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Government, Politics & Issues

Galloway details major problems with Wellston's municipal court

Sgt. Susie Lorthridge on patrol in Wellston on May 19, 2016.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Sgt. Susie Lorthridge on patrol in Wellston on May 19, 2016. State Auditor Nicole Galloway issued a scathing audit of the city's municipal court.

Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway detailed numerous problems with how bonds are collected from people accused of municipal violations in Wellston. She also found that the city collects fees on dismissed cases, which she says violates state law. And she described in a press release how court case records “were disorganized, incomplete, missing and in many cases, inaccurate, with 90 percent of cases reviewed showing conflicting activity between electronic and paper records.”

“We found widespread problems that directly impact citizens and do require immediate action," Galloway said a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "Municipal courts offer the first impressions many Missourians have of our justice system. And it erodes citizens’ trust when the courts that enforce laws can’t seem to follow them.”

The audit, which can be read here, revealed a number of issues with how Wellston’s court functioned:

  • Galloway discovered “problems when comparing bond amounts receipted, transmitted, and deposited and when comparing amounts recorded in manual records to amounts recorded in the case management system.”
  • Wellston charged a $2 fee aimed at helping domestic violence shelters. But Galloway said city officials didn’t provide any proceeds from this fee to that purpose during the 2015 fiscal year. She also said in the report that “records do not clearly indicate whether those monies have been distributed to domestic violence shelters in prior years.”
  • City officials used about $90,000 from a bond money bank account to make lease payments on police cars. But Galloway said in the audit this was inappropriate, adding that such “monies are restricted and should not be disbursed unless forfeited by the defendant, applied to fines and costs, or refunded.”
  • The municipal court did not follow through on alternate penalties for defendants, such as payment plans, community service or fine forgiveness. Galloway's office noted in her press release that the court "had not recalled 21,000 active warrants in their system, which could lead to an inappropriate arrest if a law enforcement officer consulted the old system."
  • Wellston failed to provide statistical information about vehicle stops to the attorney general’s office.

Throughout the audit, city officials said they were reviewing procedures and policies associated with the municipal court. They added at times, though, that the city has budgetary and staffing issues, especially when it came to following through on alternate penalties for defendants.
In a statement, Wellston Mayor Nathaniel Griffin said he and other city officials not only welcomed the audit, but actively sought out signatures to get Galloway's office involved. The audit was prompted by a successful citizen petition drive.

"I ran for Mayor to reform and clean up this City. The findings in this audit provide our city a clear path to realize this goal," said Griffin his statement. "Beginning with the disbanding of the (police department), partnering to create the North County [Police] Cooperative, implementing broad court reforms, as well as numerous personnel changes, we are committed to moving this city forward."

 

Since Galloway gave Wellston a “poor rating,” her office will return for a follow-up review next year.

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