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Breckenridge cites municipal court progress in annual State of the Judiciary Address

Patricia Breckenridge
Missouri courts website
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Missouri's municipal courts are improving, but more will be done to boost citizen confidence, so says State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge.

She delivered the annual State of the Judiciary Address Wednesday to lawmakers at the Missouri Capitol. It focused heavily on issues surrounding the loss of public confidence in municipal courts in the St. Louis area in general, and Ferguson in particular.

"The Supreme Court recognizes that the vast majority of our municipal divisions function as they should," Breckenridge said, "but we are committed to restoring trust in all our municipal divisions, and changes have been made."

She listed those changes as:

  • Improved access to information and a uniform fine schedule that eliminates the exorbitant and unauthorized fines and costs assessed in some cities
  • Requiring St. Louis County municipal divisions to be open to all the public
  • Recalling and cancelling thousands of warrants
  • Amending rules to require municipal judges to consider an indigent defendant's ability to pay any fine and costs imposed

"Despite progress, more remains to be done," she said. "The Supreme Court appointed a municipal work group, which has gathered and studied information to identify the most important findings and recommendations for action.  We look forward to its report, which is expected to be filed by March 1."
Breckenridge also talked about the U.S. Justice Department's report from last July that found racial disparities in the handling of cases within the St. Louis County juvenile division.

"Let me be clear," she said, "we are committed to ensuring every individual in every case in our system of justice is treated with respect, and (that) every case is adjudicated fairly and impartially under the law."

Ahead of any recommendations from the work group, Breckenridge told lawmakers that all judges in Missouri this year will receive "implicit bias training" as part of their annual education program.

"The Supreme Court also realizes it is critical for those of us who sit in judgment of others to be aware of any bias, implicit or otherwise, that might unknowingly affect our decisions," she said.

Her full address to the Missouri House and Senate can be heard here:

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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