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. That shooting led to scrutiny of municipal courts in Ferguson and nearby towns, where high percentages of revenue were derived from fines and court costs paid disproportionally by blacks and low-income residents.

Ferguson was not among the 12 St. Louis County towns that sued to overturn the measure. Ferguson leaders earlier this month signed off on an agreement allowing U.S. Department of Justice oversight of the city's police and court system.

Beetem also struck down special requirements for St. Louis-area police departments, including written use-of-force policies and procedures for reporting police stops. He found that some parts of the law, including a provision requiring police departments in St. Louis County to become accredited within six years, were unconstitutional mandates because the state did not provide funding for them.

The law lowered the percentage of revenue most cities can collect from traffic fines and fees from 30 percent to 20 percent — except for cities in St. Louis County, which faced a 12.5 percent cap.

Sam Alton, an attorney for the cities that sued, said the appeal was not surprising. Alton said bill sponsor Sen. Eric Schmitt, a St. Louis County Republican, should meet with representatives of the cities "to come to terms with something that is fairly applied within the boundaries of the constitution that can help the situation, rather than spend taxpayer money" on further litigation.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said the court overhaul took "meaningful and much-needed steps to end the unacceptable abuses of the municipal court system in the St. Louis region." He said he will work with lawmakers to make any changes necessary to implement the law.

Schmitt said Monday that the court ruling was emblematic of why people don't trust their government.

"For years, citizens have been abused by local bureaucrats who have treated them like ATMs to fund their bloated budgets, salaries and perks," he said in a statement.

The shooting of Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, in August 2014 by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson led to sometimes-violent protests and the Justice Department investigation. A grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.