The Missouri Supreme Court is asking members of the public to write in about their experiences, both good and bad, at municipal courts around the state.
The request comes at a time when many municipalities in the St. Louis region, most notably Ferguson, are under increased scrutiny for their court practices and use of traffic tickets for city revenues. In a statement released Thursday, Supreme Court officials said that "recent events have raised issues about practices and procedures in the state's municipal courts."
The state's highest court requests residents mail in their comments of no more than two pages that should:
- include the municipal court where they had their interaction
- focus on what worked and what didn't work
- suggest ways to improve municipal court experiences
Comments should be mailed to P.O. Box 150, Jefferson City, MO 65102. The deadline for submitting comments is May 1st.
Court spokeswoman Beth Riggert said the suggestions for ways to improve the courts will be particularly helpful for the Supreme Court to analyze as it considers future moves, that could include changing some rules or offering guidance to local courts.
"You never know what any individual's experience might be or what creative thoughts they might have for how the Court might change processes or practices or help to develop a set of best practices," she said, "and getting individuals' perspectives on that the Court hopes will be helpful as it moves forward."
Last December, the state Supreme Court changed a rule that requires municipal judges to give people time to pay fines if they can demonstrate an inability to pay. That rule becomes effective July 1, Riggert said.
In March, the state Supreme Court assigned all Ferguson cases to Judge Roy Richter, after the resignation of the city's judge following a Justice Department report criticizing its municipal court practices. Riggert said Richter's role is to "see how things are working and start working with citizens there to restore their faith in their justice system."
Given the topical nature of the request, Riggert said the Supreme Court may be inundated with comments, but that's the point.
"The Court does its best work when it can gather information from a variety of sources, and by having a full group of information in front of it, it enables the Court to make better decisions," she said.
The Supreme Court's release also made note that it is unable to change the results in cases that have already been decided, and that ethics-based complaints against municipal judges or attorneys should be submitted to other offices.