Arch City Defenders | St. Louis Public Radio

Arch City Defenders

ArchCity Defenders

The city of Ferguson has decided it will no longer prosecute Fred Watson.

Ferguson’s municipal prosecutor officially dropped the charges Monday against Watson, a Navy veteran who was arrested in 2012 while sitting in his parked car after a basketball game. Ferguson charged him with several ordinance violations, including failure to wear a seatbelt.

Mike Brownlee, 32, of Kirkwood, (right) fills out a survey about the municipal court system outside Sunset Hills City Hall. Researchers from Saint Louis University are studying courts in St. Louis County in hopes of addressing inequalities.
File photo | Kameel Stanley | St. Louis Public Radio

As of Saturday, municipal courts across Missouri have had to meet some new operating standards.

The state Supreme Court set the minimum requirements for the court in 2016. Courts must now have a judge available at all times, and cannot charge illegal fines or fees, among other things. The rules were the Supreme Court's response to findings by the U.S. Department of Justice and legal advocacy groups that the municipal courts operated in large part to fund city operations.

Samantha Jenkins was incarcerated for 67 days, unable to afford her own bail. In that time she lost both her jobs and housing.
Provided | ArchCity Defenders

Updated May 15 with ongoing fundraising — The creators of #BlackMamaBailoutSTL — Arch City Defenders, the St. Louis Action Council, and Decarcerate St. Louis — want to continue helping the women they bailed out long past Mother's Day.

A screenshot of the newly released Your STL Courts website May 2017
Screenshot | yourstlcourts.com

The St. Louis County municipal court system has a new website that developers believe will help reduce arrests of people who don’t show up to court, but detractors say more access to that kind of information doesn’t necessarily make officers’ ticketing proclivities more fair.

Arch City Defenders executive director Thomas Harvey speaking during a 2014 meeting of the Ferguson Commission.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Florissant has become the 16th north St. Louis County municipality to face a federal lawsuit for jailing defendants simply because they couldn't pay a fine or court cost.

The Arch City Defenders filed the class action lawsuit on Monday. It alleges that the five individuals were among hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants "threatened, abused, and left to languish in confinement until their frightened family members produced enough cash to buy their freedom, or until City jail officials decided, days or weeks later, to release them free of charge — after it had become clear the City would not be able to extract any money from them."

Thirteen St. Louis County cities were hit with a lawsuit this week, accusing them of violating the constitutional rights of people who broke local ordinances. The suit is seeking monetary damages and changes to how the cities operate.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Quinton Thomas saw firsthand what the criminal justice system looked like in St. Louis County municipalities. And what he witnessed wasn’t pretty.

The 28-year-old said he was fined by a number of county municipalities for what he deemed to be minor traffic offenses. When he couldn’t pay, Thomas said he was sent to a jail in deplorable conditions.

Thomas decided to fight back earlier this week. He’s part of a federal lawsuit against 13 St. Louis County cities. 

Members of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment conduct a silent protest during a public hearing on municipal court reform on Nov. 12, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Lawyers who are leading the effort to reform the municipal courts in St. Louis, tell of injustices they have witnessed in the courts and callous indifference among some of the municipal judges. They say the system is made up of modern-day debtors’ prisons.

They provide examples.

Jeff Roberson | Associated Press

The Justice Department has neither the authority nor the staffing to expand its investigation of unconstitutional police and court practices from Ferguson to surrounding municipalities, legal experts say.

s_falkow | Flickr

Officials from most of St. Louis County's 82 municipal courts got their first look Friday at proposed reforms designed to respond to concerns about the courts raised in the wake of the August shooting death of Michael Brown.  

The St. Louis County Municipal Court Improvement Committee is comprised of court personnel, including judges, prosecutors, administrators and defense attorneys. James Clark of the social service agency Better Family Life is also on the committee.

The draft the voluntary reforms includes:

Attorney General Chris Koster said the fragmented nature of St. Louis may inhibit long-term growth -- and may make policy change stemming from the Ferguson unrest difficult.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

In the limbo between Michael Brown’s death and the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the state of the Ferguson Police Department became something of a national obsession.  

Law Professionals Discuss Court Fines, Fees

Sep 30, 2014
People line up to take part in an amnesty program to clear up outstanding misdemeanor arrest warrants in August 2013, in Ferguson, Mo.
Jeff Roberson | Associated Press

In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations, according to documents filed with Missouri’s judicial department.